Rev’d Jonathan Gale
1 Samuel 2: 1 – 10
2Hannah prayed and said,
‘My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in my God.*
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in my* victory.
2 ‘There is no Holy One like the Lord,
no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble gird on strength.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn.
6 The Lord kills and brings to life;
he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
he brings low, he also exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
and inherit a seat of honour.*
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
and on them he has set the world.
9 ‘He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
for not by might does one prevail.
10 The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered;
the Most High* will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
he will give strength to his king,
and exalt the power of his anointed.’
Hebrews 10: 11 – 14, 19 – 25
11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12But when Christ* had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’, 13and since then has been waiting ‘until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.’ 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
A Call to Persevere
19 Therefore, my friends,* since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Mark 13: 1 – 8
The Destruction of the Temple Foretold
13As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ 2Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.’
3 When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, 4‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?’ 5Then Jesus began to say to them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. 6Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!”* and they will lead many astray. 7When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.
The writer to the Hebrews is urging his readers to do three things:
- To hold fast to the confession of our hope
- To provoke one another to love and good deeds
- Not neglect to meet together
And he says we should do so “ … all the more as you see the Day approaching.“
This “Day” which is in capital letters, refers to what the Old Testament calls the great and dreadful Day of the Lord – the Second Coming of Christ. (Malachi 4: 5 and Joel 2: 31)
The tenor of this plea is not dissimilar to that kind of urgent plea the captain of a sports team would make to his players. “Boys, we have to do this if we’re going to win!”
You know there’s a big difference between having an emotive sense of belonging to a group on one hand, and being committed to it in word and deed on the other.
We all like to belong, but sometimes our belonging is merely a recognition that a group has some association with our identity.
Let me give you an example:
I spent my entire school life at boarding school, and especially when I was at prep school, I used to miss my home. My grandfather, and co-incidentally my father after him worked for a wholly owned subsidiary of a British forestry multinational called the Natal Tanning Extract Company – the NTE or simply, The Company, for short. Like many a little Natal farm boy I spoke mainly in Zulu to my parents before I went to school. It came to me very naturally.
The prep school I attended was founded by a wonderful man called David Black and he named it Cowan House after his hall of residence at the University of Edinburgh. The school was about 75 miles from home but the Company had a forestry estate about 4 miles from the school, called Mountain Home.
One afternoon I was probably playing some robust game boarding school boys loved before television occupied them otherwise, and I was creeping, stick in hand, along the boundary fence of the school when down the public road came one the of the Mountain Home lorries with a few workers on the back. As it roared past I instinctively yelled, “Iyaduma incumpaan!” which literally means “The company thunders” but which in fact was a cry of mutual recognition and belonging – a shout of recognition to my whanau – the people who had great commonality with me. It was a cry of association, of belonging.
But the belonging I held within me for the Company was really a cry for my family which was associated with it. I would have had no time for the Company had it not been associated with my parents whom I loved.
My father was only with the company for 3 more years after that. He eventually moved on and went into business on his own. The Natal Tanning Extract Company was simply a memory after that.
When the writer to the Hebrews urges his readers:
- to hold fast to the confession of their mutual hope
- To provoke one another to love and good deeds, and
- not to neglect to meet together
And when he says they should do so all the more as they see Christ’s return approaching, you can be quite sure the kind of association he is invoking is a great deal more meaningful than the flimsy association embodied in my young schoolboy yell “Iyaduma incumpaan!”
Now these three requirements only make sense when they have a context. When God tells us to encourage one another to hold fast to the confession of our hope, to do love and good deeds and to meet together regularly it’s helpful to understand why this should be.
In short, the Company of Christ demands of us the kind of allegiance that is total. How come? And what exactly does the writer use as a means of demanding this loyalty and obedience?
Well the image he uses is the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting Moses was commanded to erect after a very specific design and in which prayers and sacrifices were offered because God ‘lived’ in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle in a specific kind of way. It was more than a piece of real estate included in God’s omnipresence; the shekinah glory of God tangibly hung over the Tabernacle. Once a year the High Priest alone entered through the thick veil into the Holy of Holies in an attempt to atone for the sins of the people.
It was this veil that was split in two when Jesus was crucified, for in Him we have complete access to the presence of God.
Is it any wonder that the Temple – the stone version of the Tabernacle was destroyed? There was no need of sacrifice after Christ* had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins as we read earlier.
The call to faithfully gather together regularly as believers is predicated upon the astounding death and resurrection of Christ. That God should, rather than descend and punish humankind for its sin, share our lot in Jesus and translate us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, is astonishing.
Theologians call this compaction of God into Christ the scandal of particularity.
You see Jesus holds within Himself:
- the true temple (the one he said that he would raise again in three days were it destryed)
- the effective sacrifice for sin, and
- the person of the true High Priest
He is all of these rolled into one. So the writer says we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh)
And because of this incredible privilege, says our writer to the Hebrews, we have certain obligations.
Now if we hold a legalistic faith we will experience these obligations as a duty to come to church regularly to honour this God who has been merciful to us, to we who have fallen so clearly foul of divine standards.
However, if we have personally exposed ourselves to God in Jesus, we will have insight into the merciful, gracious and loving nature of God and we will want to yell more than “Iyaduma incumpaan!” We will recognise a whanau drawn together in mutual love and gratitude – not simply a vehicle that speaks to us of a reminder of our family – but rather a recognition of our true family in Christ – and we will want to be with them in Christ-filled communion.
We will eagerly desire to unite together and form the hands and feet that will make the mission of our Saviour possible.
Such a company – the Company of Christ – one that:
- holds fast to the confession of their hope – regularly
- one that provokes one another to love and good deeds – regularly
- one that does not neglect to meet together – regularly
will find the mutual strength to be Christ’s hands and feet in this needy world.
You see our real work is out in the world, for as Archbishop Temple said, “The church is the only organisation that exists for the sake of its non-members.” If we have not been strengthened and nourished in community – in church – we will soon become ineffective in our mission to reach others for Christ. Going to church is like going to gym. The body is strengthened in order to do the head’s bidding.
The image of a thundering company is not merely a metaphorical Zulu expression used by an exuberant young Natal schoolboy, for in his Revelation, St John says:
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.” (Revelation 19: 6)
The saints will one day thunder in praise before the throne of God. The question I leave myself with and you with is this: Where, on that day, are you going to be in the Company of Christ?
God bless you.