I think that this is only the second time that I have begun my sermon by looking at the letter, or sermon, to the Hebrews.
So, let us just establish some ideas about Hebrews. Firstly, who is the audience for this letter? These people are Jewish Christians. The letter gives no sense as to whether these Jews live in Palestine or in the diaspora of the Jews. I would argue that they are probably from within Palestine as they have to be aware of Temple ritual. What is the main argument of Hebrews? The main argument is that there is the question as to what happens if the believer sins after their conversion and baptism in Christ. The answer to that, says Hebrews, is that there is no forgiveness of that kind of sinner. This is a brutal doctrine and fortunately for us, Hebrews did not really take root.
Giving substance to our hopes
The argument that we take from Hebrews today is about faith. Faith, says Hebrews, ‘gives substance to our hopes and makes us certain of realities we do not see’. We have not seen Jesus, unless we have had a vision. We have not seen Jesus but at some level, in some way we believe in him and trust in him and see him as our friend and saviour. And we cannot see God the Father, yet we can envisage God as our Creator and the one who breathes life into us. We cannot see, yet we believe and have faith in God. We cannot see the Spirit. John’s gospel says that the Spirit is like the wind. All we can do is to believe in the power of the Spirit, have faith in that power, and live.
Abraham and Sarah act out of faith. Hebrews says that Abraham left home without knowing where he was to go. Sarah had faith and received strength to conceive.
Abraham in Genesis 15 is still called Abram. God, the Lord, says to Abram that he is going to give him a great reward. Abram laments that his heir is Eliezer of Damascus. God has not given him any children and his heir will be a slave of his house. God gets Abram to look up to the skies and see the endless stars. Abram’s heir will be from his own body. His descendants will be like the stars. Abram has faith, and God counts that as righteousness. Abram has been offered the covenant that will enable him to have children and an heir of his own body. Covenants are agreements between two parties, they are solemn and binding. We have covenants on our houses, how the houses may be treated. And covenants are made when people are married. Solemn agreements between two parties.
Luke’s gospel unpacks for us something of what it practically means to have faith. We are to have no fear for God has given us the Kingdom. Instead we are to sell our possessions and give in charity. Now this is very difficult for us. We have possessions and we will keep hold of them. There is no way that I am going to sell our book collection. Instead we have to treat these possessions as if we had sold them. We are not to be bound by those possessions but live lightly to them. And then we are to give generously, both to the Church and in charity.
Luke then talks about being ready to act. We are to be like a servant ready to greet his master to return from a wedding-party. In the middle of the night, the master returns and he will gird himself and serve the servants at table. This radically inverts the order of things. The master should be served not the master serving the servants. But this is what Luke writes. The master will serve the servants he finds ready and alert for action.
Dominic – and the order of preachers
This week gone past has seen the feast-day of one of the most important medieval saints, St Dominic. Dominic died in 1221 having found a solution to the problem of heretics in southern France. On a journey from his native Spain to Denmark, Dominic had encountered these heretics at the height of their power and had seen as to how useless the Church’s response was. The Church did send out preachers, but they went in large parties, emphasising the wealth and power of the Church. This was in marked contrast to the heretics whose preachers were poor yet faithful.
Dominic set up an Order of Preachers who would firstly, be poor and faithful and secondly, would be truly educated so that they would be able to argue with the heretics rather than preach wind. This is what Dominic did. He founded his Order of Preachers, had them taught properly and in a learned manner and enabled them to argue and convict heretics of their wrong notions. By Dominic’s death in 1221, the Dominican Order was spreading throughout Europe, including England and Wales.
Stepping out in faith
Dominic stepped out in faith and poverty. He trusted in God and lived the life of holy poverty. It meant that the European churches were profoundly enriched by the actions and faith of this man. It is not for nothing that the greatest medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas, is a Dominican.
We are called to have faith in God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We may not see these persons yet we can trust in them and have faith and know the persons we believe in. And for that grace we say: Amen.
‘Hebrews to Dominic’ was preached by Keith Trivasse on 11th August 2019 at St John with St Mark, Bury. It’s based on Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12:32-40. For Keith’s personal blog, please follow redrootstheology. For Keith’s sermon on the Gospels, please press here. You can see more sermons by Keith by following this link.