and I said, “They always go astray in their hearts,
and they have not known my ways.”
As in my anger I swore,
“They will not enter my rest.”’
Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today’, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
‘Today, if you hear his voice
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’
Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses? But with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
This reflection is written during the Black Lives Matter campaign. Racial inequality is by no means a new experience. We all have different tastes, sometimes not very helpful tastes. I was brought up in the South Wales town of Barry. In the 1950’s there were no fewer than 30 churches, mainly non-conformist, serving a population of about 50,000. Competition between the denominations was strong. For example, to join a church’s youth organisation you had to attend that particular church. This was further complicated by some churches worshipping and working through the medium of the Welsh language. A member of one such congregation once said to me that it was pointless in going to heaven without the Welsh language because without Welsh you wouldn’t understand what was being said or going on! They regarded Welsh as “The language of heaven”.
A not dissimilar conflict was going on in the early Church in that Christians that came from a Hebrew background were attempting to persuade those of a Gentile background to follow their traditions. In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul challenges this situation by, in effect, asking “Who is the greater in your beliefs, Moses or Jesus?” I am confident that the Christians from a Gentile background would respond “Jesus”, but what about those from a Hebrew background? What were their hopes of heaven?
This raises the question as to what is your vision of heaven – “The land of rest”? Does it include people and situations that make you feel ill at ease? Clearly, the early Christians facing the Hebrew/Gentile division were not facing that issue, are you in that same trap?
Lord, how often have You heard us sing in our worship J. G. Whittier‘s hymn “Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways.” You inspired these words so that we have the opportunity to repent, to turn around, yet still we continue in our old habits. Open our eyes that we might see the foolishness of our greedy attitudes, seeking wealth or fame rather than perfect rest with You. Again, we seek forgiveness trusting in Your love and compassion. Amen
The Rev’d Colin Hunt is a retired minister and member of Hutton & Shenfield Union Church, Essex