Hebrews 3: 1-5
“So, my dear Christian friends, companions in following this call to the heights, take a good hard look at Jesus. He’s the centerpiece of everything we believe, faithful in everything God gave him to do. Moses was also faithful, but Jesus gets far more honor. A builder is more valuable than a building any day. Every house has a builder, but the Builder behind them all is God.”
The number forty is a sacred one in scripture. We are observing forty days of Lent. This was a time of preparation inspired by the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting and praying. Jesus’ time in the wilderness hearkens back to Moses, as our text in Hebrews alludes, who went up the mountain and fasted while receiving the great teaching (aka commandments) that would guide God’s people. Forty is the number of days and nights that Noah spent in the ark. And forty is the number of years the Israelites wandered in the desert. Some scholars have wondered if part of this symbolic, sacred number is that it was related to the average life-span – therefore including the experience of both birth and death.
Richard Rohr says, “What’s the significance of this number? Probably the way we would say it is: Trust the process, it’s not over until it’s over. “Forty days and forty nights” has become a mantra for all sacred time: time of temptation, time of ecstasy, and time of trial.”
In the long slow pursuit of justice, this embrace of “forty days and forty nights” is critical. In the process, there will be times of new birth where there is a sense of progress, of hope, and of anticipation. These are good and ought to be celebrated. These experiences need to be told and shared. And in the process, there will be times of death where things feel immobilized, where fear has a strangle-hold, when hope seems dim. These experiences also need to be shared, so that we can carry the burden together.
Tomorrow will be seven days since we launched the Lenten invitation to “Tell Your Pastor #imaffirming.” Seven is also a sacred number in scripture. On the seventh day, God rested from the work of creation. And God called the creation to remember this rhythm – this sabbath rhythm. Some folks have asked me who the invitation is actually impacting since so many people who have shared it are already clearly, publicly affirming. The pastors we’re hearing from: already affirming. Most of the straight cis people: already affirming. The churches expressing interest: already affirming. What is much less evident are those who are observing; those who are struggling and praying and unsure what to do; those who are in their own forty days in the wilderness; those who are fighting the fear that would keep them silent.
At this seven day point, I welcome God’s rest. We received the invitation to set the table – and we have. I will resist the urge to worry about how many people will see it, who will be impacted, and what difference all of this will make – at least for today. Instead, I will take the long view – the life-span sort of view – one that includes both new birth and death – and ultimately resurrection.
Today I will remember that “the builder is more valuable than the building any day.” Today I will remember the one whose heart is struggling to change. Today I will reflect on how God is working in ways yet unseen. Today I will trust the process. Today I will rest in knowing that God is the Builder behind them all.
Are there any places in your life you find yourself anxious and uncertain about the outcome? What might it look like for you to “trust the process”?
When you think about the church and the work that is yet needed for it to be a safe and affirming place for LGBTQ+ people, do you lean towards birth or death in your reflections? What might it look like to focus on the other part (If you normally think about the ‘death’ and all that is difficult, think about ‘birth’ and all that is possible. If your normally think about ‘birth’, what would it be like to make space to think about ‘death’ – the things that may need to be grieved)?