Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Pioneer of Salvation

Pioneer of Salvation
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12[1]
When you think about what the original pioneers who settled this land went through, it is amazing what they accomplished. I’ve made several cross-country moves in my life. That kind of move is challenging for most of us to consider. But we have the benefit of knowing that we can make the trip in the relative comfort and safety of a car, never too far from fuel and food and a motel to spend the night. The original pioneers had none of that. Those who first blazed the trail westward didn’t even know if they were on the right track. Those who followed the trails after they were reasonably well marked were risking everything when they took the journey. It is truly amazing to think about what they accomplished.
When you consider what motivated the pioneers to make such a journey, I’m sure you would find a variety of answers. Some were looking for the promise of prosperity. Others were just looking for a place to settle and raise a family. Whatever motivated them, I have to wonder whether they knew what they were in for. The stories of the pioneers make it clear that some did not. They were not prepared for the hardships and sacrifices required to carve a livelihood out of the wilderness. It’s hard to imagine that any of them were fully prepared for what lay ahead. But some of them persevered, and they made it possible for others to follow, and to settle this land.
Our scripture lesson from Hebrews for today speaks of Jesus as the “pioneer of our salvation.” It’s a unique way of understanding Jesus. In fact, this theme is only found in the Letter to the Hebrews. I think it likely that has something to do with the context in which the letter was written. Christians faced increasing opposition to their faith. Many were becoming discouraged and losing heart due to the hardships they faced on a constant basis. The Letter to the Hebrews was written to encourage them to persevere in their faith despite the obstacles they lived with.
In that setting, the Scripture speaks of Jesus as the “pioneer of our salvation” (Heb. 2:10). The idea is that Jesus has “blazed the trail” for us to experience salvation. He has opened the way for us to know God in a life-changing way. But Hebrews not only calls Jesus the “pioneer of our salvation.” The Scripture also speaks of him as “pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). The idea is that he not only blazed the trail for us, but he has also completed the journey, and stands as a living example of how we can complete our journey—by following him in single-minded devotion to God’s will and ways.
I find it remarkable that in both settings where the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus as the pioneer of our faith, suffering plays a significant role. In our lesson for today, the Scripture speaks of Jesus being “perfected” for that task through what he suffered. Specifically, he tasted death for us all in order to open the way for us to God. Again, in the other setting where this theme occurs, those to whom the letter was addressed were encouraged to look to Jesus and what he endured on the cross as encouragement to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). And so, as the pioneer of our salvation, Jesus continues to encourage us to finish our pilgrimage of faith—a journey that will last our whole lives.
I’m not sure we realize it, but I would say that we all are like the pioneers in some ways. We, too, are “on the way,” taking the journey of faith. And while we have many examples to follow, each of us has a unique path to take. For most of us, we really have no idea where that path is going to lead us. And none of us can know what hardships or sacrifices we will encounter on the way. I think it’s safe to say, however, that all of us will come to a time in our journey of faith where what we have to endure on the way will leave us discouraged. It’s common to find ourselves, after having worked so hard for so long, to simply grow weary of the journey.
In a very real sense, this not only applies to us as individuals. It also applies to us as a church family. Like most churches these days, we find ourselves  trekking into a wilderness of sorts. The landscape in which the church finds itself situated in this culture is one that has changed dramatically, and those who are open enough to be aware of this change find themselves blazing a trail into the future of what the church will become in this strange new world. At this point, I would say that none of us can say where this journey will lead or what the church will look like as we adapt to a new environment along the way.
It’s not easy to be a pioneer. It takes constant commitment to persevere along a difficult path. It’s easy to get discouraged and lose heart along the way. Fortunately, none of us has to make this pilgrimage of faith on our own. Most of us have the encouragement of friends and family as we face the hardships of the journey. We also have the encouragement of the family of faith to help us along. But perhaps more importantly, we can look to Jesus when we lose heart. As the “pioneer of our salvation,” Jesus has marked out the path. As the “perfecter of our faith” he has shown us how to complete the journey, and he continually encourages us as we seek to finish the path. We are not left to make this journey alone. As the “pioneer of salvation,” Jesus leads us to our final destination.

[1] ©2018 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 10/7/2018 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

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