Horizons Bible Study 2017-2018
“Cloud of Witnesses: The Community of Christ in Hebrews”
Lesson 3: In community with the living Word (Hebrews 1:1–3a; 4:12–13)
by Nadine Ellsworth-Moran
I purchased a mezuzah when I visited Jerusalem. “A what?” you ask. A mezuzah. A small tube, usually ceramic, containing a handwritten scroll that you attach to the doorframe of your home. Still not registering? Not surprising, since this particular practice is Judaic, not Christian. So why would a good Presbyterian be interested in such an item? Perhaps for some of the same reasons behind this lesson: to learn to be in community with the living word.
The origins of the mezuzah tradition are rooted in the Old Testament passage from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, referred to as the Shema.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
These are the words placed inside the mezuzah. Every time you enter your home, you touch the mezuzah then kiss your fingers to express your reverence for God and gratitude in remembering the Shema. In this way, the people are prompted to keep the word of God always before them, every day of their lives. I find this passage helpful in reminding us, Jews and Christians alike, that God’s word is ever expanding. It may begin by being written on our hearts, but it should not stay hidden there. God’s word is to be taught to our children, and shared with our neighbors. God’s word is to be our first thought in the morning and our last in the evening. God’s word is to go out into the world with us and be lived out in our actions.
Our words are important; they carry the power to crush as well as to mend. And if our words can have such impact, imagine how much more the living word of God can change our perspective, our relationships, our world. The hearers of Hebrews, that faithful community struggling to hold themselves together in a time and culture that rejected and brought discord between them, is not so different from our present. Neither is our path to accord and perseverance so different. It begins with attention to the Word: “We must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1).
It is incumbent on communities of believers to keep God’s word beneath them as a foundation on which to stand as the church, around them as a mantle of grace and obedience, and above them as they look with hope toward the salvation offered in Christ. The word of God continues to create and breathe life into the world, and we are called as witnesses to God’s ongoing in-breaking word.
God’s word is also a conviction on our hearts. Were it not for this awareness of our sinful nature and the ability for God’s word to “judge the thoughts and intentions” of human beings, how would we know grace, or comprehend mercy, or show forth God’s love? It is the living word that accomplishes this feat. We are blessed with God’s revelation through the word (and Word) that our God is capable of great things: to create heaven and earth from a formless void, to enflesh dry bones and let them live again and to speak to us by the Son, who “sustains all things by his powerful word.” This God of the word, who is the Word, also brings us into community with one another when we listen and remember and share God’s word.
One way we do this in our gathering each Sunday is to hear the word proclaimed. Then we are sent out to share this message, to spread the good news of the living word, to bring others to hear and bear witness to its regenerative and redemptive power. We, like our forefathers and foremothers in faith, have this word written on our hearts, and we could choose to hide it there, sheltering it from attack and ourselves from the hurtful words the world may throw at us. But we need not, for the word itself is unshakable and indelibly written. It will survive questions and doubt, persecution and apathy. So let us be bold in our speech and our actions, declaring God’s word daily, teaching it to our children, wearing it as a garment and posting it on our doorways and gates.
Nadine Ellsworth-Moran is an ordained Presbyterian pastor serving in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is also on staff at Union Presbyterian Seminary.
You can purchase the PW/Horizons Bible study book through the PC(USA) Church Store.
We are grateful to have Nadine Ellsworth-Moran as our guest columnist for Horizons lessons 2 and 3. Rosalind Banbury will be back in our next issue with insights on lesson 4.