Living and Active, Judging and Saving

<em>I Come to the Garden Alone. No.26</em>, mixed media on Korean Paper, by Henna Kim
I Come to the Garden Alone. No.26, mixed media on Korean Paper, by Henna Kim

Sunday, October 11: Hebrews 4:12-16

About the artist – Henna Kim

Henna Kim’s images are an invitation, not only to a visual “fiesta,” but also to an adventure into the viewer’s own soul-spirit. Through the act of painting, her intention is to capture the invisible side of human perception, such as our emotions, intuitions, memories, thoughts, and to reveal how our spiritual quality manifests in our daily lives. While painting, Henna traces the endless vibratory movement of spiritual sensation of herself and this experience has influenced her painting style and image.

Originally from South Korea, Kim currently resides in Canada. An emerging visual artist, Kim has exhibited her works throughout Korea and Canada. For more information on Henna Kim, please visit her website at


For those who don’t want to preach Thanksgiving, the lectionary offers an odd little chunk of the Letter to the Hebrews. The first two verses come at the end of one distinct and confusing section. Verses 14-16 introduce an image the author carries on through six more chapters. There may be two sermons here, but the two parts of this reading speak to each other.

“Indeed, the word of God is living and active…” It’s clear the author doesn’t mean his or her written words, or any other early Christian proto-scriptures, or even the Torah. This is about the Word behind the words. This is about the Word in action. This is about revelation, and the content of this revelation isn’t words, or ideas, or doctrinal propositions. The content of revelation is a person.

Living and active, this Word confronts us and demands a response. This Word knows more of us than we can ever know of Him. We must answer for what the Word knows.

But words are all we have. The written words in our Bibles. The tentative witness of preachers two millennia distant from the first testimony to the Word. Because these words are all we have, we expect little. We tell, and listen for, the same old stories. Or we assume it’s up to us to pretend the old words are new, forcing them through media we call relevant to our age.

Do we believe the Word is still alive? Still active? When we read, or hear, or speak the old words, do we really think anything will happen? Do we want anything to happen? We don’t want anything unexpected, beyond our control. We don’t want to be judged!

So we approach our holy texts as objects to be examined, and even manipulated, in order to extract a meaning. A meaning we call a word for our day. Our relationship to our sacred words is, as Martin Buber might say, an “I-it” encounter. We often encounter other living things in this way. We do it with purpose, to get what we want. We don’t want real relationship. Do we dare approach the Word, through the words, seeking an “I-thou” encounter? Being-to-being. Seeking real relationship. Surrendering control. Risking judgment. Expecting to be changed.

“All are naked and laid bare.” Can we have a real relationship without truth? Truth means more than not lying. It means not hiding. We try to hide behind our presuppositions and preconditions. “This text can only mean that.” “These words never change.” “The message is clear.” “This is what my church and I already believe.” We may be right, for now. We’ll only be true if we first allow we can’t be certain, and may well be wrong. The Word we try to understand and represent is, after all, living and active.

How can we preachers preach, and be true to the Word? How can any of us live with this fierce, judging Word? This text isn’t finished with us. One part of it speaks to the other.

“Since, then, we have a great high priest.” The image shifts from the judging Word to the priest who seals our salvation. The image changes but the subject is still Jesus. The living Word who, according to Hebrews, has every right to pierce and judge us and make us new has the right because he has earned it. He has earned it by living, not as an angel (2:16), but as one of us. His justice is tempered by human experience. His two-edged sword is still sharp. His aim is true.

Preacher, take up your task as witness with fear and trembling, expectancy and love. Prepare for an encounter that will change you, and the people who wait for you to break the words open so they, too, can meet the living and active Word.


About Laurence Dewolfe

Rev. Dr. Laurence DeWolfe is minister at Glenview, Toronto.