God’s Word for me today
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:1-17 ESV)
In today’s world of instant communication, the old necessity of making sure you said or wrote all the message – don’t leave anything out! – isn’t that critical. Forget to tell someone a piece of advice or some news these days? No worries. Just press a few buttons or click the mouse a few times and voila – you can continue the conversation – even if the person is on the other side of the planet! In past generations, it was important – of greater necessity – to get the whole message right and said before they were out the door, on the road, sailed away. We can more easily imagine parents telling children or friends speaking with friends, ‘And remember this’ and ‘Don’t forget that’ and ‘Remember what I told you when you see’, etc, and so on. We make sure we get important messages said when people are leaving.
That’s how I hear our second reading today. The writer to the Hebrews is coming to the end – maybe he can see the end of the parchment? – maybe his wife has called him for dinner? – maybe the person who is going to deliver the letter has arrived? – we don’t know. But he has spent considerable ink relating the Christian faith to the Old Testament – showing how Jesus, the Son of God, is not an angel or some other messenger but fulfils in his humanity what God established in the sacrificial worship of Judaism by paradoxically being the great high priest and the perfect sacrifice. Jesus is someone not remote from us – he understands us – knows what we experience and go through – and he learns obedience through suffering – there were no easy passes for him – and because he has entered into God’s presence he brings us with him, just as he comes to us here and now and doesn’t abandon us. Such are some of the themes of Hebrews.
But now comes the rush – practical messages, guidance, advice – this is what following Jesus is about. In six verses, he presents 5 Christian virtues and tasks – each of which could be a sermon! – brotherly love, hospitality, compassion, chastity, and contentment.
The world of the 1st century is a long way from ours – the details and contexts of following Jesus are different – and yet even today, we can take up each of those responses here at Ascension / St Columba because they are still relevant today. These actions were often part of the catechetical instruction taught – learn the faith and put it into practice. And possibly because the first and second generation of Christians suffered waves of persecution that came and went over the decades as the emperors came and went – and which lasted just over three centuries in the Roman Empire – but still exists in parts of the world today, so it was important for Christians to be consistent – not fair weather believers – and build up and maintain good reputations in their communities. These Christians – these followers of Christ – are strange indeed for the shedding of their blood seems to grow more of them and look! – see how they love one another! (which was how Tertullian in the 3rd century recorded non Christians describing Christians). A community marked by brotherly love, hospitality, compassion, chastity, and contentment is one worth knowing. It’s a safe community. A community always pointing to Jesus – their Lord who helps them – remember that in that time all the lords of society expected to be served, demanded others to help them but not this Jesus – this Lord – who came not to be served but to serve his people.
And this focus on Jesus sends the writer into another compact and condensed round of thoughts. True leaders in the church point only to Jesus – who doesn’t change – and using Old Testament images we are pointed very quickly to Jesus as the perfect sin offering – cast out for us. And we are also directed to our altar where we offer sacrifices of praise – faith responses – to what? Well simply it has to be Jesus who has rescued us, helped us when he died on the cross – but also present tense – rescues us and helps us each day – and that of course can take us to the sacrament of the altar. We’ll let scholars debate whether this passage specifically refers to Holy Communion or not but I think that the mind runs and makes associations in this context so that even if the writer to the Hebrews wasn’t thinking Holy Communion when he wrote, the Holy Spirit can lead people to this most precious and personal of encounters with Jesus.
Then our reading concludes with a verse about not making the work of oversight – today we’d say pastoring – a burden by living in such a way that congregational relationships are marked by joy rather than groans.
There’s a lot in this second reading. Where to begin?
It is God’s Word – all of it. The question we need to ask as we listen to it or read it is ‘What is God’s Word for me today?’. All of it is for teaching – it is true whether we’re married or not married, whether we have or don’t have an opportunity to offer hospitality – the truths are there to be taught so we know what we should do specifically when we marry and can offer hospitality (to give two examples). Nevertheless we don’t read God’s Word or hear it and say ‘None of it applies to me today!’. Of course the pastor, the preacher, and the reader doesn’t really know what you need to hear either!
But the Holy Spirit does!
So let’s do something a little different for a minute or so and read this reading for ourselves [over the page at the top]. Read it slowly. Move over the words at a leisurely pace and see what is triggered in you – what memory, what idea, what plan or thought for the week emerges. This is how the Holy Spirit moves among us – hidden like the wind. Maybe you will need to repent and amend something. Maybe you will resolve to talk to someone or do something later today or this week. Maybe you have some new prayer topics that now are more connected to your lives here and now.
Maybe lots of other things will come to mind.
So before you read, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. He wants you to consider Jesus and how Jesus helps you. Without Jesus this is stupid, just as worship would be meaningless. Words written into a context nearly 2000 years ago are now used by the Holy Spirit to speak into our context today.
What do we hear? With what does Jesus want to help you today?
[Silence for at least 2 minutes]
And each day God speaks to us through his Word – that’s Jesus – and like the boy Samuel, let’s say each day, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears’ (1 Samuel 3:9).
- Hebrews 13:1 - 17