Sunday, November 13, 2011

“A Collection of Directions” - Hebrews 13:1-8 - November 13, 2011

My junior and senior year in college I served as a resident advisor for dorms filled almost exclusively with freshman. Every year the scene was the same. Parents pulled up and helped their child load way too many belongs in a room half the size than their rooms back home – and it would be a room that would have to be shared with another. After the poundage of personal belongs had squeezed their way into the room the tears would begin. Having now taken Aaron to college, and in anticipation of taking Elizabeth to college in the fall, I understand these emotional farewell scenes. But what always made me chuckle was what would happen next. With tears following either the mom or dad would stand with one foot in the car and the other still hanging on to the parking lot and say something to the effective of, “OK, before we go, I want to tell you one last time….” and with this the litany of last minute instructions poured forth. Some were predictable: “get enough sleep,” “use your money wisely,” and “remember you are here to study and not to play”. But each year there were some of these last minute directions that could not help but make me laugh to myself. I heard parents call out; “don’t forget to brush your teeth.” The prospect of an 18 year old that still needed to be reminded to brush his teeth made me wonder about where this student was ready to be there. A dad called out, “don’t forget to be nice to your teachers.” I could not help but think that if the young man had to remember this message his life in class was going to be tough. And the one I did not fully appreciate at the moment, “make sure you don’t forget to wash your clothes.” After six or seven weeks a stench began to drift from this young man’s room that reminded me of a smell I had first encountered just outside a paper mill or when driving past a dead skunk. When the smell became unbearable I stuck my head in his room and called out, “remember that your mother told you not to forget to wash your clothes. I think it has been a while.” His response was, “oh yea, probably need to do that. I have not washed clothes all semester. Can you tell?”

When we come to the last chapter in Hebrews we hear the writer offering a collection of directions that included some vital things the people needed to hear before they moved forward in their walk with God. The writer has spent twelve chapters trying to help the earlier followers of Christ understand Christ’s ssupremacy over everything else that was, that is, that was to be. He had tried to help them grab hold of the divinity of Jesus, while still holding fast of the personal, present and intimate nature of Christ’s grand redeeming act of their behalf. He had tried to help them understand that they were part of the grand race of the faithful but theirs was a faith not built on works, but God’s incredible grace. Now, as he moves to conclude this missive, he pauses to offer them some final directions. Earlier in our service you heard this collection of directions read by a diversity of voice from across the life of the church. Their very different voices help remind me that that are many people who speak into our lives. Let’s take a closer look at this collection of directions and the voices who call us to remember a life meant for more.

1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. In this I hear the echo of a parent’s voice reminding their children that they are family and that they need each other. It is too easy, seemingly too common, to talk about a church in terms of a “church family.” But, if this term is to have meaning it must be born in our true love for each other following from God’s love for us. This is an invitation to get past petty personality differences, social boundaries, and personal differences and love each other in a way that transcends friendship and makes us belong to each other. We did not get to choose who was a part of our natural families and we do not get to choose whom God brings together in our church family. This pushes us out of our comfortable small groups of friendships and compels us learn to love the whole of who God has brought together in the place. We have much to learn from one another and must to do side-by-side. God’s love is a redemptive love. So should our love be for one another. It is time to let go of anything attitude that separates from a brother or a sister and to learn to authentically love one another. Love one another.

2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. As these words roll from my lips I hear my grandmother’s voice. I will always remember the time I spent with her in the last year of her life as she battled cancer. But, there is one memory I will carry forever. My grandmother heard that a neighbor had the flu. It was not one of her close friends but they were a “neighbor.” So, she had the person that was helping her make it day by day, help her out of her bed and into the kitchen, so that she could make her neighbor a pot of soup. I deliver that pot of soup and wondered if the person I handed it to would ever appreciate the amount of love, pain, and heart that went into that simple pot of soup. We easily express our love and hospitality to love in our families and to those we call friends. Hebrews calls us to more. Hospitality is more than an act or a dinner it is a heart attitude about making our homes – but more importantly - our lives open to those God brings into our paths. Seize a spirit of hospitality.

3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. We tend to view those in prison as people who deserve what they got. Sometimes we are right. But, sometimes the inability to secure appropriate legal help….sometimes life patterns that began in childhood….sometimes tragic acts of injustice leave people behind bars. This is only one of many times we are taught to remember and to visit those in prison. It is amazing that such a clear teaching is so comfortably pushed to the edges of church life. But, here the writer takes another step. It also calls us to the side of all those whom are mistreated – with the same passion and urgency we would show if we, or the ones we love, were the ones mistreated and suffering. This morning I want to express my appreciation to Larry Ray and Anna Ellis for the way they stand with kids who know lives of mistreatment and suffering. I want to thank the KidsHope mentors and prayer partners for pouring themselves out into the lives of kids who could so easily be forgotten. I want to thank those who teach in our schools and those who serve at Good Shepherd for investing yourselves in the lives of those who live on the economic and social edges – those that our society pushes away so callously. Well done!

But, I also want to claim this moment to tell you that over the next few months I will begin to share with you a vision that God has laid on my heart to bring together Christian business, educational, non-profit, and congregational leaders to work together to transform our city into a place of hope and grace. This will not be about another nice religious effort to pacify our need to do good things. The vision will call us – not just First Baptist Church, but the whole of the Christian community, to become agents of transformation for our city and for those who have been mistreated, pushed aside, forsaken and forgotten. Invest your lives in those who are imprisoned, mistreated, forsaken and forgotten.

4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. This direction seems so counter-culture in a society where the idea of a pure and loving marriage appears a vestige of another era. It is our loss. Scripture uses marriage as the model to describe Christ’s relationship with the Church. When you look at how some treat one another this could be a scary prospect. God calls us into marriages that are model grace and faithfulness. In premarital counseling I tell couples that we learn to love and we learn to be married by watching our parents. For some this is a blessing. For others it can be a curse. Make your marriage one defined by love and faithfulness – the same kind of love and faithfulness we learn in our relationship with God.

5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Money shapes us more than we want to admit. For some it is a monthly struggle to make month and money end on the same day. For others is it at the heart of daily worry and stress. For others, watching every penny and guarding every dime can become a consuming way of life. We worry we will not have enough for today. We worry that we will not have enough for retirement. We worry that we will not have enough to carry us to the closing day of our life. We worry that we will not have enough to leave our children and our grandchildren. We worry, we work, and we wonder. Hebrews speaks with authority to this heart struggle. It reminds us that God is with us – taking care of us – providing what we need – that God will never leave us – or abandon us. We do not have to worry. We have to learn to trust God with our today and all of our tomorrows. Do not let money define you. Trust God enough to know that he will make the way for you.

6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” Just as money can shape us, fear can define us. The nightly news will sensationalize each story to attempt to capture as many viewers as possible. But sometimes the words we hear make us fear. There are other voices in our lives that cause us concern – that trigger our hearts to race every time a strange car passed by or an unknown person speaks to us. We fear for our homes. We fear for our possessions. We fear for our lives. While reasonable caution has its place, we are not supposed to be defined by a spirit of fear. God is our helper. God is with us. God is there to bring us peace. Fear can isolate us. Trust in God will set us free.

7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. As he wraps up, the writer of Hebrews comes back with a familiar refrain; follow the lead of those who teach you and who demonstrate lives of faith. I want you to notice what the passage does not say. This passage is not about submission to the authority of those in ministry or in congregational roles of leadership. Instead it focuses on following the example of those who are living authentic lives of faith. I am weary of high profile preachers proclaiming one way of life while living another. Hebrews tells us to look at the product of a leader’s way of life. When you lay their life and way of life against the teaching of the Bible, does it ring true? When you find people whose lives and way of life are an authentic reflection of their followship of Christ – listen to them and imitate the choice to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. This phrase is familiar to many who have spent any lengthen of time within the bounds of a church family. It is one of the great affirmations of faith. As Hebrews moves to a close we end where we begin – with the acknowledgement that our life story begins and ends with Christ at its center. We see how Christ moved in our life. We witness Christ moving in our life. And we wait and trust with eager anticipation to see how Christ will lead us, guide us, redeem us, sustain us, and lead us toward joy in the days ahead. Thanks be to God for being faithful in our yesterdays – is faithful for today – and in whom we can trust because he will be faithful forever.

Verses 15 and 16 sings out: 15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. This collection of directions paints the picture of how to live that life that is a sacrifice of praise- a life that demonstrates our live for God, our love for others, and our trust that God will be faithful in every part of our lives. Let’s not settle for less.

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