Neglect

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I have seen cars destroyed in a split second, in brake-squealing, fender-crunching collisions, and I have seen cars destroyed over time through lack of routine maintenance:  failure to change oil, check fluid levels, follow the service schedule.  I have seen houses burn to the ground in a matter of minutes, and I have seen houses slowly crumble when left vacant and unattended.  I have seen relationships instantaneously explode through a single act of infidelity, and I have seen relationships slowly disintegrate through years of inattention.  I have seen faith rejected in anger and confusion over God’s apparent absence in a moment of crisis, and I have seen faith squandered — more just gradually lost than cast away.

So I understand the sense of caution and warning in our reading from Hebrews:

Hebrews 2:1–3 (ESV): Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

Drift away.  Neglect.  The concern here is not something dramatic like blasphemy, heresy, or apostasy; it is the drifting away of the soul from God through neglect of the relationship.  When I taught high school I used to tell my senior students that if they kept in contact with just two or three of their school friends after graduation, they would be doing well.  Of course, they doubted me.  And then time went by.  Ten years passed and they realized they hadn’t heard from or seen their high school BFFs — Best Friends Forever — in a decade, though we have more social media than ever.  There was no falling out, no hard feelings.  They were just in different places, doing different things, with different people, and pursuing different priorities.  High School friends just naturally drift away from one another, not through animus but through neglect.  And, as the writer of Hebrews warns us, that can happen with God, as well:  not that God drifts away from us or neglects us, but that we grow slack and cold and distant toward God.

We start out fired up to pray without ceasing, then little-by-little we find ourselves skipping Morning Prayer.  We start out longing to come into the courts of the Lord, then little-by-little we find ourselves “worshipping” in nature instead of in church:  in the mountains or at the lake, on the golf course or at the Little League or soccer game.  We start out to read the Bible through in a year and little-by-little we hit Leviticus, then we opt for binge watching the Office instead.  None of this is a repudiation of the Gospel.  None of this is a rejection of the faith.  Of course we still believe.  It is just a drifting away, a neglect.

Hebrews 2:1–3 (ESV): Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?  An equally pressing question is this:  How do we escape neglecting such a great salvation?  How do we keep from drifting away?

The whole thrust of the Epistle to the Hebrews is that we drift away from the true faith — we lose our way — when we take our eyes off Jesus and look to something else, to anything else.  We humans are easily distracted.

Long before we had GPS with a nice, British voice saying, “In 500 feet, turn left onto Robinson Road,” we had directions that sounded like this:  

Go a couple of miles past that filling station — I think it’s a Shell or an Exxon, I can’t remember — and you’ll see a blue house on the right; turn left there and go to the second big curve and turn right.

The reality never looked like the directions though.  First you came to a BP, not a Shell or Exxon.  Is that the right filling station?  You take a chance and turn.  Then, a little way further, you see a bright blue house; but it’s on the left, not on the right.  And so it goes.  Because things don’t look exactly as expected, it’s easy to get lost, easy to drift away from the right path.

That is the second warning in our Hebrews’ text; keeping our eyes on Jesus is not as easy as we think, because things don’t always look like we expect.  We read:

Hebrews 2:7–8 (ESV): You made him for a little while lower than the angels; 

you have crowned him with glory and honor,

8  putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.

We are expecting a blue house on the right, but it appears on the left.  We are expecting to see Jesus with everything in subjection under his feet and yet, when we look around, we see the nations in rebellion against him, not subject to him as promised.  So, do we turn now or go straight?  Keep to the course.  Keep looking to Jesus:  not to what you see with your eyes when you look around, but to what you see and know to be true through faith:

Hebrews 2:8–9 (ESV): At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 

Where do we see Jesus crowned with glory and honor if not in the world around us?  In the worship of the Church.  In the words of Scripture.  In the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  In the lives of the saints.  In the depths of a heart purified by prayer and fasting and repentance and service.

There is a two-fold warning in this Hebrews’ text:  don’t neglect such a great salvation and so drift away from the faith, and don’t take your eyes off Jesus no matter what the world around you looks like.

I think this is a fitting word at the moment.  During this time of Covid-19 restrictions, many of our habits of worship have been interrupted and curtailed.  As we grow used to this “new abnormal,” as an emotional malaise sets in, it might be easy to neglect our great salvation, to drift away from an intentional practice of our faith.  But now those core disciplines of our tradition — daily Morning and Evening Prayer, weekly Eucharist, personal devotions — become perhaps more important than ever.  During this time of social unrest — with both legitimate protest and unwarranted violence — during this time of heated political partisanship, during this time of natural disasters, during this time when almost everything in this world seems to be in rebellion against the kingdom of God, it might be easy to take our eyes off Jesus.  But now the exercise of our faith, the opening of our eyes to its reality, may be more important than ever if we are to see Jesus crowned with glory and honor because of his suffering and death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

This is a good time to read Hebrews; I’m glad our lectionary has landed us there.  From start to finish its message is two-fold:  the superiority of Jesus and the need to hold fast to him.  We must not neglect our great salvation.  We must not drift away.  We must fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  Amen.

About johnaroop

I am a husband, father, retired teacher, lover of books and music and coffee and, as of 17 May 2015, by the grace of God and the will of his Church, an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Diocese of the South. I serve as assisting priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN.
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