Today's Lectionary Text
Hebrews 10:26-31If we make the decision to sin after we receive the knowledge of the truth, there isn’t a sacrifice for sins left any longer. There’s only a scary expectation of judgment and of a burning fire that’s going to devour God’s opponents. When someone rejected the Law from Moses, they were put to death without mercy on the basis of the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think is deserved by the person who walks all over God’s Son, who acts as if the blood of the covenant that made us holy is just ordinary blood, and who insults the Spirit of grace? We know the one who said,
Judgment is mine; I will pay people back.
And also said,
The Lord will judge the people.
It’s scary to fall into the hands of the living God!
We don’t know who wrote Hebrews, but get them a Snickers, ‘cuz they are HANGRY! This is exactly the language and sentiment that has driven so many people out of our pews. It’s not that I think God has to be a big, fluffy teddy bear but I deeply wonder why it is so much easier to believe in a God of anger and judgement and retribution than one who revels in reconciliation, healing, and extravagant grace? When Carlton Pearson (an evangelical preacher whom I have very little in common with!) came to the conclusion a few years ago that hell was an erroneous concept created by human beings, he was kicked out of his church. For believing that God loves us more than God is angry with us.
I’m no expert on the historical and theological intricacies of the Letter to the Hebrews, but I wonder if this is the kind of scripture where the Holy Spirit is inviting us to argue, to stand up for love and grace, to engage this hangry epistler in a discourse that invites in those who struggle - not expel them for disagreeing. I would say that in this little passage, the author is wrong to differentiate between covenant blood and ordinary blood. Isn’t all blood holy-making? When we see the blood of those crushed by earthquake debris, are they not part of our family? Or the blood of those spilled by a bomb at an abortion clinic? Or those bleeding (metaphorically) in ICU’s because a virus isn’t particular? Maybe it’s the tears that come after the blood-letting that is holy. Pearson says, “People who believe in hell create it for themselves and others,” and maybe that’s true of God’s anger too, that it comes much more from our hearts than God’s.
Which is why vengeance is much better in God’s hands than ours. We like it too much. And if it is in fact scary to fall into the hands of the living God, then it is because the expanse and depth of the love that creates, redeems, and sustains us is truly overwhelming, unorthodox, and unconditional.
-Rev. Doyle Burbank-Williams
Lincoln New Visions Community UMC
Prayer for Reflection
Help us believe quickly in your love and compassion, God, and less invested in your anger and retribution. Teach us in Christ that your retribution is actually resurrection, making the whole world new in love. Amen.
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