“So You Want a Revival? – Room to Breathe Sermon Series
“So You Want a Revival?”
Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
October 3, 2021
I am one of those who were made to take piano lessons as a child, did it for the minimal amount of time before my parents let me quit, and then regretted that decision my entire adulthood. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just play the piano? If I could not only enjoy music but create it? Offer it? Play?
And so a few years ago I took up lessons – jumped in with excitement.
I started learning scales. Somewhat quickly I was able to figure out how to play little melody lines from some of my favorite songs. And my teacher was pleased with my immediate progress. I felt good.
But you know how it is when the new thing becomes a more…routine thing? Eventually, the scales were not so fun to play. And I learned there was a difference between playing the right notes and playing music. And playing music takes a lot of practice. Repetition. Attention to detail.
You don’t see the real fruit of your labor right away…and so it really is an exercise in faith that somehow in time these little adjustments and corrections will lead to a day when the song really starts to play forth as it should.
Perhaps my faith waned too much…
Like many things that become routine or even tiring or trying routines…it just got harder and harder to stay motivated. I practiced less. I made more excuses (“Oh, I’ll double my practice tomorrow.” “I’ve been feeling sick this week anyway…”).
Malaise. Apathy settling in after the initial spark.
That was the central crisis being addressed in the book of Hebrews.
There is a lot we do not know about the book of Hebrews, including who the author is. But, what does seem clear is that this congregation of Jesus followers to whom the author writes, had certainly known the initial spark of faith and they had been motivated to learn and grow and worship together. Do you remember your early days of the faith?
This congregation in the book of Hebrews was so enthusiastic and counter-cultural in how they lived out their faith and love for one another across all kinds of boundaries…that they endured suffering and persecution.
The author even reminds the congregation about that time at one point in the letter: “Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”
You were playing the music, weren’t you?
But then something happened. Not born of a crisis. Not born great tragedy or great triumph. Something almost imperceptible. Something that you only start to notice slowly when you are not practicing as much…
The music was becoming notes.
They were doing the motions of faith but the vitality…and honestly, even some of the notes were not being played as much anymore. It is obvious from other parts of the letter in Hebrews that people had just stopped meeting together regularly as a body…to learn, to pray, to fellowship, most centrally to worship.
Or when they did it was more intermittent, less urgent, or important.
What do you do when the crisis facing the people of God is not foremost an external crisis (as real as those certainly are)? What do you do when the chief crisis is internal…and so seemingly benign compared to all the other challenges of the world?
What if the chief crisis is heavy malaise? Apathy?
Right notes; little music.
Or increasingly, just fewer notes altogether.
How do you get back to the piano?
I was part of this small group Bible study in Atlanta, GA a decade or so ago, and one night at the end of our time together Randy Stinnett went to the piano.
Randy was a thoughtful, kind, warm graduate student in the Bible study. And very quietly he walks over to the piano. No one knew he played… he gently places his
fingers upon the keys, his posture goes upright, and then he leans in with this energy we’d never seen as he begins playing the jazzy, touch-every-key-of-the-piano improv version of The Steadfast Love of the Lord Never Ceases.
Have you ever been to a concert or in worship or a moment of music perhaps just in a living room…where you know what is being offered is just transcendent? And you know that even if you record it, even if you try and describe it 10 minutes later to someone else…it just isn’t going to come close to the beauty of that moment? Have you known that offering?
That’s the kind of stuff that will get you back to the piano. Right?
- When you see the vision again of why the piano matters…
- When someone brings forth the beauty of all the right keys and you remember, “Oh…that’s what this life can sound like.”
And that is what the author of Hebrews is doing in chapters 1 and 2.
As many scholars have noted, this is a sermon. And the first four verses of this sermon that the author is preaching have often been called a hymn or a poem because the Greek here is so strikingly beautiful as it lifts all the basic notes of who Jesus is into music so that the tired hearers might be stirred by the sound….
“Oh yeah…that’s it. That’s the vision we’ve lost. That’s the thing.”
The key notes include…
- In a world where we often wonder if there is anyone of authority and insight and love actually speaking truth, living something true…the author declares that if you look at Jesus, you will see the very imprint of God’s very being. You will see God is all about; you will hear the voice of authority and insight and love.
- In a world of trials and tragedies, continually filled with fears and failings and great uncertainty about what will happen next and so we anxiously vie for power…the author declares that this Jesus sustains the entire world. He has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High; he who is Love is actually and truly in charge.
- In a world where we are apt to judge one another, turn from one another, shut each other …he has made purification for our sins, he has made a road of forgiveness where we thought only walls could exist.
- It’s poetry, it’s a hymn, it’s music playing the basic notes of faith and bringing them out for the people to hear again.
This is the gift…
of musicians and artists,
of designers and painters,
of sculptors and photographers,
of quilters and architects,
of writers and cooks,
They take what so many of us have begun to take for granted or overlooked and through their art they give it fresh expression, vitalizing expression.
How vitalizing to the souls of people when the artists of every stripe step in and provide a vision, again, of who God is and what God is all about in this world.
- Have you been blessed to see the Spirit of Jesus in and through artists of any kind these recent months?
- Blessed to receive a new vitality because someone or someone’s creativity reminded you, “There’s Jesus. That’s what he’s all about. That’s what we’re all about.”
On May 27, 1992, there was a long line of people outside of a bakery in Sarajevo. The city had been under siege for over a month in what would become the four-year Bosnian War. The siege had laid ruin a lot of the city already; sniper fire and shells were common every day – and food and water were quickly become difficult to come by.
A mortar hit that line of people and killed 22 of them in a horrific tragedy. Vedran Smajlović, the principal cellist of the Sarajevo Opera, lived near there at the time and went to help the wounded shortly thereafter.
But the main feeling that overcame him at that moment was absolute powerlessness – he was not a soldier, he was not a politician. He held no sway in any areas that could remotely affect what was befalling his country.
He did have one thing. And perhaps you know the story…The next day he put on his finest concert tuxedo, took his cello to the ruins and rubble and still putrid air of the very spot where the people in line had been, and upon that cello, he played Albinoni’s hauntingly beautiful Adagio in G Minor.
Afterward, people raced up to him to tell him that even though the bakery now had no bread…he had brought bread.
So he went back and did it again the next day amid sniper fire and shelling.
And the next day.
And he did it for 22 consecutive days in honor of all 22 victims.
He then went to other sites in the city where shelling had taken lives. And he played. He sought out graveyards that were filling quickly…and played there.
Continually, he looked for the places of destruction, despair, and death…and there he prioritized he raised his that delicate wood…and played.
Hebrews chapter 2 declares that Jesus tasted death for everyone…he is the pioneer of our salvation through suffering. Which is to say, he sought the darkest that humanity could throw at the world – the place of humiliation, the place of injustice, the place of death itself, and there, there raised love.
We worship a Jesus who does not avoid the darkness and pain within or the darkness and pain without.
Rather he actively seeks out the places of humiliation and brokenness, the places of injustice and pain, the places where death surprises and the places where death constantly hovers…and that is where this Jesus who holds the world goes every time.
To bring bread. “I prepare a table in the presence of mine enemies…in the space where snipers fire and rubble falls…”
“Three days later, I will rise to life.”
Jesus is the original artist – the one offering surprising even shocking beauty and life in the places of deepest malaise… and worse.
And that is where the body of Jesus on earth goes every time –
Cello in tow.
Or pen and paper.
Or mixing bowl.
Or tape measure.
And with their creativity they become an orchestra playing in the rubble, declaring by way of beauty that the darkness has not overcome and will not overcome.
What’s your cello?
And has the Holy Spirit stirred in any way such that there is again a longing not just to play the notes but lean into the music? And toward which brokenness, which rubble, which pain, which injustice…which space is God calling us toward?
And lest we forget, we would be wise to dawn our finest attire, no?
Colossians 3:12 is where the church has long gotten its fashion sense: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience….and love which binds the whole outfit together.”
In these polarized, pandemic days…there exists a very real malaise and apathy for many inside and outside of the church. Thanks be to God that Jesus shows up with surprising beauty in the darkness time and again.
May we be given eyes to see him (or perhaps ears to hear him)…and remember what the notes are all about.
And then may we have the courage to take up our cello.
Dawn our finest attire.
And step again toward the rubble…an orchestra declaring the forgiving and feeding way of Jesus. Amen.