Seeing Hebrews 11 through the filter of a film trailer. All the emotional highs, the action sequences, and unexpected outcomes in the story of God’s healing or redemption of the earth compressed into a few verses of the Bible.
About this content: This is a transcript of what the speaker said. It is ‘as delivered’ with the exception of minor editing that does not affect sense.
Writing trailers for cinema is a real art form. They are designed to be and often are, one of the most memorable parts of the experience. The noise, the fast moving clips, the colour, the small teasing glimpses of the characters and events; and of course the voiceover. Big bold, and drawing you into the experience. When I read our New Testament passage from Hebrews today, I can almost hear Don LaFontaine booming out the words in that deep gravelly American accent – which Tony nearly got I think – it’s very good.
It was about shutting the mouths of lions, escaping the sword, conquering kingdoms and administering justice. Throw in Rahab, the prostitute heroine, played by Julia Roberts, and we have a Hollywood blockbuster on our hands.
We’re not sure who the author of Hebrews was, but it is a letter written, probably at the end of the first century and is full of advice and direction for Christians. This advice is expressed with eloquence, revelling in language and imagery from lots of different walks of life: agriculture, athletics, seafaring. Images that would have engaged the first century audience and encouraged them in their faith and their understanding of scripture.
Human nature is one which does delight in narrative, in story, poetry and the imagination, as the continuing appeal of our Hollywood blockbusters demonstrate. Our whole faith is centred round stories, the narrative of peoples lives from the everyday to the dramatic, heart wrenching and powerful. It’s what gives our faith the ability to touch our hearts and change society for the better. Providing models of courage like Rahab, strength like Sampson and vulnerability like Jesus.
It’s a blockbuster that doesn’t work unless we are ‘in it’. It’s an immersive experience like those stories which were trendy a few years ago where you could choose the ending yourself, so this epic needs us to act, to be part of it, to throw ourselves passionately into the experience of life and faith. Life is about learning to trust in God, to know know that we can learn more about ourselves and about God through the experiences we have both good and bad. There’s a reason for that. The author of Hebrews says that God had provided something better, so that they would not, without us, be made perfect. Those ancient hero’s like us are made are made perfect through the sacrifice of Christ and together as the body of faith we look to Christ as the perfecter of our faith. So those stories and our part in the blockbuster are interesting, encouraging, infuriating, and confusing; But essentially only significant when our focus is fully on where we are going as a community. Which makes our Gospel reading particularly confusing.
Why on earth would Jesus say that he had come to bring division. Surely that’s the direct opposite of what we are aiming for? Certainly when we look around the world today there is surely much division, and and very little peace, and those words of Jesus appear prophetic. The theologian Sam Wells puts it this way.
‘The great debates of our day aren’t fundamentally about human rights or economic benefits, or legitimate migration, or the coarsening of public discourse they are about profound identity, deep belonging and how we each find a balance between securing our own sense of who we are, and appreciating and encouraging the flourishing of those who’s identity and belonging is different from own’.Sam Wells in ABC Religion
So our divisions are about holding onto who we are what we value and what identify as us – and appreciating those whose values and identity are different from our own. Essentially it’s about authenticity. How can we be authentically ourselves and argue passionately for what we believe in while simultaneously recognising the differences and gifts of those from whom we differ.
If this is true of the world it is equally true of the church. Think about someone at church who’s irritated you or made you cross recently. Maybe it’s one of us in the ministry team: shocking thought. Maybe it’s someone sat next to you. But what can you learn about yourself from the reaction that you had. How can you get to know yourself and what’s important to you from that encounter. But equally what can you learn about that other person and about the gifts that they might bring. Different to yours of course but nether-the-less gifts that may well be useful in this journey towards the kingdom that we are making together. This suggests then that we actually need division. We need argument, we need debate, we need challenge, in order to grow and to learn more about ourselves and our faith. Perhaps Jesus brings division because he touches us so deeply, our own stories and even our very identity are rooted in our faith, our relationship with Christ as he forms us in his image. Paradoxically perhaps Christ is also rooted in the identity of those who are ‘other’ those who are different to us. It’s through this many sided prism that the rainbow light of Christ, shines so beautifully, and our epic blockbuster will find its final conclusion in the kingdom where the great cloud of witnesses are made perfect before the throne of God.