By Rev. Heidi L. Barham | August 28, 2022
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Read Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
As I was working on the bulletin earlier in the week and tried to come up with an appropriate title, I was reminded of a line from an old TV sitcom, “One Day at a Time.” The storyline focused on a divorced mother raising two teenaged daughters. But it was the superintendent in their apartment building, Duane Schneider, who would frequently say, “ALWAYS REMEMBER and please never forget…” followed by something that may, or may not, have been classified as words of wisdom.
And so as we take look at our text for this morning, it would seem that the writer of Hebrews is suggesting several things that we should ALWAYS REMEMBER and might I add, that we please, never forget.
The first verse of our text reads, “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.” In other words, ALWAYS REMEMBER to keep loving one another.
And as you may recall from the sermon last week, we do not have to have the same opinion on a subject in order to love one another. We do not have to come from the same racial-ethnic or socio-economic background in order to love one another. We do not even have to share the same cultural, religious or political views and values in order to love one another.
ALWAYS REMEMBER and please never forget what Jesus said over in John 13 (34-35), “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Then the writer of Hebrews goes on to tell us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (13:2).
So, not only do we have to love another, we have to show kindness and hospitality to one another, including strangers. Sadly, however, we are living in a day and time when we are on guard when it comes to strangers. We even teach our children to be on the lookout for “Stranger Danger” and we carry that thought with us in our own day-to-day encounters.
And yet, the scriptures tell us to we are to show hospitality to strangers…
Well, let me just say this about that. We can be kind and compassionate without being reckless and putting ourselves in harm’s way. We can extend hospitality to the strangers we meet while still exercising good judgment and keeping ourselves safe.
Let me offer this word of encouragement to us… when a stranger walks through the doors of the church, we should welcome them with the love of Christ, first and foremost… when we stand next to a stranger in line at the post office, bank, or grocery store, we can greet them with the love of Jesus and find ways to extend kindness and compassion. After all, that is what Jesus said we should do.
In fact, when Jesus talked to the disciples about the day when the Son of Man would come in His glory, He said that He will separate the sheep and the goats and say to His sheep, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Matthew 25:34 – 35).
And Jesus went on to explain that when the people asked the king when they had done all that, the King said to them, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). In other words, whatever we do for that stranger, we just may be entertaining the Lord unaware.
So, ALWAYS REMEMBER… be kind to strangers, you never know who you are truly encountering.
The text in Hebrews goes on to encourage us to remember those who have been imprisoned and those who have been victims of abuse as if it were us who was suffering. Perhaps you may be wondering why the text would lump prisoners in with victims of abuse…
Inquiring minds do want to know…
Well, in biblical times, many of those who were imprisoned were not necessarily “criminals” as we generally think of them. Many were imprisoned because of their religious beliefs or even for their inability to pay exorbitant debts or taxes. And so, it might be a little easier to empathize with them.
But the fact of the matter is that the text does not differentiate and say that we should remember only those who were imprisoned for “soft or lesser” crimes. Which then takes us back to the question of why should we remember both the criminal along with the victims?
Because they both need our love.
Remember, in Jesus’ teaching on the sheep and the goats, He said, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:36).
It can be hard to wrap our minds around the fact that Jesus expects us to show love and compassion to the people who are in prison as well as those who are victims and who may be sick and in need of care.
It is a reminder for us to ALWAYS REMEMBER and please never forget… we are all sinners in need of a Savior. For as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Our sins may not have been of a criminal nature that resulted in physical imprisonment, but please never forget, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Now the next verse of the text reads, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (13:4).
This verse encourages us to ALWAYS REMEMBER to honor the vows and commitments we make, specifically as it relates to spouses… However, I believe it can be expanded even further. Because as we think about the covenant of marriage, it really is a reflection of the covenant that God has made with us, with Jesus as the Bridegroom and His Church as the bride.
So, when the text reminds us to honor marriage, it would seem to go much deeper than just the vows we exchange during a wedding ceremony. We must, first and foremost, honor the commitment we make to Christ.
And in the same way that the text encourages us to keep our marriages pure – free from adultery and sexual immorality – our relationship to Christ should remain pure as well, free from all sin, and especially idolatry.
Which leads to the next verses in our text that call for us to ALWAYS REMEMBER that God is our only reliable source… not money or material things or any other thing that can become an idol. Verses 5 and 6 of the text read:
All anyone has to do is turn on the TV or look at the Internet on your phone or laptop or tablet to get a sense for just how much confidence and dependence society has placed in having money and material goods rather than having a relationship with God.
We should ALWAYS REMEMBER what Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
However, the writer of Hebrews reminds us of the promise that God made to us, that He will NEVER leave us nor forsake us. We are quite likely to lose money in the financial markets… particularly at the rate things are going with the economy these days… and material things are designed to depreciate… it’s called planned obsolescence. But God has promised to be with us ALWAYS which is a promise worth remembering today and every day.
Then the text tells us that we ought to remember the lessons and examples learned from spiritual leaders who live as true role models of faith. “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (13:7).
Let’s take just a moment to reflect on a couple of questions:
Who are the people who have been inspirational in forming your faith journey? Who are the spiritual leaders… those with titles as well as those without… who have been living examples of Christ’s love and compassion and devotion in your life?
My own list would be a little too long to share here today, but there are two people on the list that readily come to mind.
One is my grandmother, my dad’s mom, Ella Mae Ferguson Blount. She was the poster child for what it means to be a “Willing Worker” in the church. She dedicated her life to the church, telling us often that God had been so good, it was her reasonable service to give back to Him for all He had done for her.
The other is my grandfather, my mom’s dad, Walter Beck Holland. He was the one who took me to church and showed me the ropes, so to speak, from a very young age. He encouraged me to serve in the church wherever I could, first as a Deacon, then as an Elder and as a Sunday school teacher.
And although both of them passed away before I became the pastor at Ledgewood, the lessons in faith, leadership and service that both of them taught me have made me who I am today.
My grandparents endured many challenges throughout their lives. My Grandma, Ella Mae, spent 40 years working for Selective Service, starting in 1932 before the second World War. Looking through old letters she kept, I learned that my grandmother had to face more than her fair share of discrimination, yet she persevered; receiving promotions that she rightfully deserved but had to fight twice as hard as others in the agency to achieve.
My Pops, Walter, served in the United States Army, where his strong organizational and communication skills were utilized in the office… disproving many misconceptions about persons of color not having levels of intelligence that were equal to others. His commanding officers quickly realized he was much more valuable to them inside the office than out on the battlefield.
One of the many lessons that I learned from their life stories is actually based on the next verse of our text… and that is to ALWAYS REMEMBER that no matter how crazy life becomes and no matter how bad things may get, Jesus does not change. “[He] is the same yesterday, today and forever” (13:8).
And that is certainly an encouraging word for us today as we find ourselves living in some very uncertain times… feeling like we have way more questions than we have answers.
Concerns about what will happen next can fill us with worry and dread, but we have the confident assurance that God is still in control and Jesus has not changed because of a pandemic, economic downturns, political unrest, domestic terrorism, foreign wars or anything else that has threatened to overwhelm our lives.
Stock markets fluctuate, jobs come and go, health crises ebb and flow, politicians get voted in and out of office, but thanks be to God, Jesus Christ is the same… yesterday, today and forever!
And that is why the next verse from the text, verse 15, reminds us to ALWAYS REMEMBER to give praise to God… who, as James reminds us, is “the giver of every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17).
Our text says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (13:15).
Our praise ought to be the “fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” In other words, we should not be ashamed to give God the praise for every good and perfect gift we have been given… for each and every blessing that has come our way. And regardless of what things may look like or what people may try to tell us to the contrary, there is ALWAYS a reason to praise God.
Some of you may remember when I shared the top 10 things that a former colleague of mine, Dr. Valentino Lassiter, said we ought to be thankful for. But just in case you missed it, or if you need a refresher, I am going to give the list again.
If you have pen and paper handy, get ready to write:
- He woke us up this morning.
- He woke us up this morning.
- He woke us up this morning.
- He woke us up this morning.
- He woke us up this morning…
I think you get the picture. We should ALWAYS praise God, if for no other reason than He woke us up this morning. And if you are here in the sanctuary right now or listening on the phone, I think it is fair to say that God woke you up this morning and that is something to be grateful for.
And that brings us back to where we started, because the last verse of the text is simply more encouragement for us to do good and share with others.
I particularly like how this verse reads in the Message Paraphrase:
Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship—a different kind of “sacrifice”—that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets (13:16).
Our acts of worship and our sacrifice of praise is lived out each time we extend a helping hand to someone else, each time we practice random acts of kindness.
Every can of food we donate to the food bin is an act of worship. Each errand we run for a neighbor or family member is a sacrifice of praise. Everything that we do to bless someone else as we have been blessed is truly an act of worship and a sacrifice of praise.
We can and should ALWAYS REMEMBER to worship God each and every day because He has never stopped giving us reasons to praise Him.
Now, when all is said and done, what I believe the writer of Hebrews is really encouraging us to ALWAYS REMEMBER is something that Jesus said that is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (22:37-39).
When one of the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment of all was:
Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”’
As we love God with all of our heart, soul and mind, we should ALWAYS REMEMBER that God is our only source and the giver of every good and perfect gift… and God has called us to love one another.
So, ALWAYS REMEMBER and please never forget that what Jesus has commanded us to do is simply to love…
To love God and the people of God… For as Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
ALWAYS REMEMBER… and please never forget… Love.
Love truly is the word of God, for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.
Hymn of Discipleship What a Friend We Have in Jesus #585 Back