Sermon for November 14, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3051 | The Underdog’s Tale

Program Transcript


Speaking Of Life 3051 | The Underdog’s Tale
Greg Williams

One of the most famous story plots in history is the tale of the underdog. From the oldest story of the slave who turns out to be royalty, to the modern sports movie about the unlikely heroes who never let go of their dreams—we resonate with those on the bottom. A narrative about a child of privilege who simply goes on to be an adult of privilege would be less interesting than a grocery list.

There has to be loss, risk—a tightrope the underdog finally makes it across into the promised land. This story resonates with all of us no matter our background.

Hanna, the mother of the prophet Samuel, was one of these biblical underdogs. She suffered from barrenness, which was a great stigma in the ancient world. When she was finally blessed with a child she sang her famous prayer:

The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.
1 Samuel 2:4-5 (ESV)

The underdog theme, the upside down-ness of God’s miraculous work runs throughout it. The weak become the strong; the barren are pregnant; the poor are brought from the back alleys to the head table.

Throughout redemptive history, this story appears again and again. God confounds our strata of who matters, who’s important, who’s powerful. The underdog becomes the superhero.

The same kind of song is picked up centuries later by another underdog:

he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.
Luke 1:52-53 (ESV)

This is the Magnificat, the song Mary sings early in her pregnancy with Jesus. She’s an unwed teenage mom from a country backwater—she couldn’t be more of an underdog! And she becomes the most famous woman in history, and God uses her to confound the world.

And so we see that still at work in our lives. God uses the least likely to break his kingdom into the world. How many times have we been thrown off by a child or a person with special needs and reminded of life’s fragility and beauty? How many times have we seen God speak through a person who seems to offer nothing else?

God, not only loves the underdog, but through the centuries he often plays his song of life through the least likely instruments—are we listening?

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

 

1 Samuel 1:4-20 • 1 Samuel 1:4-20 • Hebrews 10:11-25 • Mark 13:1-8

The theme this week is waiting on God. 1 Samuel 1 tells us about Hannah waiting on God for a child. 1 Samuel 2 is Hannah’s song of rejoicing about God keeping his promise. Mark 13 tells about the incoming of God’s kingdom and waiting watchfully for his timing. Hebrews 10 is the basis for our sermon about the culmination of the waiting and promises of Israel: Jesus Christ.

To Enter Boldly

Hebrews 10:11-25 ESV

Read, or have someone read, Hebrews 10:11-25 ESV.

The first thing you run into at Fort Knox, Kentucky, home to about half of the U.S. gold reserves, is the steel fence. Make it over that and you must deal with who-knows-how-many landmines in the surrounding field and apparently a machine gun that is laser-activated. There are expert marksman guards on each corner of the building, which is made of concrete-reinforced steel that is supposedly bomb proof. The 20-ton vault has a door that is 21 inches thick.

Only one president, Franklin Roosevelt, has ever been inside and other VIP visitors are rarely allowed inside. And inside? Because of the secrecy of the building, the exact contents are uncertain, but the feature presentation is $190 billion in 27-inch gold bars. The vault has also been temporary home to originals of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta and the golden Holy Crown of Hungary from the 10th century.

If you make it inside by some miracle and fill your pockets with gold bars, you are still on the Fort Knox Army Base, home to roughly 40,000 people – many of them armed – who won’t be happy that you broke in!

When we read about the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament, we have a kind of ancient, sacred version of Fort Knox. The outer courts of the temple were the only place the public was allowed. There they brought their sacrifices to the priests. The next chamber was the “holy place,” where only the priests were allowed to represent the people before God.

Keep in mind here that the priests, like the elite guards of Fort Knox, were not just anyone. They had to be of a certain tribe of Israel (the Levites) who had been doing the ministry work for centuries. Generation after generation passed on this vocation to the next with certain clothing, language and rituals that went with it. The priest tribe, like Judah, the king tribe, had very specific duties in the life of Israel.

Also like Fort Knox, much of the nation’s gold was held in the tabernacle (and later temple) in these chambers. A huge solid gold Menorah provided the only light in the holy place – no doubt worth a fortune in today’s money. Beyond this room was the Holy of Holies, separated by an ornate curtain that was about 3.5 inches thick. The high priest, after months of preparation, went into the Holy of Holies once a year into the presence of God on behalf of the people.

For anyone but the right person at exactly the right time to go into this chamber was a bit like jumping the fence and running toward Fort Knox. You’re not just in trouble, you’re dead.

The temple was called the “navel of the world” – meant to be the place where the life of God connected with earth. The power and strength and glory of God entered the world right at this point, which made it sacred and even dangerous.

It is this small square of heavily guarded, mysterious space that becomes a central image to the author of Hebrews.

In our reading today, we run into three words that show us the action in this moment in redemptive history. Let’s look at:

  • Kathizō—Sat down
  • Parrēsia—Confidence
  • Parakaleō—Encourage

Sat Downkathizo

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down [kathizō] at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. (Hebrews 10:11-13 ESV)

Our reading for today begins with the image of the priest doing his work. This was the temple life, with all the intensity of Fort Knox – the rituals were centuries old; the preparation was meticulous. The operative word here is that the sacrifice was repeated.

Every year the priest brought sacrifices for the people. Every year they repeated the ritual, which included the priest standing. The contrasting image is of Jesus sitting.

The priest was standing – on guard, in motion, at work, unstopping. Jesus sits because he’s finished. With all the watchfulness and guardedness of Fort Knox, the priest stood as a sentinel. The image of Jesus is at rest.

The work of sacrifice in Israel had to be done over and over to cover new sins, and the sins of the priest. Jesus as the perfect priest and perfect sacrifice covered all sins forever.

This is a great comfort to us as we look back at our lives. There was never a moment when Jesus paused to say, “Oh, can’t cover that one!” There was never a hitch in the plan where Jesus shut it down because the sins were too big or too ugly. We know that the work of redemption was accomplished successfully and decisively.

Jesus’ work of redemption was done and is done, so he sat down. Just as his Father rested on the seventh day because the work of creation was complete, so Jesus completed his earthly work and sat down.

Confidenceparrēsia

Therefore, brothers since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22 ESV)

This word for confidence – parrēsiameant much more than simply boldness. The connotation is wider and speaks to your place in society. It’s the word for speaking in the assembly – the center of Greek society. It meant to speak frankly and truthfully with your head held high.

Only certain privileged members of society could speak with this kind of honor. It meant they weren’t slaves and their words had weight. A person outside of elite circles wouldn’t dare speak with parrēsia in the wrong setting – and here the writer of Hebrews says that’s what we have in Christ.

In terms of our metaphor, it takes confidence to walk right through the front door of Fort Knox. If the Holy of Holies were somehow here today – this frightening, lethal place – we could walk right in. We could enter with confidence because we are covered by the blood of Christ.

All the sacrifices, all the rituals and practices of centuries of Israelite life were only a shadow of the reality of come. Now that the Reality himself has come and done his work, we have his royal confidence.

Do we live in light of this confidence? Do we live with the boldness of knowing we’re loved and welcomed by the God who made the universe? How would that affect our need for approval or being the center of attention? Sharing the spotlight is much easier when you know how little the spotlight matters.

Encourageparakaleō

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging [parakaleō] one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)

Allow me to share a quote, ironically from atheist philosopher Albert Camus, that reflects this reality of encouragement.

Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.
Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.

This is how we work together: walk beside me, encourage me, let me encourage you.

We don’t become the new people of God, the royal family who walks with royal confidence, on our own. We come to it together – walking beside each other as equals and encouraging each other toward Christ. There is not, as the disciples sometimes asked for, a privileged seat above all others, but a new equality that demolishes the separations in society.

No longer is it just one priest from one line going in one room, but all of us together in the presence of God in Christ. God gave us the most beautiful, infuriating, life-giving, soul-bending gift he could after his Son Jesus Christ— he gave us each other.

There is no Christian life without the Christian family, and that’s what our last point brings in – we are to be encouraging each other. Now that we have the royal confidence of Christ, we can speak boldly and honestly in our relationships. We can encourage each other to be part of God’s kingdom breaking into the world.

The dynamic is important here. Jesus made a way into that Holy of Holies that we could never make. Our works and our righteousness were nothing in the process. But now that Christ has saved us, God continues to work in the world through us.

There’s not even the slightest hint that we somehow “earn” our part in the kingdom. That work is done by Christ. But Jesus continues to work in the world through the “love and good deeds” we encourage each other to do.

What does this look like in the everyday, modern church? Our world is so self-focused, and the vague understanding of “spirituality” is so individual, that relationship seems to play a small part if any. But this individualism isn’t biblical.

The church community, interpreting and applying the Word, working out what it means to follow Christ in contemporary times and to share life in relationships – this strange pageantry is vital and sacred. To know Christ is to know each other and be bound together as family.

Sat down – Jesus sat down because his work is done, completed forever.

Confidence – Hold your heads high, royal sons and daughters of God. The riches of heaven are yours.

Encourage – The kingdom of God is “already, but not yet” and we live in that tension, supporting each other along the way.

“…all the more as we see the Day drawing near” (verse 25). We live in the time between the times. We wait for the end, knowing this current world is not our home. The closest we get this side of things is experiencing the presence of Christ together as a family. And that, even compared to Fort Knox, is riches indeed.

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Confessing Our Hope w/ Ted Johnston
November 14 – Proper 28
Hebrews 10:11-25 “Confessing our Hope”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon: “To Enter Boldly”

  • Have you ever been to a place that was heavily guarded (government building, museum)? What was the experience like? Have you ever thought about the Holy of Holies that way?
  • What does it mean in your life that the saving work of Christ is done and yet still going on? What does it mean that the kingdom of God is “already but not yet”?
  • Hebrews 10:25 tells us to encourage each other in “love and good deeds.” Why is the church – fellowship with others – important to our relationship with Christ? How does engaging with each improve our spiritual lives?

Questions for Speaking of Life, “The Underdog’s Tale”

  • Have you ever seen an unlikely person speak wisdom? Has God ever spoken to you from an unlikely source?
  • Why does God choose unlikely, “nobody” people to become important characters in the story of salvation?
  • Have you ever felt like one of these unlikely underdogs God uses to do his work in the world?

Quote to Ponder:

“When God wants to take charge of the world, he doesn’t send in the tanks. He sends in the poor and the meek.” ~N.T. Wright

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