From coffee cups and t-shirts to magnets and bumper stickers, the quote that has arisen from the sayings of a conglomeration of persons (Mark Twain, Satchel Paige, Glenda Jackson, Alfred D. Souza, and William Purkey) that is meant to inspire in a plethora of ways states: “Dance like no one is watching, love like you have never been hurt, sing like there is nobody listening, work like you don’t need the money, live like it is heaven on earth.” And it is inspiring. There is a poetic tension here that evokes emotion and reflection that draws a person in to the point of engaging commitment. To read this quote and allow it the status of a benchmark makes a person reflect on their own life and wonder what those people are doing right and what they might be doing wrong.
It is very seductive in a way (this quote) to the point of being dangerous. As we inhabit one of the most individualistic cultures that history has ever known, we most likely do not realize that inspiration such as this causes us to look inward even more than we already do. Dance like no one is watching leads you to dance solo and step on all sorts of feet. Sing like no one is listening allows you to sing really loud without a clue to the amount of noise you are making. Live like it is heaven on earth makes you forget that so many places on this earth are in fact far from heaven; they are hell in session. Our contextual reality of “it’s all about me” hijacks perhaps the intentions of the authors of the quotation because it really does become all about me. The sad lyrics of Neal Peart begin to ring true: “Live for yourself; there’s no one else more worth living for. Begging hands and bleeding hearts will only cry out for more.” How much further from the gospel message of faith, hope, and love within the framework of community could we possibly get?
Perhaps, in the most apropos of timing, this is why we engage the letter to the Hebrews this morn through our Lectionary reading. This entire epistle is a teaching sermon deemed in need of hearing to a church that needs to listen. There is the core message of Christ’s reality of the cross that paves the way for the world to be ambushed by salvation. This is coupled with the author’s reminder “that we live in that liminal time between Christ’s provisional victory over the powers of sin and death and the final victory when ‘his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.’” (Jane Fahey) And where we intersect the cadence of this assurance of Jesus’ accomplishment of a permanent pardon for sin is the climactic answer to the question that forms is pondered in response to Christ. How shall we then live? An outline for holy living is received; descriptions of the sanctified life begin to take form not only the Hebrew church but for us as well.
Sisters and brothers, if you happen to pay attention to the words that I have the privilege of speaking in the form of benediction, you might have noticed that I always remind us all to “hold fast” specifically to that which is true. In the same manner, our writer has provided “a series of admonitions and encouragements delineating what it means to ‘hold fast’”. (D. Stephen Long) Because of who Christ is and what Christ has done, “we are admonished to hold fast to the theological virtues that he makes possible – faith, hope, love.” (Long) Theology and ethics have once again been connected or as our own Book of Order puts it, “We are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover the truth or to embrace it.” As a pastor once stated to a Bible Study that I attended, “We are saved to do good things.”
There is one drawback though – a “fly in the ointment” (This idiomatic actually comes from the KJV/Ecclesiastes 10:1 states, “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour.”). Remember when I stated that we inhabit one of the most individualistic cultures that history has ever known? Because of this (in the same cultural posture as the coffee cup, t-shirt, bumper sticker, magnet quote), we tend to look inward. What exactly does this text from Hebrews say to ME? This is not exactly an option though (at least not according to the author of the text). Within the shortness of our lectionary, the three admonitions that are given start the same way: “Let us…”. There is an assumed communal hermeneutic at work. There is an anticipated interpretation (the meaning of the word “hermeneutic”) that we are all in this together. There is no room for individualism. There is no place for dancing alone. There is no possibility of living and singing and working and loving in isolation. The communal hermeneutic demands that all of is have our theology and ethics, our faith and practice engaged in a unified interpretation.
It is then and only then that we can approach the directives given by the writer of Hebrews: “Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith…let us hold fast to the confession of our hope…and let us consider how to provoke one another in love…” Do you happen to notice the “three legged stool” of Paul’s words to the church in Corinth? “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) It really is a posture of confidence and hope that can only be accomplished in the boundaries of an “us”.
I realize that I am perhaps only skimming the surface of what could be exposited within the framework of this text. So many directions and yet so little time. It seems to me though that the foundation of this is built upon one simple reality. In the words of the character of the imagination of the great writer Alexander Dumas, “All for one and one for all.” We are either all in this together or we are not in it. The Triune God (a community within itself never in isolation) has not only provided for us the way and the truth and the life in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, but beyond that, the faith and the hope and the love that let’s us piece together our faith and practice; our truth and duty. We simply must remember. The directives all start our the same way: “Let us…”.
Back in 2000, there was a film that emerged entitled The Replacements. It boiled down the the National Football League players going on strike and the show going on through less than stellar players. There is a poignant scene though where Coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) approaches player Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) and states: “I look at you and I see two men: the man you are and the man you ought to be. Someday those two will meet.” And though he is talking to the individual, I am going to co-op it for out intents and purposes and state that the same reality applies to the bride of Christ…the communion of saints…the priesthood of all believers…the kirk…the church…us. There is the church that we are and there is the church that we are called to be – a church of one foundation with Jesus Christ her Lord that is a new creation based on faith, hope, and love. One day those two will meet. Could it be today?
In the name of the Triune: Creator, Savior, Sustainer. Amen.