Finding Our Fixed Point in Difficult Times

“Finding Our Fixed Point in Difficult Times”  Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, October 3, 2021

This is the season of fall carnivals and state fairs. Whenever I think about a fair, I remember going to the State Fair of Texas, with my first midway ride being the Tilt-a-Whirl.  It looked like fun and I couldn’t wait to ride it for the first time. I can’t remember if it was my dad or older brother who told me that the key to not getting sick while twirling was to find something fixed to look at when things started spinning quickly. It worked and proved to be great advice for more abusive midway rides as I got older. 

Finding something fixed to look at when things are spinning is also great advice for life. It’s what the author of Hebrews wanted a church to know long ago, advice that is still relevant for us even today. Especially today, as things are tilting and whirling so fast that we can so easily get dizzy and unable to find our way. We may even feel a bit like Job. Fortunately, the words of Hebrews in our lesson this morning still apply, pointing at something to fix our eyes on and giving us three actions to take as we do so.

First, we are to see. The author wanted the church to see Jesus. Seeing is a step beyond looking. It involves noticing and perceiving what is there. This was to happen as they were dealing with difficulties and as things were spinning them away from their faith in Jesus. In the midst of it all, the church was to look at Jesus and see him, to perceive how God’s glory was perfectly reflected in him, how God’s exact likeness was imprinted on him.

When we are going through difficult times, we too are to look at Jesus. As we do, we see in him the reflection of God’s glory. We understand that Jesus embodies God’s glory, a great sight to see when we are in the midst of darkness and dismal circumstances. God’s light shines through it all in Jesus. As John writes in his gospel, such light overwhelms and overcomes the darkness. God’s glory will not be extinguished by the difficulties we face. The Nicene Creed, written almost 300 years after Hebrews, contains beautiful language that expresses this reality about Jesus: “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: . . .”  What an amazing description of Jesus, one we say together in worship but can also dwell on as we enter the week. Seeing Jesus when things are difficult will make all the difference in the world.

Second, we are to hear. The author reminded the church of how God had spoken to their ancestors in many ways through the prophets but now had spoken to them directly through a Son. Even in the midst of the turmoil of their lives and uncertain circumstances, they could hear God by listening to Jesus the Son. Even as they probably felt alone and deeply in need of hearing direction about their future, they were not beyond hearing God’s voice. It was ever-present in the words of Jesus that were shared within their church each week.

And that voice of God through Jesus has continued to flow throughout the history of the church, even to us as we gather here this morning. God is still speaking. Are we still listening? Like the Hebrews church, we may get so turned around by the problems and suffering of life that we think God has nothing more to say; that if God isn’t absent, then God must be silent. But God has already spoken to us, directly to us with the things we need to hear. We hear the voice of God when we read the gospels, put Jesus’ words into practice, and when we allow God’s word to sustain “all things” in our lives. If that’s not a part of your daily routine, why not make that a priority this next week?

There is a third way of realizing what God has done for us through Jesus–to experience it. The author of Hebrews described the work Jesus did for them with his work of reconciliation, becoming the pioneer of their salvation. That work, one of suffering and redemption, made them a part of God’s family. As the author states, “For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters . . .”

As we go through the difficulties of life, we are to hear those words for ourselves, knowing what God has done to make us whole. This happens when we remember what God has done through Jesus to bring salvation to us and the world. It happens when we experience it for ourselves, a reality that counters our sin and shame, our isolation, our addictions, and our greatest struggles of life. And it negates any thoughts we have of being imposters in God’s family as Jesus now calls us brothers and sisters. Have you experienced the reality of your salvation?

In his commentary on Hebrews, Doug Bratt shares a story that illustrates what God has done for us,

In his fascinating book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, Oliver Sacks tells the story of Jimmie who remains forever stuck in 1945. Jimmie is a very nice, pleasant person with whom you can have a nice conversation. But if you leave the room after even a two-hour conversation and then return a bit later, he’ll greet you as if for the first time.

This vacuum leaves Jimmie with minimal joy because it locks him in what a colleague calls “an ever-changing but finally meaningless, present moment.” With nothing old to ever look back on and nothing new ever to look forward to, joy is largely impossible.

But there is one time when Jimmie shows something like joy, a moment when the largely vacant look on his face is replaced with something that looks like completeness and calmness. It’s when he takes communion.

When Sacks mourned to the nuns who care for him that Jimmie’s disease had stolen his soul, they invited him to come back for communion. When Sacks returned, he saw Jimmie fully participate in the service, recite the familiar lines, say the prayers, and then go forward to receive the wafer. As he did, Jimmie’s face was a picture of calm and even joy. We might say that the Holy Spirit helped Jimmie hear God’s Son speaking to him through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

It was in Communion that Jimmie could do the three things we’ve considered–see, hear, and experience what God had done for him in Jesus. Now it’s our turn.

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