[Keep a moment of silence, calling to mind that, though we are unable to gather together, we share fellowship as a Church family as we offer this short act worship in our own homes]
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
'Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs' [Hebrews 4:11].
O God, for as much as without you we are not able to please you; mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts: through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. One God, now and for ever. Amen.
Reading: Hebrew 4:12-16
Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account. Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Reflection ~ Tempted as we are
Our reading falls into two parts. It is taught that verses 12 and 13 form a postscript that provides a connectedness to the announcement in Isaiah and Hebrews 4:11. And then, verses 14-16 begin the focus for what comes in the following chapters, presenting the key ideas about Jesus as High Priest and stating the results from this idea. God's Word is not about teaching or guidance but is more to do with judging our intentions, thoughts and hearts. This discernment is sharp and cuts and divides soul from spirit and no one can escape or hide, God knows us and before Him, 'we are laid bare', completely exposed to His scrutiny. Quite a few Psalms warn that we cannot flee from God, so well expressed in Psalm139, 'O Lord, you have searched me and known me......'.
So, at the forefront of the metaphor is the penetrating action of the sword (by no means unique to this passage), a cutting open action exposing to God the deepest parts of our beings, which is so apt for God's Word. And then in quick succession we are introduced to Jesus as a High Priest, Jesus having, 'passed through the heavens', an essential part of His identity, and the only way for Him to become the 'High Priest'. He could not have become an earthly one because of His Jewish heritage and identity, but rather He is elevated by virtue and merit of already having been at God's right hand. This is what establishes His rights on earth. (Hebrews 8:1-6).
But the fact that Jesus is at God's right hand in heaven then needs to tie in with His ability to identify with human weakness, an ability that must result from a human status. So of equal importance is Jesus' identity as 'fully human' having fully experienced a range of temptations as a man. This is what enables us to approach His throne with 'boldness' expecting to receive mercy and grace, and why being exposed to God following our sin is not a cause for despair but for hope. In this letter to the Hebrews, Paul compares Jesus to the High Priests sacrificing in the Temple in Jerusalem. In verse 15 it is declared, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet is without sin”, Paul is saying that even though Jesus was the Son of Man, He could empathise with us, understanding our needs, desires and weaknesses; He suffered pain, and was hungry and thirsty but through prayer and trust He was able to resist temptation, hence His words and guidance in the Lord's prayer 'lead us not into temptation'. He channelled His human emotions into deep, deep love, for everybody. He never gave in and sinned, whereas we are easily led into sin.
I think most people think of sin as sexual immorality and many would not like to think of Jesus as having sexual desires but there is nothing wrong with having a desire for sex, or anything else, it is what we do with our desires, ethically and morally, that matters. Sin is about disobedience, primarily about 'disobedience to God', and its basis is our selfishness. Whenever we do something selfish without considering the effect on others, that is sin. In other words, 'a perversion of God's intention for humanity'. It ignores God and that is disobedience, and temptation is wanting to do something when you know it is wrong. Jesus was tempted. Led by the Spirit, after His Baptism, He entered the desert to consider His ministry. The three temptations recorded in Matthew chapter 4 explain what happens. The first was to use His miraculous power 'to turn stones into bread' but Jesus denied Himself the opportunity to satisfy His 'earthly' hunger knowing the importance of the need for the spiritual food provided by God. He was not tempted by material things. The second lesson, when the devil says, 'Throw yourself down from the highest point of the temple', was another challenge to misuse power by proving He was the Messiah. This teaches that Jesus had to face His identity and authority, this would be questioned many time to come. The third time when the devil says, 'Bow down and worship me' was a test of Jesus' devotion to God and any need or desire for political power. Jesus showed that His idea of a Messiah was one of putting the Kingdom of God first, and He knew that you cannot use the devil's methods for God's work. Jesus resisted the temptation to provide only for people’s material needs, to use His power to do 'tricks' to win popularity and to gain political power. Instead He chose the 'way of the cross'.
In Gethsemane He was tempted again and asked His Father for another way, but through prayer He concluded, 'Not what I want, but what you want' [Mark 14:36]. Even on the cross Jesus was tempted and He asked God, 'why had He abandoned Him'? [Matthew 27:46]. Like Jesus we must channel our desires and conquer temptation through God's grace, we must pray when we are tempted, and as His disciples, as Paul guides us, 'approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in times of need'. Jesus WILL help us to resist, he waits patiently for us to ask.
The ultimate encouragement we are to receive from all of this is stated at the end of verse 14 'Let us hold fast to our confession'. There should be no greater encouragement to us as Christians than that of the mercy and grace God promises to us, mercy and grace that are based on Christ, 'our humbled high priest' having loved us enough to identify with us to the point of human suffering and death.
Blessed are you Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You have created us out of your love and redeemed us by your love. In the offering of our Lord Jesus on the cross you have freed us from sin and opened to us the way to eternal life. Grant that, as Christ came not to be served but to serve, we may give our lives in your service and to the benefit of your world.
Lord, hear us...
Gracious God, we give thanks for your Church throughout the world. May we teach and remember that our Lord Jesus is the Church, and like Him may we be an instrument of peace and reconciliation between people and nations. Help us to resist sin and recognise our selfishness and turn to Christ as we need help. Bless the priests and churches within our deanery. May we all learn to work together in unity and in witness to your saving power as we seek to help and pray for churches that are struggling to survive and that are in areas of hostility or apathy. On this Homeless Sunday we pray especially for the homeless and for those involved in the post-pandemic response to homelessness into 2022 and beyond.
Lord, hear us...
Father, we give thanks for the peace that you offer us. We remember in your presence all who are living in areas of war, violence and oppression and those who are struggling with selfishness and greed. Lord, help us all to continue to work out our faith in this place, offering service to our community and making the Gospel real in people’s lives, relationships and attitudes.
Lord, hear us...
Father of mercy, comfort and strengthen each precious person who is suffering for righteousness sake and we ask that you would draw close to each one so that your strength may persevere in these troubled times. Of your grace and goodness support all that are in pain, sickness and dealing with stress. Lord, grant them healing and wholeness.
Lord, hear us...
Lord of life we rejoice in the fellowship of all your saints. We commend all we have, and our loved ones departed to your love and we look forward to the freedom of your eternal kingdom. Lord, you are the light of the world, a light that no darkness can quench. In a moment of silence we bring before you those close to our hearts who have died, calling to mind our own loved ones and friends; that we, with all the saints may come to the eternal harvest of your Kingdom.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Prayer for those who are unable to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion
Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits you have given me, for all the pains and insults you have borne for me. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, I ask you to come spiritually into my heart. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.
[Prayer of St Richard of Chichester - adapted]
[Keep a moment of silence for spiritual communion with the Lord and with our brothers and sisters]
Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home, lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.
Meantime, along the narrow rugged path, Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith, Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife in the calm light of everlasting life.
John Henry Newman (1801 - 1890)
Holy and blessed God, you have fed us with the body of your Son and filled us with your Holy Spirit; may we honour you, not only with our lips but in lives dedicated to the service of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Readings: New Revised Standard Version  - Word of the Lord: Church in Wales - The Canterbury Preacher's Companion 2012 - CCL Parish Copyright Licence: 753662