No doubt many groups have slugged their way through Hebrews trying to make sense of all the illusions to the old testament. At the end of the day, the author (unknown to us) is trying to make a comprehensive (and apparently orderly) argument for the authority of Jesus as messiah. His audience is comprised primarily of Jews who accepted christ as messiah but are back tracking into their jewish roots. Now we meet this guy with a funny name, Melchizedek which is roughly translated king of righteousness. There is a lot of debate about who this guy really is, where did he come from and how does he fit in the overall biblical narrative. We don’t have a ton to go on. We are introduced to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18 “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,’Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Then David mentions this priest of God Most High in the messianic psalm 110, “‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'” So the Author of Hebrews takes what little is known about Melchizedek (his family line, origin, how he became priest, death) and positions him as a Messiah “prototype”. Here we have a high priest who was also a king without a beginning or end who is not a Levite (which is the family clan where priest only came from). Jesus also not coming from the line of Aaron (levite) who has no beginning (co-eternal with the father) is being linked to this messiah “prototype” for the purpose of establishing his authority as eternal king and high priest replacing the old system of sacrifices with his once and for all sacrifice. At the end of the day the author of Hebrews is using Melchizedek to build an exhaustive case for the superiority of Christ and the messiah that was sent to rescue his people once and for all.
There is plenty of debate around Melchizedek, but this at least drives at the heart of the authors intent for using him in his case for Jesus.
On this Sunday morning the church enters a new season. It is a season of waiting, anticipation, hope, longing and ultimately celebration. Advent provides the church with the sacred opportunity to remember the waiting of those long ago for the movement of God to set things right while at the same time refreshing our own hopeful longing for God’s final movement with the second advent of Christ’s return.
Advent is a season of light returning as we retell the story of God presence returning to his wandering people. We begin with the prophet’s candle as our introduction to this season of hopeful anticipation.
The prophets offer the first flicker of hope that despite the darkness of our world and the void of God’s presence a new light is dawning off the horizon. God redemptive DNA is about to be revealed in a most unexpected way.
“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
And so we light the first candle of hope. Not the hope that “wishes” something will happen” but a hope that knows it will happen.
Many small groups have stumbled on 1 Corinthians 11:2-10 and what Paul meant when he mentions women’s praying with their head covered. This entire passage is filled with comments and commands that are difficult to understand in large part because we weren’t there. Imagine if Paul was writing a letter to EUM and talked about things like MDO, SHOUT, Third floor activities, kids being dismissed at the 11am service but not the 9:45am service, etc. Someone reading that letter two thousand years later would be scratching his or her head, trying to figure out what was happening in this church called EUM. So all we are left with are clues and we do our best with the clues we are given.
Clue # 1: This entire passage (from 1 Corinthians 11) is about public worship. So what where he goes from here is filtered through the lens of a public place where Christians are gathering to worship together.
Clue # 2: This is an early church that is trying to figure out how to live out the gospel. What do I mean by that? As Paul traveled around the Mediterranean he is taking the Gospel and starting churches where he feel the spirit is leading. These churches are taking the powerful story of Christ’s life, his teachings, death and resurrection and trying to figure out how to adopt this way of life in light of their current culture. Paul’s letter then, is an attempt to recalculate the churches understanding and application of the Gospel.
Clue # 3: Current culture of this early church included a Patriarchal understanding of roles. The men are the “head”. Men with short hair and going uncovered (there is some debate on the exact meaning of the word) because to do otherwise (grow out hair) sends ambiguous signals about their sexuality or religious commitment. For women the concern was the ambiguous signals sent with short hard and a head uncovered in worship.
So when Paul talks about head covering as well as other issues such as women speaking in public he is suggesting a “yes, but” way of thinking. Yes the gospel provides freedom from oppressive systems and new opportunities that were previous unavailable to Christians, especially women “BUT” cautions Christians (especially women) from going to far to fast. This was specifically a concern of Paul’s in the public space of worship. Reading between the lines one gets the sense that Paul is protecting the early church from becoming to “radical” (sending the wrong message, especially when it came to gender roles and sexuality) within its existing culture so that it wouldn’t unnecessarily be dismissed.
My favorite line from Paul though is verse 11…. “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” Paul concludes this section on headship and hierarchical roles between genders with a beautiful statement about interdependence that leave us with God as the ultimate source.