Hebrews 7

We need to kill our love of human systems.

We can point to the societal influence of concepts of God, and particularly Christian concepts… The dignity of the individual, means-don’t-justify-the-ends etc. God’s systems, Jesus’system are better than human ones.. Ours are always, despite best intentions, eventually tainted by greed, selfishness, callousness etc.

We can point to that, but our bedazzlment by human systems won’t die, it’s a lifelong effort to let them go. For us, for me because I know it, to trust wholly on Jesus’ name.

For the Hebrews, in this chapter, it’s letting go of the temple, the priesthood, sacrifices, etc. All flawed, all human rituals for earning God’s grace, for being seen as spotless.

Jesus being of the order of Melchizedek means he’s the only priest needed… he doesn’t die. And he doesn’t keep doing sacrifices…. his sinless death is once for all. It’s a huge chunk of Christian theology stated concisely and memorably here. I’ve heard some of these phrases literally 1000s of times in the Anglican communion service.

The author has been weaving this exultant vision of Jesus in with warnings about falling away and the metaphor of not staying on theological milk but moving to solid food.

As I mentioned yesterday, I always assumed this Christian maturity was about leveling up the complexity. “Solid food” referred to theological-college level teaching: looking at the original Greek and being able to pronounce “melchizedek” without hesitating.

But now I’m thinking it’s more about not going backwards, purely temporal. Fighting the tendency, as Jesus was saying in the parable of the sower, for weeds to strangle or shallow soil to starve our initial perspective on the wonder of Jesus, the humble beauty of accepting God’s love.

Keeping the wonder, letting go those human systems!

Fear of the new and disregard for the old can be very human filters. I worry that the split in the Anglican church will entrench even further a denial of the human fears or disrespect we can bring to our readings of scripture.

I’m praying for more energy to attend to my own health, and the family. I’ve got checks I should do on various parts of my body… Eyes, bowel, brain, heart, knees, feet; for starters. Also: I’m doing all this paid caring for others. There’s a risk I’ll be too burnt out to care for my own.

Hebrews 6

The chapter divisions in Hebrews are, so far, annoyingly in the middle of idea flow. This chapter finishes the idea started in 5 yesterday, and half way through, switches to the idea carried on in chapter 7. Not very helpful if you’re reading a chapter a day, let alone every few days.

The material about mature vs baby Christianity, the milk vs solid food teaching metaphor, takes a more urgent turn than I expected. His point is that for grown ups, milk is a starvation diet.

As a mature-ish Christian I was most interested in him defining what counts as mature teaching. He doesn’t, though it seems the rest of the letter will at least exemplify that.

It seems like the Hebrews have heard and accepted the gospel, the news that Christ is Messiah, but there are troubling signs that it’s made little long term difference to the leaders. They’ve acknowledged that Jesus is God, but otherwise stayed comfortably culturally Jewish.

It has to transform your whole world view and speak in actions, or it’s dead. The writer is dramatic, there’s no coming back if you hear it and it makes no difference.

This feeds a larger pattern I think I’m noticing in the Bible, that hell is a teaching primarily for believers. The responsibility of being privileged to hear and believe the gospel story of Jesus is greater than much of humanity.

He hastens to add that he believes that the Hebrews are still a way off the edge of the fiery pit, but it’s a warning, a strong encouragement that the rest of the teaching will keep them edging towards the better direction, towards God.

It’s ringing in my ears a bit because our pastor likes to describe our church as “comfortably anglican”. And it’s the morning after the Anglican church in Australia dramatically split with the creation of a breakaway parallel Anglican church defined by it’s hard line stance on homosexuality.

I’m still processing that, and won’t go into it much today.

Initial impressions are that the way it’s been done is either the most careful way that concerned conservatives could have taken a stance, or a really crafty power play. Or maybe a bit of both.

How it might impact homosexual people with sincere spiritual yearnings (aka, all of them at some point), I’ve barely thought about yet. I hope the breakaways have!

But this teaching, of the necessity of Jesus transforming our cultural comfort zones, flows in surprising ways around the shape of my internal debate about it.

The rest of the chapter returns to Jesus being a high priest like Melchizedek. I think there’s a chapter and a bit to go on that, so I’ll also leave that discussion.

Except to mention that this part of the chapter has the stellar quotes. This morning I particularly appreciated:

“God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised. God did this so that… we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure”

Anchor for the soul. Unchangeable. Phew!

Care work is still ramping up, 22 hours this week, close to my aim of about 25. But not regular yet, still a lot of fill-ins. And it’s quite exhausting. But so little of the exhaustion is from work politics, so much is from the strain of meeting someone in their need. That’s refreshing.

I’ll hear whether or not I’m a candidate for the Baptist job I applied for soon, which would be much more relaxing and comfortable… as long as it’s not the path to hell.

Hebrews 5

Jesus is a great high priest in the order of Melchizedek. Sounds wonderfully ominous and pompous, as if he might be grand wizard of an exotic version of the local masonic Lodge.

How delightful then that the author explains that the good thing about priests is that they are just one of us, weak, tempted by sin, representing us before God almighty from a place of empathy, urging mercy on God’s part.

The order of Melchizedek is as much signalling Christ’s lack of credentials as his grandness. Usually priests had to be related to Aaron. Christ wasn’t, but neither was Melchizedek, who was a king who also acted in the priest role despite lacking the right bloodline. So Christ is that kind of priest, (and king).

The author of Hebrews will return to this idea in chapter 7 I believe.

But first he needs to do another grumpy tick off.

It’s a feature of Hebrews that the author seems to vacillate between extravagant articulations of God’s grace, mercy and love, and impatient bluntness about how the Hebrews aren’t good enough. The chapter ends with the author criticising them for being spiritual babies, still needing milk when they should be on solid food by now.

This makes it pretty perfect teaching for average churches today. How great it is to be in a place of solace, where you can lay all your burdens on Christ, confident of love and acceptance. But also a place of accountability, a community where there are expectations that you will challenge yourself to be a better person.

It’s a pretty helpful guide to being a support worker for disabled people, which is where I am at again after my comms job flamed out yet again.

You are there to give them dignity. To support, to lessen the impacts of their disability so that they get more equality of life choices, more life enjoyment. It’s a privileged role without the encumbrance of being medical. Not much of telling them that they should do this or should do that. Grace, empathy, acceptance.

And yet, particularly in the area of mental health, you are there to help them overcome challenges, stretch themselves, build those capacities, learn and reach goals that medical people have set for them.

So as a support worker I’m always walking the line of living in their area of chosen obedience. Not because they fear judgement, but because they are confident they are loved and accepted. They have a safe relationship where they can look at themselves and decide how they want to be a better person. Ideally, anyway. I’m a born enabler. The challenge/encouragement bit is what I find hardest.

“Let me be as Christ to you”. How deeply can I hold that in mind as I go about my support work.

Hebrews 4

I think the Hebrews who are being taught here had too small a view of Jesus. Perhaps that he was a teacher, a prophet even, who added to the teaching about God’s covenant, the promised land, the blessed state of Israel.

This view wants to get back to the blessings of the past. To return Israel to the glory as God promised it.

To get back to the state of rest in Eden, when god’s work was done, and we were God’s people.

But we go forward, not back to God’s rest. It’s about today. Jesus is higher than Moses. The promised land failed. We won’t be rebuilding the temple, Jesus is the high priest. The word of God is active now, revealing what we need to do, exposing to us our need for grace, and how we are to live. We’re building Jerusalem, heaven.

Grace is a continual updating of second chances, until the end of time. Each day is a fresh opportunity to invite god’s love into our lives and world. Today if you hear god’s voice, don’t harden your hearts.

The lord’s salvation is not in the past, it is transforming everything around us and we are part of it.

Hebrews needed a huge jolt to see this, the ongoing lordship of Christ. The chapter ends with a powerful classic statement of confident grace.

“we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Had a good day away visiting our friend Lisa. Feeling relaxed.

I stepped aside from my job netting a modest $700 per week. I’m doing support work again, it’s building up quite quickly, but at the moment I’m scheduled to earn a much more paltry $230 this week. I need to find another job. I’m phobic of work, it’s the last thing I prefer to do, I’d love to just stop. But this week, into job search again.

I’m taking from the passage to stay encouraged, to stay true to my values at my core, and trust that things will work out one way or another.

Hebrews 3

I’ve read and thought about this a few times. It’s simple on one level, but on another I can’t get a handle on it.

Think on Jesus, don’t harden your heart. That is the simple level.

It starts with a “therefore”, ie: because of chapters 1 and 2.

From 1… Because Jesus is a heavenly being above the angels, part of the Godhead. Who laid the foundations of the earth and will still be on the throne with the sceptre of justice after creation passess away.

From 2… Because Jesus joined our human family, took on our problem of evil, beat the devil and pioneered the way from death to life

Because of those things, think on Jesus, don’t harden your heart.

It happens: hearts harden. Moses, and the exodus, was a pre-figuring of Jesus. A salvation story, but one where no one was saved. No one who came out of Egypt lived in the promised land, they all died in the wilderness.

I struggle to get my mind around that, the shift from encouragement to dire consequences.

And there is a sort of ping pong game with the “house” metaphor that does my head in. Moses was a faithful servant in god’s house. Jesus is over god’s house, Moses was in it, Jesus made it. We are it. We are God’s house.

So think on Jesus and do not harden your hearts. It’s still the same, I suppose. But it’s layered, deep and scary in ways that leave me thinking… I don’t know what to think!

It’s a song not just of love but of judgement. And as awesome as the Israelites responsibility was, ours is more. We know more, we are closer. The children born in the wilderness did inherit the promised land, they are the forebears of Jesus, our family.

I’m thinking small. I’m thinking: just find a job and get some money. I’m feeling a loss of control over my kids and I can’t influence anything. I’m nervous about keeping up with all that needs to be done: bills, relationships, responsibilities at church. What is this saying to me? What does thinking of Jesus and not hardening my heart mean in that context?

I might be getting nowhere. But that sounds too extreme. I’m not getting clarity. I can pray.

Hebrews 2

A second chapter about Jesus. The first was about Jesus’ glory, this is about his humanity. A thing that jumps out is our shocking equality with Jesus. Daughters and sons of the father, sisters and brothers of Jesus. Because he became human, because he atoned, blazed the path through death.

The context is our tendency to drift away. How can you forget so great a salvation, the writer says. How can you escape if you know it and ignore it?

Some phrases that sung to me were:

– describing Jesus as the “pioneer of salvation”.

– his death broke the power of him who holds the power of death, that is the devil

– it freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death

We had our home group last night, and I was reminded again of some of the members who have no issue with being universalist, everyone is saved. That gnaws at me. I trust that God is just, and loving. But I don’t have confidence to say that all the “day of the lord” stuff, where only one third come out the other side is talking about nothing. The best I can do is to think it doesn’t make a difference either way to how we live or understand God.

This passage reads pretty universalist, but with a warning sting at the start, the bit about not escaping if you drift away.

People who believe God will save everyone are still called to fear God’s wrath. People who believe that some are not chosen for grace are still called upon to believe that no one is beyond the power of grace. We all believe God is fair. What actual difference does it make?

Anyway, the passage had me mediating on Jesus front and centre, but also sent my mind down that rabbit hole.

Praying for family, financial security in my changing job situation, wisdom, comfort for many who are struggling.

Hebrews 1

I’m back. I said I was not going to blog Hebrews until I finished writing songs about the minor prophets. There’s 3 out of 12 to go. But I’m tired of writing songs for now. Songwriting fatigue. I’m now itching to get into Hebrews, so here we go.

The simple point of chapter one is that Jesus is God. They seem to have a heresy that Jesus might be an angel, so there is a list of reasons why angels are less than Jesus.

Plus just a meditation on Jesus. Jesus in power, who changes universes like he changes clothes.

It’s right where my head is at. The sermon yesterday at church was about the wondrous story of grace, the thrill of meeting Jesus.

We watched a series on TV “under the banner of heaven” about a murder investigation in the Mormon community. It interwove Mormon history, what a mess! Jesus is there, but various prophets claimed to speak with equal authority. We can’t be Jesus.

Look at Jesus, see God. What a thing it is to have one person who is all we need to know about God. The TV show emphasised by dramatising the negative the wonder of Jesus. How different Jesus is from greedy men.

I’ve been fretting about my children as usual, and it boils down to waning them to know Jesus.

I cued up the 36 out of 39 old testament inspired songs I’ve written and listened through as I did chores. I’ve said so much about God and never mentioned Jesus. He’s there as a shadow, a promise you could pick up only if you already know him. It needs his name so badly!

Jesus! The name that calms or fears, that bids or sorrows cease. This divine human who shows us in sharpest focus how God is love, how the father cares, is not just a terrifying force somewhere out there.

Not abandoned!

Just a note to say I haven’t abandoned my plan to blog the bible, (nor the God that inspired the book!) even though I’ve had the largest gap between entries in years. I’m still working quite carefully on songs based on the minor prophets. I suspect I won’t feel ready to read Hebrews until they are done. They are connected really.

Hebrews, I hope, will make more sense if I have a practical appreciation of what God’s words to the minor prophets added to the picture. I’ve been listening to N T Wright a bit. The two most recent episodes of his “Ask… anything”podcast are great at taking you right into how strange it was to see Jesus as Messiah, what a leap Paul and the author of Hebrews made.

And for me the leap back, to engage with what the minor prophets were saying, is certainly weird and engaging too. I can’t say I’ll have an answer in a neat box of what those writings are saying to me now. It’s a bit fuzzy and messy. But they are sparking lots of parallels, interesting thoughts and new prayers.

News out today about the census, and the galloping rise of “no religious affiliation” in Australia. If one message comes out of the prophets though, it’s to be chill about the reversals. God uses them too, almost more.

I’m missing processing my life via entries. But equally, I was getting to a place where it felt repetitive. I suppose too much self reflection, as well as too little, can start to drain life of living.

It’s a year for doing and maturing. There’s certainly a strange level of change still happening in me. Do we ever grow up?

I’ve turned 60, the government has changed, from Morrison to Albanese, the horrors of war, the pressures of inflation. It’s all happening and without my awesome reflections!

They will be back, old habits die hard. ‘Til then, God bless.

Philemon 1

Lovely last small letter from Paul. Organising for a runaway slave, Onesimus, to be well treated, as a Christian brother, upon return to people running a home church. Why did he run to Paul? Who knows. It’s got typical Pauline task-oriented pragmatism.

But his vision for humanity reaches deep, back to the garden. Onesimus is a person. Philemon, Apphia and Archippus, to whom the letter is addressed are people, possibly a family of husband wife and son. Paul is a person.

Their culture has given them the identity and roles of slave (possibly thief), church hosts/slave owners, and apostle.

Paul calls on all those identities to be bypassed, including his apostolic authority. A God-ordained identity is to define their interactions, as brothers and sisters, god’s family. Humbled, valued, reborn and joined by god’s sacrificial love, shown in Christ’s death for them all.

The system of slavery would wither, probably because of the weakening effect of Christianity’s view that people are precious created images of the divine. But Paul here is not about stopping slavery straight away, but about transforming the relationships within the cultural structure first. That ends up slowly fixing everything anyway.

Paul’s personal journey dragged him through the callous view of humanity. From arrogant persecutor to prisoner of the Roman empire, he went from the giving to the receiving end of brutality.

The Roman system treated the soldiers as having no humanity outside their duties, and the prisoners in their care as being disposable non-humans. Remember how Paul stopped the soldier suiciding after his prison cell broke open? And Paul’s kindness to the centurion Julius meant that he in turn stopped the soldiers killing all the prisoners as a matter of course after their shipwreck on Malta.

I’m labouring it, but it’s such a profoundly transformed view of humanity at the core of this letter. Once were enslaved but now Onesimus, useful to God.

In churches.

That is the weird way our usefulness to God finds so much of its expression. This relentless emphasis of Paul’s letters has unblocked my focus on church so much.

I’m finding quite a nice rhythm. I love the short hours I work, I get there before my start time of ten and have a coffee every day. Brain space before launching in. I organise the church music, or I send emails about warden stuff. Having a bit of dedicated time each day makes such a difference.

I’m pacing myself. It’s a theme. I give time to things. I have a sense of not forcing more into my hours than can fit. Psalm 31… “my times are in your hands”

It’s sort of a joy feeling effective and functioning after the suspended animation of the shift work, welfare eeking, and the pandemic lockdowns. It’s why I’ve been blogging less, I need it less. I’m useful!

I’m really enjoying interacting over music. I organise it at church, I do music with Andrew, taking time to hone performance, so satisfying, and Sam, my last support client under NDIS. So rewarding!

For so many years music has just been my private escape. And before I consciously adopted it as a hobby, hardly in my life at all. I’m still enjoying making songs based on this blog, but that project is walking quite slow now. It’s such a joy not to need it as much!

For the moment I think I’ve personally found a sweet spot in general, though the kids are still a worry and Kelly has been quite depressed…

I feel humbly powerful, it’s so strange. I’m finding a kind of egoless assertiveness happening where I can say what I think more trustingly in social situations. I really like it! Hard to articulate!

Anyway, I’m rambling, I’ll end it there. I’ll miss Paul’s letters, but I’m looking forward to Hebrews, I’ve read it a few times over the years and I recall liking it a lot.

Titus 3

It’s good to say things out loud. I had a happy day setting up a computer at church Easter Monday. It didn’t feel like an opportunity lost, because Kelly was working anyway.

We ended the day happily with a rare whole family cinema visit seeing a hilariously bonkers film: Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.

And having spilled my guts about doing too much at church, I had a good perspective on goals and objectives, a push for volunteers. I’m sitting there in church looking at new faces I haven’t met… draw them in, give them opportunities to help. My goal is to have nothing specific to do on a Sunday morning occasionally. Trust the community! It’s win-win.

The last chapter of Titus emphasises practical Christianity; kindness. Paul remembers the time everyone was hated and hated each other. He rejoices in a life lived in the confidence of eternal life, and the joy of productively increasing the world’s goodness and kindness.

It’s a simple vision. It’s one that’s run through all these letters, a very unassuming unflashy Christian life.

There’s scholars who argue that Timothy and Titus weren’t written by Paul, but it makes no difference. If I have doubts about Titus it’s whether it adds anything at all. The ideas are so familiar after 12 letters from Paul. For what it’s worth, I doubt some other hand years after Paul’s death would have written “do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there” and similar personal notes in Timothy.

Admittedly though, Paul seems a little perfunctory in this letter, it’s a bit as if he’s squeezing the content of the other letters into a telegram where he was paying by the word. In a few of the longer ones he refers to being caught up into heaven and having extraordinary revelations, and he articulates amazing theological ideas with the authority to match. It’s still solid stuff here, but less mind blowing.

It’s revealed to me a pretty important vision-correction though, so it’s done the trick!

BTW, I saw an interesting note in Wikipedia about Titus, that the “racist” quote in chapter one is a famous logical conundrum, the Epimenides paradox… “One of their philosophers said that all Cretans are liars… This is a true statement”. Well it can’t be 100% true or false, both possibilities cancel each other out. So Paul was being playful, it seems. Just when I was accusing the letter of lacking personality!