Hebrews 4:14-16 (A Short Sermon)

Mother Teresa is one that people look up to as a spiritual giant, mainly because of her devotion to helping the sick in India and her devotion to Jesus. But there is a side to her that many are unfamiliar with. There was a book published called “Come be my Light,” which are collected letters of her correspondence with her spiritual director. This an excerpt from an article taken from Time magazine:

“On Dec. 11, 1979, Mother Teresa, the “Saint of the Gutters,” went to Oslo. Dressed in her signature blue-bordered sari and shod in sandals despite below-zero temperatures, the former Agnes Bojaxhiu received that ultimate worldly accolade, the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance lecture, Teresa, whose Missionaries of Charity had grown from a one-woman folly in Calcutta in 1948 into a global beacon of self-abnegating care, delivered the kind of message the world had come to expect from her. “It is not enough for us to say, ‘I love God, but I do not love my neighbor,'” she said, since in dying on the Cross, God had “[made] himself the hungry one — the naked one — the homeless one.” Jesus’ hunger, she said, is what “you and I must find” and alleviate. She condemned abortion and bemoaned youthful drug addiction in the West. Finally, she suggested that the upcoming Christmas holiday should remind the world “that radiating joy is real” because Christ is everywhere — “Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive.”

 

Yet less than three months earlier, in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. “Jesus has a very special love for you,” she assured Van der Peet. “[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak … I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand.”

 

The two statements, 11 weeks apart, are extravagantly dissonant. The first is typical of the woman the world thought it knew. The second sounds as though it had wandered in from some 1950s existentialist drama. Together they suggest a startling portrait in self-contradiction — that one of the great human icons of the past 100 years, whose remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God and who was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer by her associates as well as the television camera, was living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which the deity had disappeared.”

Reading this I am not so much alarmed but I rather find it comforting as a Christian not because reading this I look at myself as superior in faith above Mother Teresa but what compounded my “comfort” was that here was a Christian who had really deep emotional struggles but kept on doing what she did. Her devotion in Jesus led her ways although there was a brooding darkness that she struggled with. It was her knowing Jesus, I think and am convinced of that put her feet on proper ground.

Knowing God and who Jesus is, becomes our rest assured foundation that keeps our feet steady in our faith walk.

And the letter to the Hebrews (4:14-15) addresses this.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Reading the passage above, there are two questions that need to be addressed. And with that let’s seek to explore them. The first question asks; how do we receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need?

By approaching God’s throne of grace with confidence.

How should we then be confident? By knowing that Jesus is the great high priest and the Son of God.

Two concepts that are profound in projecting Jesus’ greatness:

  • The emphasis on high priest by using the word ‘great’ which speaks of Jesus as high priest par excellence
  • Son of God- speaks of his close association with God and his identity, he was no ordinary man, he was something more; Divine.

Again we deal with the reality that, it is knowing Jesus and who he is for us that in ways rehabilitates our faith. Knowing Jesus aligns our weary feet to keep walking and be faithful although our present condition might tell us another story about them.

As I keep on reflecting this passage the beautiful picture of the incarnation keeps playing on my mind. “His incarnation is presented as a bridge to build proper confidence. For proper confidence to really be what it is, the one whom we put our confidence in must be someone who also understands our struggles. In Jesus we do not have just someone who can save us and be our Lord but someone who also knows and shares our struggles.”

The cries that Mother Teresa experienced reminds again of Jesus’ experience for he too knew very well what it means to have human emotions and the reality of its despair. But though he felt all this we are reminded again that he did not fall. (V.15) Just to shed light on this, here are two passages to see the extent of that reality;

John 11:33-35 “deeply moved and troubled…Jesus wept.”

Mark 15:34 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

There is a constant leaning we often fall into when we struggle in our faith and that is when troubles mount up and we grow distant because feelings propel our hearts and minds to regress and with that make us feel a sense of alienation from feeling God. This happens. But many, when feelings like this persist, become discouraged and in ones prolonged practice of following just our feelings, remove ourselves from progressive trust.

Going back to the passage again, the way to build confidence so that we can approach God’s throne with boldness and with that receive mercy and grace in our time of need is not to believe the whispers of how we feel but more on in disciplining our emotions so that  we know  the depth of riches we have, being in Jesus and following him.

Conclusion

Going back to the article on Mother Teresa again it says

“The tendency in our spiritual life but also in our more general attitude toward love is that our feelings are all that is going on,” he says. “And so to us the totality of love is what we feel. But to really love someone requires commitment, fidelity and vulnerability. Mother Teresa wasn’t ‘feeling’ Christ’s love, and she could have shut down. But she was up at 4:30 every morning for Jesus, and still writing to him, ‘Your happiness is all I want.’ That’s a powerful example even if you are not talking in exclusively religious terms.

The part where it says “Your happiness is all I want” reminds me of Jesus when he prayed in the garden before his trial and crucifixion which strikingly presents weakness and strong devotion as well

Luke 22:39-44

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

So how is it that we build proper confidence so that we can approach God’s throne for mercy and grace in times of need? It is knowing who Jesus is. The Great high priest who is our great mediator, our go between, the one who reconciles our connection to God. The one who understands us completely.

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