When Nursing Becomes Illegal - thrive UMC Official Blog

When Nursing Becomes Illegal

Hebrews 5:1-4, 7-6:3

Every high priest is taken from the people and put in charge of things that relate to God for their sake, in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. The high priest is able to deal gently with the ignorant and those who are misled since he himself is prone to weakness. Because of his weakness, he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for the people. No one takes this honor for themselves but takes it only when they are called by God, just like Aaron.

During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. After he had been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for everyone who obeys him. 10 He was appointed by God to be a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

11 We have a lot to say about this topic, and it’s difficult to explain, because you have been lazy and you haven’t been listening. 12 Although you should have been teachers by now, you need someone to teach you an introduction to the basics about God’s message. You have come to the place where you need milk instead of solid food. 13 Everyone who lives on milk is not used to the word of righteousness, because they are babies. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between good and evil.

So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God, of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. We’re going to press on, if God allows it.

When we hear the phrase “word of God” most of us automatically assume it refers to the Bible.  Lots of preachers, for instance, when they read Bible verses in church conclude with the litany: ‘the word of God for the people of God,’ to signify that what the congregation just heard was special.  It’s holy. And in lots of Christian denominations, this is how they explain what the Bible is: ‘It’s God’s word.’ Therefore, we should pay extra-close attention to it. And this is absolutely true.

But what we often overlook is the fact that the Bible does not contain the only words of God. God’s voice resounds in a great many places and in a great many ways, outside the pages of our holy book.  Indeed, the Bible itself testifies to this very truth.  Just look at the first page of the first book of the Bible.  The very first activity we see God engaged in is the creation of the cosmos.  And how does God perform this first and most spectacular miracle?  By speaking!  God says, “let there be light.”  And light appears!  In this way, light itself is a word of God. Then immediately: God sees that the light is good.

That’s the pattern of creation: God speaks; it happens; God witnesses its goodness.

So bound up is creation and our material reality with the act of God’s speech that Catholic priest and theologian Richard Rohr even goes so far as to say that creation itself is God’s first word and testament, and I think that’s an idea worth sitting with for a while.  But it doesn’t stop there: in Exodus and Deuteronomy, God speaks again to create the law.  In fact, in the Jewish tradition, the Ten Commandments are often referred to as ‘the ten words’ from God.

Then later still in Bible, the Gospel of John announces Jesus to be God’s word made flesh.  Jesus of Nazareth was God’s word made human.

Because of this, even the people who followed Jesus initially referred to their group as the ‘ekklesia’ the assembly that was ‘called out,’ by God.  Because God had a living word of good news for them, and because they received this word, they gained a new blessing and a new sense of identity and responsibility.  In this way, ‘God’s word’ becomes a way of life, together. It’s a way that we share and how we interact with one another.  God’s word is something we feel, and something that moves us.

Our reading from last week announced: “God’s word is living, active and sharper than any two-edged sword.  It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow.  It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions” (4:12).

But here in the middle of our reading from today, we see there’s a problem. In fact, it’s a pretty big problem, and you’d definitely pick up on this if you’d keep reading through chapter six.  After illustrating how Jesus serves as our great high priest, the author of Hebrews admits: “We have a lot to say about this topic” –at which point I, and I’m sure preachers everywhere are like: ‘yeah, we totally do, don’t we?!’ Anyway, it goes on: “and it’s difficult to explain” the sermon says, “because you have been lazy and you haven’t been listening.”

That’s how this translation phrases it; but a more literal translation in English would read: ‘We have many words about all of this, but you’ll never get it because of your bastard (illegitimate/base-born) hearing.’  Here, when we get back to the original Greek, we can see that the root of the problem isn’t simply that we’re slow or not trying hard enough, but it’s like we try and listen ears unworthy  of hearing. In short the audience isn’t listening as rightful children of God who fully belong.  Instead they sit listening as if their presence were some kind of an illicit intrusion.  A trespass.  And because they’re not entirely convinced they really belong, they hold back, and refrain from participating.

But then the author goes on: “Although you should have been teachers by now, you need someone to teach you an introduction to the basics about God’s message. You have come to the place where you need milk instead of solid food.  Everyone who lives on milk is not used to the word of righteousness, because they are babies.  But solid food is for the mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between good and evil.”

One more detail about the language here before we move on: when it says, “the one who lives on milk is not used to the word of righteousness” the word that’s translated as ‘righteousness’ here refers to a verdict of approval.  It means that a judgment has been made, and the judge has found them to be in the right.  So again, the criticism here isn’t a lack of ability or effort –but the criticism is that they’re radically insecure.  The audience, for whatever reason, just can’t accept their ‘not guilty’ verdict.  They can’t fully grasp their sense of belonging –but instead they crave constant reassurance of their value and position within the family of God.

You should be teachers by now!  But instead you’re acting like babies –all because you just can’t accept that you’re accepted.

So here you are, old enough to be an adult, but instead of taking responsibility for your community by serving other people, you’re going around crying for someone to come around to teach you, again, the ABC’s of God’s word. When you should be serving up nice juicy ribeyes –or if you’re a little more health-conscious then some kind of fancy salad with arugula- but instead you’re whining and waiting for someone to come along and serve you some fresh milk.

And let’s not miss the imagery here, because the author isn’t depicting someone going to the fridge to pour a nice cold glass of moo-juice.  No, it’s inviting you to picture breast-feeding.  That was the exclusive means of feeding babies milk back then.  If a baby didn’t get milk from a human breast, it would die.  Bottles and baby formula weren’t invented. So a motherly figure was required to eat, and to translate the nourishment of her food into a form that an infant’s delicate system could accept.  And it’s a wonderful, miraculous thing.  And what is perhaps even more wonderful is that, back then, when one mother wasn’t able to produce this necessary nutrition for her own child, other women would often step up to assist, or take over, that vital task.

So breastfeeding is something of a miracle.  It’s a beautiful and life-giving service that was absolutely essential to every community in that day and age.  And it still is, so if we notice a woman breastfeeding in our midst today, we should remember that all of us were once in a state of need similar to that of the infant she holds.  And we should celebrate it, because infant-feeding is creates our future.  But what we should absolutely not do when we see a mother nursing, is ask for a sip.

Inappropriate, and dare I say it’s also probably illegal. That’s an inquiry that would be a great way for you, as an adult, to lose your own shirt in a lawsuit and also be banned from stepping within 500 yards of a school playground, forever.  So don’t do even ask, because it is, and always has been, offensive.

But this is precisely the offensive imagery that this passage is supposed to conjure in our minds: a whole community of grown-ups still begging to be breastfed!  So whenever their spiritual wet-nurse comes around, they still jump up and claw at her shirts crying ‘feed me, feed me! Prove to me again that I’m loved and deserving of the things of life! I won’t truly know until I’ve had a little suckle!’

This is why everyone always asks pastor to be the one to pray at meetings and at meals –as if he or she is the only one with the metaphorical mammeries to get the job done. But everyone can pray, and they should be empowered to do so.  A similar attitude applies when it comes to leading ministries and bible studies –if it’s only pastor who ever leads, then there’s a family problem here.  And most pastors, with their seminary-swollen bosoms, just can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to monopolizing the milk market.  We somehow become like those bad, stereotypically, Italian moms, whose 35 year old sons living in the basement are underdeveloped precisely because no one else’s love or pasta could ever possibly be as good as theirs.

But at some point or another, you’ve got to cut the cord –and maybe err on the side of too soon, rather than too late.

The mom-figure eventually has to start to withhold herself to go: uh, nope, it’s time to move on to rice cereal and mashed peas now.  And now it’s time for meat.  And now it’s time to make your own meals.  And now it’s time to get a job and buy your own food.  And now it’s time for you to feed other people.  Because people were made to grow up, and become adults.

So this morning, I just wanted to check in with all of you and ask: did you even know that one day you’re supposed to grow up and teach God’s word to other people?  Did you know that’s a part of the expectation this community has for you? Were you aware that you come here on Sundays not just to be fed but also, and more importantly, to extend nourishment?  Because there are little ones –people who know pretty much nothing, or they’re misinformed about the God who speaks life- those little ones need the words you’ve received.  They need the stories of good news you’ve heard and experienced.  They need someone to witness the good in them that they can’t see themselves, so they can start to accept the favorable verdict that’s been issued by our cosmic judge.  They need your trust to show them that they too could one day be capable of sharing God’s word in a way that gives life to others.

So if you’re here, it’s because you’re en route to becoming a teacher of, and a messenger for, God’s word.  You’re here to be empowered live a life of love and to speak hope into a hopeless world.

Because, remember, this is how it’s supposed to work: God speaks, things happen, God pronounces it good.

So let’s check our hearing: are we receiving God’s word as children who fully belong, and who are called to incarnate that good news with our very lives?  Or do we receive God’s word like bastards –never able to accept our own worthiness, always feeling ashamed of ourselves and of the choices of our heavenly Father?

If we’re to be God’s children, we must receive the basics.  If we’ve got the basics down, it’s time to move on –to meatier and more diverse and more risky things. Because there’s a process to this: our movement is from baby to parent –from helpless to helper.  From student to teacher.

And here, at the beginning of Hebrews 6 we get a list of the basic elements of Christ’s Word:

  • Abstaining from dead works
  • Faith in God
  • Teachings pertaining to baptism (which is likely a reference to an early baptismal catechism)
  • Laying on of hands (which is the passing on of power and responsibility)
  • Resurrection from the dead
  • Eternal Judgment.

Now, I bet most of you look at that list and you probably have some idea of what some of that stuff is about.  Meanwhile I bet a lot of you don’t really know what the ‘Laying on of hands’ bit is about, and could at least benefit some from clarifications of a few of the other points.  And I’m sure all of you have some question-marks to go with at least one of those numbers.  That’s all okay.

Some of you might identify a slightly different set of basics for the faith –and I think that’s probably okay too.  That’s not the point for the moment.  The urgent and essential point we need to be aware of this morning is there is a sense of a trajectory for our faith.  There is a beginning, and there are intermediary steps.  And then finally there is a state of living fully into the calling of God’s word.  And the picture we have for living fully into God’s word is Jesus.  Remember, he’s God’s Son and also our high priest. And here in Hebrews 5 verse 7-9 we have what some scholars consider to be an early confession of the Christian church.

Here it says:

During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. After he had been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for everyone who obeys him.

Jesus, just like us, started out weak and anxious about death.  But he grew in his obedience –which in the Greek means he learned to listen and to act according to God’s word, through the experience of suffering. (Parents, remember the faces your babies made when you shoved vegetable puree in their faces at first?)  And then it says he was made ‘perfect’ –he fulfilled of his goal- and he became the source of eternal salvation for everyone who listens and acts according to the word he lived out.

Jesus, as high priest, who stood between us and God for our sake, calls us to draw closer to God, and to become more like God in the way we love and live.  We say he is God’s word in the flesh because he lived fully devoted to God’s message.  He gave himself totally, holding nothing back, as a holy act of listening to God’s voice.  He was able to do this because his ears –his hearing- grew to be fully open in order to receive God’s word of life. He fully accepted his worthiness and the goodness God endowed him with.  And because of this, though he suffered and died, he lived again.

This is the call of God’s word that’s been delivered to us.  Already we’ve begun to accept the ABC’s of faith.  Let our hearts and our ears join in with the words of today’s scripture where it says: “We’re going to press on, if God allows it.”

Let’s pray.

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