(Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25)
Barber poles are red, white, and blue – a tradition that has nothing to do with the colors of the American flag. The colors go back to the Middle Ages. Back then, people went to the barbershop for more than a haircut. They looked for barbers to perform medical procedures, including bloodletting.
Bloodletting was the procedure of choice for a range of maladies, from sore throats to the plague. In an attempt to heal the sick, barbers would simply cut open a vein and allow the blood to drain.
Disgusting? Oh, Yes!
On the barber pole, red represents blood, white symbolizes bandages, and blue is connected to the color of veins. According to the History website, barbers and surgeons were part of the same trade guild until 1745. It wasn’t until the 1800s that bloodletting fell out of favor with the medical community.
Now, any bleeding in a barbershop is completely accidental.
People will try just about anything in the search for healing and wholeness. The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that in the temple of Jerusalem, people hoped that the blood of bulls and goats would take away their sins and relieve their guilty consciences. But these sacrifices didn’t work. “Every priest stands day after day at his service,” says Hebrews, “offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11).
There must be a better way. Sacrifices of bulls and goats are no better for forgiveness than bloodletting is for sore throats. And fortunately, Christ “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins,” says Hebrews, giving His own body and blood on the cross to bring us forgiveness and new life (v. 12). “As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it!” says the translation of the Bible called The Message. “It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people.”
We need this, don’t we? As imperfect people, we can be perfected only by a perfect sacrifice, offered by a perfect person. And Jesus has made this sacrifice for us. His offering is a huge improvement over the bulls and goats of the temple priests and a greater advancement than that of modern medicine over bloodletting.
The blood of Christ is a perfect sacrifice, one that removes any need for temple sacrifices. It is such an enormous gift that we should probably put barber poles next to our church doors to remind people of what Jesus has done for them. “Therefore, my friends,” says Hebrews, “since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus” – yes, that’s right, walk in past the barber pole – “and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (vv. 19, 21-22).
That sounds good, doesn’t it? Confidence to enter the sanctuary. A true heart. Full assurance of faith. Hearts sprinkled clean. Bodies washed with pure water. Hebrews is talking about a spiritual makeover, made possible by Jesus.
This church, indeed every church, should be a place where people experience this kind of renewal. Since Jesus has done the bloodletting for us, we can enjoy forgiveness of sin and healing in body, mind and spirit. In everything we do together, we should “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (vv. 23-25).
This is the mission of the church, according to Hebrews: Holding fast to our confession. Spurring on one another. Meeting together. And encouraging one another.
Unfortunately, churches don’t always get the job done, so barbershops are stepping up. Yes, barbershops! One particular barber-based program is called the Confess Project. Based in Little Rock, Arkansas, the program is bringing mental health care to black men through barbershops.
This nonprofit trains barbers throughout the South and Midwest to create a space where men and boys can talk freely about their feelings. These barbers become mental health advocates, directing clients to local mental health resources as needed. In 2020, the nonprofit expanded to 150 advocates across 14 states, and it partnered with the razor-blade maker Gillette to expand its reach.
The Confess Project. What a name! It’s an excellent description of what the church should be doing: Holding fast to the confession of our hope, talking freely about our deepest concerns, provoking one another to love and good deeds, meeting together and encouraging one another.
Another good example is a community health program in Maryland called HAIR: Health Advocates In-Reach and Research. In this project, barbers are assisting with health screenings, including mental health. In particular, they are building connections in communities where people may be reluctant to seek help.
“You’re not just a barber,” says a participant named Michael Brown. “You’re a marriage counselor, and any number of things. If you have good information to give to the public, this is a perfect platform to do it.” Brown cuts hair in a shop with a roster of loyal customers and he says, “African-American men … we don’t tend to go to the doctor until our arm is all the way off on the floor.” He wants to help men seek out regular checkups.
Yes, the Christian community should be a “confess project,” a place where people can talk freely about their struggles, be assured of the forgiveness Christ offers, and receive guidance and encouragement. Like the local barbershop, we are on the front lines of the struggle for mental, emotional and spiritual health. We shouldn’t wait for people to fall apart – with arms on the floor — before we intervene.
The Confess Project. It’s time for the church to join the movement.
The letter to the Hebrews gives us an excellent blueprint. First, we encourage people to confess their sins and receive the gift of forgiveness, since Christ “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (v. 12). We do this in our services of worship when we say a prayer of confession together. We also do it in small groups of trusted friends, where we admit that we have wandered from God’s path.
“We need to recognize and accept that we have done wrong,” writes Presbyterian pastor Lewis Galloway. “We have sinned against God, others, and ourselves. We cannot repair the wrong or remove the guilt ourselves.”
Fortunately, Jesus has offered a single sacrifice for sins. He has taken our guilt on himself and died to bring us forgiveness and new life. All we need to do is trust him and accept the gift he offers.
Galloway tells a story from childhood to illustrate this. “One of the pleasures of summer was swimming at the lake,” he writes. “After a long swim, it was fun to flop on a raft, forget everything, and drift in the hot sun.” But after lying on the raft for a while, he would suddenly rise in a panic, discovering how far he had drifted from the shore.
We know what that feels like, don’t we? To suddenly discover that we have drifted far from our morals, far from our aspirations, far from where we know we need to be. Fortunately, Jesus is available to help us, forgive us, turn us around, and get us back to shore. He does this because he sympathizes with our weakness and wants to save us. “Faithful Christian living is not about trying harder,” concludes Galloway. “It is about trusting more.”
Next, we “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (v. 24). We need the support of other people to live a faithful Christian life, so Hebrews challenges us to “spur on” or “provoke” one another. Normally, we use the word provoke in a negative way, describing actions that cause anger or resentment. But it can also mean to stir a person to action, and this is why Hebrews asks us to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.”
Like the barbers of the Confess Project, we should provoke each other to get regular checkups. Provoke each other to seek counseling when troubles arise. Provoke each other to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. Provoke each other to welcome a stranger, mentor a teenager, or participate in a short-term mission project. There is nothing negative about provoking one another, if it is to greater love and good deeds.
Finally, we need to “meet together” in ways that involve “encouraging one another” (v. 25). These gatherings can include services of worship, small group Bible studies, youth group meetings, mission teams, musical groups, men’s groups and women’s groups. The point is that we meet together as a community in ways that encourage one another.
Remember how discouraging it was to be quarantined at home during the pandemic, unable to attend worship services or gatherings of any kind? Yes, two-dimensional online meetings were better than nothing, but not nearly as uplifting as the opportunity to see each other in three dimensions. The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which means an “assembly or congregation.” This is a reminder to us that gathering is an essential part of the life of the church, especially when we meet together in ways that are encouraging to each other.
So let’s picture a barber pole outside our church building. We are part of a Confess Project in which we trust the Lord to forgive us, provoke one another to love and good deeds, and meet together in ways that are encouraging to one another. No bleeding from us will be required.