I knew some parents with a second grade daughter. They were not well-off but had got a scholarship for their little girl to go to private school where the girls had uniforms. Their finances were such that they couldn't afford to get the new skirt as she grew so they bought a skirt too large and hemmed it up and then during the year as she grew they undid the hemline. The previous hemlines were quite visible due to two creases about an inch apart where for the past year and a half they had unstitched the hem twice to let the skirt down. The other girls in the class were wealthier and had multiple changes of clothing, and no unstitched hemline creases. The parents initially struggled with thoughts that her old and noticeably different skirt might affect their girl's social development and emotional security. But they felt powerless to make her confident by affording all the things and keeping up with all the other girls in the class.
Many of us find ourselves in similar powerlessness situations. We tend to think that our sense of influence and significance are somehow connected to us being in control, have power over our situations, and fitting in better than everyone else.
Hebrews has a lot to say to us when we feel this way. The book is written to people who have found themselves in a powerlessness and disorientation. The recipients had experienced a great deal of difficulty, and the question that’s on their hearts is, “If God supposedly loves us so much, why is our life so challenging?”
The thesis of Hebrews, or the response to this question, comes in three-parts, really three words: Rest in the midst of unrest, Presence in the face of discomfort, City of God in the midst of the city of man.
Over the next three days I want to take up each of these words.
First, rest. “God, if you love me so much why am I oppressed? Why am not as popular or significant as others? I mean, wouldn't you be able to make a greater difference in our world if I was in a powerful position at my work, in my city, or around my neighborhood?"
The journey to rest in God doesn't mean I have rest because of the absence of disappointments and chaos and distress, but rather in the face of distress, oppression, and insignificance I have rest. See, God’s city is made up of people who are living their distresses and discomforts out differently than the city of man. And God uses this paradox to show the world he has a society where people are so at Rest with him that they no longer need power and prestige to influence others and the world. Whether we are powerful or oppressed, significant or insignificant, in the ethnic majority or ethnic minority no longer determines our potential for influence in the world.
Jesus upended all of that.
Jesus didn't influence the world with a Jerusalem-Ivy league pedigree, his dad wasn't from a powerful Jerusalem-elite aristocracy, he didn't bring reform and leave a legacy to the world from a posh palace of philanthropic and humanitarian goodness, or as an armed Che Guevara guerilla fighter.
He influenced the world from an unknown region in Galilee, that was under the oppressive occupation of Rome, with only 11 students who really believed in him. He influenced the world from as his hometown reject and family shame. He influenced the world without a tenured teaching career and with a scandalous and tragic criminal execution.
He influenced the world in powerlessness and not from power. He was at rest with who he was, content to be his Father's son, he didn't influence the world through a rebellion but through an obedience, he didn't throw off the oppressive powers through brut strength and force but overthrew them through humility, submission, and weakness. He did not influence the world as a leader men, but as a follower of God.
Something radical and subversive happens when we are at rest with who we are and not restless in trying to be someone else.
My friend's second grade daughter unwittingly demonstrated this. The parents decided to take this situation of economic powerlessness as an opportunity to show their daughter the power of love. They loved her, repeatedly told her how valuable and special she was, how much she meant to them. Over and over they restated, "You are special, you are beautiful, you are our joy." And as it is with most kids, she believed it, so much so, that she started taking joy in everything. She saw her hem creases through the lens of her specialness and belovedness. This translated into her being really confident in class. This of course led the other wealthier girls in the class to start undoing their hems on their skirts because they wanted to be like her. She had influenced them from a place of powerlessness because she was at rest with who she was as a daughter, she was not restless or anxious to fit into someone else’s skin, she was comfortable in her own skin.
This is the Rest the Prophet Jesus has led us into.
What saltiness, what light is there in God making us powerful, prestigious, or privileged so that we can finally have rest? On the other hand, if in powerlessness, obscurity, and underprivileged status we possess rest, our Heavenly Father is glorified.
Read Hebrews chapters 1-4.