Sermon for Solemn Evensong & Benediction Sunday 29 July 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant which has been enacted through better promises”.
In this eighth Chapter, the writer to the Hebrews makes clear that in Our Lord Jesus, there are three things at least to be made known; things which transcend the temporal and point towards the eternal which are fulfilled. In Jesus, there is a more excellent ministry than has ever been witnessed, in Jesus a better covenant has been enacted and through Jesus, a fuller revelation of the promises of God have been realised. The revelation of God, has in Christ Jesus reached its fulfilment to effect all things, both temporal and eternal; seen and unseen, but then we know that, and some of us are just trying to work out what it might mean and how we might be influenced.
As we read in Chapter 7, v22 of Hebrews, “accordingly Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant”, for in Jesus there is nothing temporal (unlike the Temple priests), Jesus has, as we have come to understand him, an unending priesthood, an unending life in God. His eternity and his priesthood allow him an unending ability to save and make intercession for us all.
So only He fulfils the promises, and only He can exceed the old covenant that God made to his ancient people, by Jesus himself being able to do what the old covenant couldn’t fully achieve, that is, the forgiveness of Sins, once and for all. For the Temple provided a ritual and repetitive offering for sin. Through Jesus, the writer to the Hebrews states, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” Hebrews 10
The old covenant brought us to the temple, an idea and gift of God, yet built by man; the atoning sacrifice; an idea of God, but repetitively and insufficiently offered by man. In this new covenant, the imperfect passes away, for in Christ, all things of God are given by God for God, and in them we are wonderfully caught up, we are redeemed and I believe as we have been taught, that we are forgiven the trespasses which we couldn’t avoid, and are made whole.
So as you all know, he is the new covenant, the one who we worship and adore in the temple, and in sacrament. In “speaking of “a new covenant” we state the obvious, that the first one is now obsolete. And what is obsolete even though it might liger for a while in the memory of the writer to the Hebrews; will grow old and will disappear. For that which is obsolete loses life, purpose, it becomes out of date, and doesn’t as far as God is concerned, deliver his promise.
So the priests of Israel, temporal beings that they were, served only as a sketch, as a shadow of the heavenly; they imperfectly kept the whole process of atonement going. They were the pattern of the earthly sanctuary in which the Priests and the High Priest served only ever to anticipate the ultimate atonement accomplished by Christ. For what the priests managed in their day was temporal and limited, what Christ accomplishes in his eternity is complete, fulfilled and holy.
But this isn’t simply another chance to knock the temple, (it’s been knocked enough, and look, it stands in ruins), and neither is it thought that the writer to the Hebrews is trying to be Anti-Semitic. The author of Hebrews is pointing out the obvious, he reflects the limitedness of our religious industry and profession and even our faith, that what we offer is a shadow yet I pray, a glimpse and a foretaste of that which is more achieving, more thorough, more searching, more penetrating and more complete in God.
Yet, it hinders none of us to be reminded that what we do in offering worship, in representing God, what we do is inadequate and even on occasion, unconvincing.
For like Job, we know “even if it is true that I have erred, my error remains with me.” For whatever we offer, for however we try to assure ourselves of God’s love and forgiveness, we fail to be completely and radically convinced, we fail to take that step of faith, to believe as fully as God’s love for us should have us believe.
In our devotions, in our prayers, we have to come more often to a place where we are convinced and believe more in the Lord Jesus, the one who exceeds the old covenant by himself being able to do what the old covenant couldn’t fully achieve, that is, the forgiveness of Sins, he is God’s gift who we worship, who we adore, and who has been given that we might share in his life.
It might be our inability to be convinced by God that leads us into such a mess in life sometimes; where we become stuck as creatures of habit, secretly believing that there is no forgiveness, that we are doomed to fail so why try. But out of that miserable depth, we have to look up from the gutter and see the real presence of God and be saved from our sins, from our misery and from our destruction and be transformed, a different people.
We might feel that there is a small but importantly unbridgeable gap in us which hinders faith or forgiveness. The New Covenant who we come to worship, eliminates, even fills the wilderness in us, that gap between believing and being, between what is offered and what is thought, between the temporal and the eternal, between heaven and earth. Offer worship, praise and prayer, in this time of adoration, so that where we all fall short, we might be redeemed, changed, and reflect something of God, rather than putting off the day and relying solely on God’s love of us, rather than living now based on our love of God. Amen.
Sermon preached by Fr. John Pritchard