The Step of Submission

Lent: Journey to the Heart  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  25:46
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This morning I want to open our Sermon reading by going back to the beginning of the chapter of Hebrews 5 to set the stage for how the lectionary positions the text. The question posed in this text is what does it look like for Christ to be glorified as he fulfills his purpose on earth. What does a priest like Christ do? How does a Christ-follower then live in response?
Hear the word of the Lord as we encounter the writer of Hebrews, who contrasts the priestly order of the civil religion with an ordained priesthood that is outside, other, submitted wholly not to the ways of civic support but to the will of God alone.

5 Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3 and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4 And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,

“You are my Son,

today I have begotten you”;

6 as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,

according to the order of Melchizedek.”

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Going through this season of Lent, we’re looking at the steps along the journey of Christian formation that lead us into a deeper sense of participation and belonging in the heart of Christ. We are becoming Christ-followers. That is the journey we take this year and it is the lifelong journey we endeavour upon. To be made more wholly like Christ.
These last couple of weeks of the journey are where it gets more difficult. Or perhaps, I could say it is at this point in the journey that I know I want to resist the growth more and more.
We began with remembering the first steps of baptism and faith growth. We then discovered that this journey invites us into deeper wisdom and to encounter and share grace with the world.
But these final two weeks, leading up to Good Friday, are going to require more of us. Or at least they are going to require more from parts that we are less inclined to cultivate.
Today, we see that the journey with Christ requires submission. That’s a peculiar word, for our context, so we’ll unpack that a bit. And then next week, once we have embraced the call to submission, we take the final step of humility and self-emptying, letting go of all that we hold and all that gives us power, to fully embrace the road with Christ, which leads to death on a cross.
Today, we have to wrestle with what it means to submit to God’s journey.
Yield Signs
First, though, I want to talk about traffic signs.
Specifically, the yield sign.
Over the last few years, citizens of Whatcom County have (hopefully) become a bit more acquainted with the Yield sign. We now have a number of roundabouts across our county (on State Street, Cordata Parkway, even big ones out on the Guide Meridian and Mount Baker Highway).
We’re so European, aren’t we? I remember the biggest roundabout I ever drove through was in Rome, an enormous multi-lane circle just outside of the Roman Forum. We were driving back from getting our rental car and I’m pretty sure I drove the wrong way or exited incorrectly, because I received a big fat ticket in the mail when I returned home from that trip. But…that’s another story for another time.
At the roundabout, you’re meant to yield to the cars that are already in the circle. The cars coming in or driving through on your left have the right of way. You yield by letting them go past and entering the circle when there is safe distance to do so without disrupting the flow of those oncoming cars.
You yield.
And when you don’t yield, you gum up the whole mix. Roundabouts are meant to encourage more fluid movement of traffic and reduce backups that would otherwise happen at stop signs. And when they work the right way, they’re amazing.
I remember driving through an enormous roundabout in the heart of New York City (thankfully, this time I was in a tour bus, not driving). I remember looking out at all the entries and exits from the circle, the way a complex body of cars were able to dart in and out and keep moving in sync with each other, each on their own way to their particular destination.
Yielding is great, isn’t it?
When we think of submission, I find it helpful to think of yielding. The words have a slightly different meaning, but submission often gets highjacked by unhelpful concepts of patriarchy and dominance, so I prefer to think of the concept of yielding when I think of what it means to submit like Christ. Much harm has been perpetrated in the name of submission — especially by those of us who hold power. But to yield, this is the way of Jesus. To let others go first. To make space. To defer out of care for the well-being of others.
Jesus’ Yielding
And this is where we find Jesus. The passage from Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus could have taken the right of way and stood in as high priest. He could have gathered up the power he needed to lead. Interesting how the author of Hebrews presents this argument, by the way: They make it clear that priests are called by God and that call is recognized by people and their honor is to serve as a representative of the people in God’s temple and sacred practices.
So it is important that vs. 5 states he did not take up the mantle of high priest out of his own power, but rather his anointing came from God alone who placed him in the line of the prophets and the kings of Israel. (The two references in vs. 5 and 6 are looking back to the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and to the anointing of King David in the Psalms).
Jesus submitted to this tradition instead of dominating and claiming it. To play with the word submit for a moment: Jesus did not “submit” his name for the task of priesthood or anointing as King; instead Jesus submitted to the suffering of another way of sacrifice and service, the way of yielding submission.
Let’s also talk about Melchizedek for a moment. This name occurs a handful of times throughout the whole of Scripture and for many of us, it can be a head-scratcher. What is this Melchizedek all about? This “order of Melchizedek” seems cryptic, esoteric, right? It’s not the name of the Israelite priestly class, the Levites. It’s not a tradition like the Pharisees or Sadducees, schools of religious thought and practice. No, the order of Melchizedek is something else.
Abraham encounters the hospitality of King Melchizedek of Salem early on in his journey of calling by God. King David is crowned and anointed as a king and priest alike to the order of Melchizedek. And Christ is designated by God as a priest of the order of Melchizedek. These references are head-scratchers, yes, but they can also show us something of the “otherness” of what God’s way is about.
Abram was an outsider, called by God to make a nation from nothing, a chosen people. But he needed to submit to not harnessing power or privilege, wealth or position to do this. When he faltered, he departed from this calling. When he was faithful, the blessing of God led him to make a family with descendants which outnumbered the grains of sand on the shores.
David was just a boy when he received his calling to become a king. But not a king like any king that Israel had desired. A king who was faithful and submitted to God’s way — not of power and might, but of praise, worship, and obedience. David was a king unlike any other and, despite his faults, he also showed how the blessing of God came through suffering and reliance upon God alone.
Christ, finally, embraced this way of the order of Melchizedek, not becoming a priest in the normal way, but choosing sacrifice and a low position from which to serve and bring the good news. His priestly way was like no other, it was not what was expected or desired by the people. He was a revolutionary, but not in the way the people wanted. He embraced this “other” order, this way of submission and letting go that let down the ego and the power to suffer and die at the hands of the powerful.
Hebrews 5:7 takes us to the heart of Christ’s submission — “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”
Jesus models submission, he models yielding, but not fighting with tooth and nail for his power, but by crying out in lament at the injustice of the whole system that would put an innocent man to death. Jesus submits, in a way, to the authorities, to the powers that be, letting them break him, being killed on the cross. And it is through this submission of his power that he breaks the power of the system. The system expects resistance. The Roman oppressors expect torture victims to make an appeal and perhaps incite a riot — this makes oppressing them even more justified.
It is the submission we see in Christ that we are meant to model.
Ok…how do we do this? How do we learn to submit like Christ and find this other way?
White Violence and Silence
This week, we witnessed yet another unspeakable horror of gun violence and racial hatred unfold in our nation. 8 Korean Americans were gunned down in Atlanta on Tuesday, the most recent in the ongoing atrocities perpetrated by white supremacists in hatred of “the other” in our nation.
Since I began my discernment process to enter into full-time ministry, these kind of occurences have become so normal that we have liturgies and practices that we engage each time they happen. I have said this before — there have been too many Sunday mornings when I have had to stand up and denounce the evils of white supremacy and gun violence that have been perpetrated in our nation. From Charlottesville, NC, to the Pulse Night Club shootings, to the repeated beatings and lynchings of black and brown bodies by police, to hate-motivated killings of children at Sandy Hook Elementary to this most recent brutal attack on the Asian American community, fed by hatred and division stoked over this last year, we find ourselves stuck in the quagmire of hatred and violence in this country.
And, unfortunately, the church, specifically the white church, has often been silent.
Here’s the deal — this is where submission and yielding must help us.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s time for us to yield to the ones in our country who have their backs against the wall. Who are living in fear. It’s time for us to yield and become uncomfortable. How, you ask? By calling for repentence from our kin. By naming white hatred as a sin. By standing up and beside those who are too long oppressed and living in fear of violence. By yielding our position and letting them speak. Letting their cries be heard.
It is time for us to take the uncomfortable path of submission, to yield and repent.
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