Sunday’s sermon: The Path Less Traveled

tightrope

Texts used – Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Hebrews 10:32-11:3

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • Throughout this Greatest Showman sermon series, we’ve talked about the dreams that God has for us and for the Kingdom of God.
    • Talked about how incredible God’s dream is
    • Talked about how treasured we are by God, how loved we are by God → how much God wants to be in relationship with us
    • Talked about how we tend to get in our own way sometimes when it comes to saying “yes” and buying into those dreams that God has – both for the Kingdom of God and for our own lives
    • Today’s question: What if we actually do say “yes”? → Before we go any further, let’s listen to the song “Tightrope” – [PLAY “Tightrope”[1]]

  • Context for the song
    • Last week – talked about love stories and how they add a powerful element to a storyline, even if that storyline isn’t strictly a typical “love story” → talked about Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler (characters)
    • This week focuses on love story between P.T. Barnum and his wife, Charity → love story that plays a central role throughout the movie from the very beginning
      • Movie actually starts with Barnum and Charity as children
        • Barnum himself grew up poor – the son of a tailor until his father died and left him with nothing
          • Movie version: looks like he was orphaned
          • Real life: left to provide for his mother and 5 sisters and brothers[2]
        • Charity was the opposite – grew up a wealthy heiress
      • The two fall in love as children → marry as adults → begin their life together far from the lavishness and luxury that Charity grew up with → And in the movie version at least, this grates on Barnum. He wants to be able to provide his beloved wife Charity with the same life that she’s used to (despite her own protestations that all she wants is to be with him), and he wants to be “good enough” in her father’s eyes.
      • Barnum becomes a great success as a circus showman → brings Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind to America and begins touring with her → leaves Charity and their two daughters at home missing him → That’s where this song comes into the movie. It’s a song sung by Charity in Barnum’s absence. All she wants is the husband she fell in love with to return.
        • Song speaks of taking a chance on their love
        • Song speaks of the exhilaration and excitement of love
          • Not easy
          • Not sure
          • Not “safe” compared to the standards she grew up with (financially or in terms of proper society and reputation and all things pompous and stuffy like that)
        • The point: they took on all that risk and adventure together
  • Hmmmm … I wonder what this could possibly have to say about our faith. It’s definitely true that throughout the historical life of the Church (that’s capital “C” Church, as in the Church universal), there have been lots of times when having faith … keeping faith … sharing faith … teaching faith … practicing faith as a Christian was risky. It could get you shunned. It could get you imprisoned. It could even get you killed.
    • Definitely true for the early church → church as it was developing in the 1st following Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension
      • Majority of Christ’s original 12 disciples ended up martyred for their faith in some way
      • Much of the writing of the NT – by Paul, especially, but also by others – speaks to keeping and nurturing and persevering in faith despite adversity and persecution
  • Today’s passage from Hebrews = just such a passage
    • Hebrews = a bit of a nebulous book in the NT
      • One of the many letters/epistles – nebulous in both its authorship and its intended audience → not exactly sure who wrote it or who it was written to[3]
        • Long considered one of Paul’s letters, but scholars today mostly agree that it’s too different from Paul’s other writings in content, in form, and in writing style for it to actually be written by Paul BUT not consensus as to who actually did write it
        • Earliest fragment we have of this manuscript (dating from early 3rd BCE) includes a heading “To Hebrews” without really indicating who or where those general “Hebrews” might be → clear from the content of the letter itself that whatever community of “Hebrews” is receiving this letter is a community in turmoil
          • Speaks reassuringly of who Jesus was as both a human and as the Son of the Most High God
          • Speaks of completeness – the all-encompassing nature of salvation in Christ = Christ’s “once-for-all sacrifice”
          • Speaks of hope and perseverance and encouragement in faith, even in the face of difficult, painful, challenging circumstances
    • Beginning of today’s passage: But remember the earlier days, after you saw the light. You stood your ground while you were suffering from an enormous amount of pressure. Sometimes you were exposed to insults and abuse in public. Other times you became partners with those who were treated that way. You even showed sympathy toward people in prison and accepted the confiscation of your possessions with joy, since you knew that you had better and lasting possessions.[4] → Clearly the Hebrews have faced some sort of adversity in the practice and outward display of their faith, enough to cause them public humiliation, abuse, and “the confiscation of [their] possessions.”
    • Letter provides encouragement in the face of those injustices – text: But we aren’t the sort of people who timidly draw back and end up being destroyed. We’re the sort of people who have faith so that our whole beings are preserved. Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.[5]
  • Same encouragement that our Deut passage has provided for people of Israel for centuries
    • First verse = “the Shema”: She-ma yisrael, adonai eloheinu, adonai echad → “Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord!”[6]
      • Prayer that is used as the centerpiece for both morning and evening prayers in the Jewish faith
      • Prayer that is traditionally affixed somewhere on the doorpost of a Jewish home → fulfills the rest of the Deut passage: These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. … Write them on your house’s doorposts and on your city’s gates.[7]
    • Part of what was given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai when he was also given the 10 commandments
      • Given on the heels of escaping not only slavery in Egypt but also Pharaoh’s attempt to retrieve the Hebrew people (thwarted by God at the Red Sea)
      • Given in the face of pure and unimaginable uncertainty → God said, “I will take you out of Egypt and lead you to the promised land,” but God didn’t give them a map. God didn’t give them GPS coordinates. God didn’t give them photographic proof that said “promised land” actually existed. They were literally walking on faith and faith alone.
    • Makes these words even more reassuring
      • Reassurance in the power and perseverance of faith
      • Reassurance in the validity and importance of faith → It’s God saying, “These words that I’m giving you – ‘Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being and all your strength’ – these words are so important that you should keep them with you always. Remember them. Recite them. Teach them. Even wear them on your arm and display them on your homes and on your cities. They will remind you of your faith. They will remind you of me.”
    • Song: Hand in my hand and we promised to never let go / We’re walking the tightrope / High in the sky / We can see the whole world down below / We’re walking the tightrope / Never sure, never know how far we could fall / But it’s all an adventure / That comes with a breathtaking view / Walking the tightrope / With you
  • You know, it’s those last two words – of the chorus and even of the whole song itself – that are the most crucial: With you. → reminder that even on this crazy, uncertain, adventurous ride of life and faith, we’re not walking alone
    • Walking it with greater community of faith → brothers and sisters in this room and around the world
    • Walking it with God: Hand in my hand and you promised to never let go → text: Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.
    • Cannot read these words or preach this message this morning without seeing the images that have filled all the news outlets in the last weeks and months, friends → images from the border
      • Families torn apart
      • People, including children of all ages, detained for days and weeks and months in cells that are horrifically overcrowded and woefully lacking in basic amenities like drinkable water and a working toilet
      • Piles and piles of rosaries confiscated from detainees for God-knows-what reason
      • Sometimes the uncomfortable, uncertain, far from “simple and planned” part of faith is speaking up in the face of injustice, and what is currently happening to those who have taken their own terrifying, life-altering leap of faith in seeking legal asylum in this country is indeed an injustice.
        • In the words of our NT reading:
          • Experiencing suffering
          • Experiencing an enormous amount of pressure
          • Experiencing insults and public abuse
          • Experiencing the confiscation of their property
    • Quote from Nelson Mandela: “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
    • Text put it another way: We aren’t the sort of people who timidly draw back and end up being destroyed. We’re the sort of people who have faith so that our whole beings are preserved. → When God calls us out into uncomfortable space, what kind of people will we be? What risks are we willing to take – for our faith, for the sake of our brothers and sisters, for our God? Will we timidly draw back, or will we have faith? Amen.

 

[1] “Tightrope” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Sony/ATV Music.

[2] https://www.britannica.com/biography/P-T-Barnum.

[3] Fred B. Craddock. “The Letter to the Hebrews: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 12. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), 6-8.

[4] Heb 10:32-34.

[5] Heb 10:39-11:1.

[6] Deut 6:4.

[7] Deut 6:6, 9.

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