Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when Christhad offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’, and since then has been waiting ‘until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.’ For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
‘This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds’,
he also adds,
‘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.
Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary 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 approach 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. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Provoked for Good: Hebrews 10:11-25
This week, I read a pretty great story by an artist named Matthew Inman. It is true a story that Inman illustrated about a co-pilot on a flight from Calcutta to New York that took place in 1947. Initially, the flight seemed to be going just fine. Then, less than half-way to New York, something terrible happened. One engine stopped working. Then, the second engine overheated and caught on fire. As you can imagine, the people on the plane were terrified. While the senior pilot worked to land the plane, the co-pilot, a 25 year-old World War II veteran, went back to help with the passengers. He saw a woman who was alone and he sat down beside her. As the plane's wing burned and the pilot worked to save them, the co-pilot sat with this one woman and said, "It's going to be ok." According to Inman, all around him was great evidence to the contrary.
The burning wing fell off the plan. Leaking fuel lines helped to spread the fire further beyond the wing. The plane itself steeply pitched forward. According to Inman, this co-pilot, while assuring this woman that everything was going to be ok, was actually certain that every person on that plane was going to die. The plane crashed very hard into the desert somewhere in Syria. Fourteen people died on impact. Two crew members were among the survivors... one of them the co-pilot. With broken ribs, he ran in and out of the plane, pulling out other survivors. Eventually, the plane was completely destroyed by fire.
As Inman described the scene, morning arrived but rescue did not. The co-pilot formed two search parties who went in two different directions. The co-pilot's party eventually found a village out there in the desert and used the village's radio to call for help. Help came, and 22 people were able to go home to their families. After this event, the co-pilot realized that he no longer wanted to be a pilot. He resigned from his company and completely changed careers. He became a writer. He would eventually go on to create one of the most influential shows in television history. His name is Gene Roddenberry and that show was Star Trek. Star Trek, a show that valued diversity and demonstrated hope for the future, was a stark contrast to the tumultuous and deeply divided culture of the United States in the 1960's, the decade in which the show began. Astronaut Mae C. Jemison, the first black woman to travel to space, would even cite this television show as an inspiration in her life.
Until this week, I had never heard about Gene Roddenberry's plane crash. Now, having heard it, I think it would be safe to call Gene Roddenberry a hero. It is interesting though, that Matthew Inman, the artist who initially shared this story, didn't write about this plane crash to inspire us heap more praise onto an already beloved author. No, Inman had another goal in mind. He said, "This story is intended to remind you that our journeys are short. Roddenberry saw life's ephemeral nature lit up against a backdrop of stars. He saw that we are all passengers pitching downward into the night. He saw that we are all helpless. So, get up, and help someone." We are all helpless. Get up, and help someone. Now, that is quite a powerful message.
As I read this beautifully rendered comic, I could not help but think of this week's reading from the book of Hebrews. While we don't know exactly which church this was written to, as best we can tell, this particular community had faced great hardship and persecution and some may have renounced their faith. This author of Hebrews wanted to inspire them and give them hope to sustain their faith in the midst of their trials. The author did this in two ways. First, the author reminded them of their basic faith confession: Christ had offered all people forgiveness and wholeness through his own great sacrifice. It is this healing and wholeness that will allow humanity to more fully live into the life that God has called us to, a life of loving God and loving neighbor. The author knows, though, that it can be easy to lose confidence in God's goodness in the midst of trials and tribulations. This writer knows that people need help holding to their faith. In order to help the people keep their faith, the author reminds them of the help they can find in Christian community.
After encouraging these struggling Christians to hold fast to their hope, the writer of this letter tells them that one way that they can do so more easily is by actually spending time with one another and inspiring each other to do good things. The letter reads: "Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching." You see, this writer tells the people that we need each other. We remind one another of our hope and God's grace. It is very hard to be of this faith alone. We need one another so that we will remember our hope. I think that it might even be fair to summarize this scripture similarly to how Inman summarized his: "We are all helpless. God has helped us. Now, get up, and help someone." This may not quite be what Matthew Inman said about Gene Roddenberry, but it's close enough so that you can see why I would think of one story when I read the other.
I think this ancient letter to the Hebrews is actually a letter we need to hear today, too. Because life has been hard lately. Our present times can seem very scary and hopeless. In fact, just this week, we have seen what happens when religious communities have lost their hope. Just following the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a night when German Christians coordinated a massive attack on German Jews, another hate-fueled group, this time a group that identifies itself as Muslim, coordinated several attacks on people whom they see as enemies. They attacked people in Baghdad, Beirut, and Paris, killing 177 people in three different countries. Like the Nazis before them, this group uses their faith as a tool for hate and not for hope. They do not provoke one another to love but to do harm. Like the Nazis before them, when faced with war and hardship, this group turned to destruction and blames people who are not like them for the problems they have. Now, because they have lashed out in the fear and rage, many people are suffering. When seeing all of this suffering, especially suffering caused by people who say that they act on God's behalf, it is easy to fall into despair like the Hebrews did. When the world seems to be in such upheaval, it is easy to feel hopeless. It is easy to forget the wholeness and help that God has given us. We may feel like we are in a plane, pitching forward into oblivion. Who will come and tell us that it will all be ok?
The author of Hebrews would remind us that while we may feel helpless, God has, in fact, helped us. Now, it is our calling to go help someone else... to provoke someone else to love and good deeds. We desperately need one another, this church, to help us remember our hope so that we do not get lost in our own despair. On our own, we may feel helpless, but, when we are together, we can remember that Christ has empowered us... provoked us through his own sacrifice to continue his good work in the world. Our love and our good deeds are signs of our hope. They are our continuing confession of faith in the wholeness that Christ brought to us through his incarnation. This is why we have church. So that we can remember our hope and be a storehouse of Christly provocation during times of trial. Anything less, and we are missing out on our greatest calling.
Standing together in Christ means that we will not allow ourselves to be infected by someone else's hatred. It means that we do not let terrorists convince us that we must be suspicious of all people of a different religion in order to survive. It means that we will not allow our own faith to be warped into a tool to deny others a right to live and worship in peace. It means that when we see people fleeing wars and terror, we will not build a wall and accuse them of treachery. Instead, we will offer them sanctuary and safety. If we truly live into the love that Christ calls us to, we will stand by their side, because we know what it means to be without hope, and we know that we can only remember our hope when we stand together in love. We will continue to come together, buoyed by one another's prayers, sharing our strength with one another so that we can continue provoking the good and not living in hate.
The world is scary right now. There is no denying it. We are not promised a world without fear or danger. But, we are promised help. We have God. We have one another. Now, it's time to get up and help someone else.
Works Pastor Chrissy consulted when writing this sermon:
I was primarily inspired by the artist Matthew Inman's comic "It's Going to be Ok." You can access the comic at: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/plane. It must be noted that, aside from this piece, much of Inman's other work on his site is PG-13, primarily due language that not everyone appreciates and a preponderance of bathroom humor.
Israel Kamudzandu's commentary on Hebrews: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2681
Amy LB Peeler's commentary on Hebrews:
Susan Eastman's commentary on Hebrews:
Devon Maloney's description of the cultural importance of Star Trek:
The History Place's description of Kristallnacht:
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Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.