Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sermon -- 15th Sunday after Pentecost (August 28, 2016)

O WN is a Greek expression meaning "He who is."
HEBREWS 13:1-8


In the name + of Jesus.

      The letter to the Hebrews was written to Christians whose faith was hanging by a thread.  They were Jews who had converted to Christianity.  Judaism was recognized by the Roman government as a valid religion; Christianity was not.  As a result, these Christians faced persecution.  They were not only slandered and despised, but they also could have their property confiscated, could be arrested, imprisoned, or even martyred.  Some Jewish Christians forsook the Christian faith in order to be spared the persecution.  The Christians who received this epistle were contemplating the same thing.  They were tired.  They were scared.  And they did not know if it was really worth it to remain faithful to Jesus.
     This epistle was sent to remind them that Jesus Christ was always faithful to them.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)  Whether times are hard or easy, whether it is a good day or a bad day, Jesus Christ is forever the same.  He does not forget his people, and he does not forget his promises.  Jesus Christ is forever the same—living, reigning, and doing all things for our eternal good.
     We do not face the same kind of persecution today, but we do have something in common with these Christians.  It is that our fear is often greater than our faith.  Fear influences our lives and guides our behavior.  That's because we fear, love, and trust the wrong things.  We fear losing our money, our reputation, our friends, and other worldly goods.  As a result, we do not see our fellow man as one to love and to serve, but as one who is a threat to be feared.
     We all have a hard time digesting the words of this epistle which encourage putting one's faith into action.  Nevertheless, Jesus Christ is forever the same.  He does not edit his will no matter how harshly the world rejects it.  He does not alter his commandments when it is hard to keep them.  His word stands.  But our fear of the world is greater than our faith in God and his word, and we fail to do the good God demands.
     This is what the Lord says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have....” (Hebrews 13:5)  But we fear losing our money because we trust money more than we trust God.  When look to our checkbook for comfort.  We do not pray or take God at his word when he promises that he will provide enough.  We fear, love, and trust in the wrong things.
     This is what the Lord says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Hebrews 13:4)  Men are pleased to use women, but fear committing to them because that means putting someone above themselves.  Women fear losing a boyfriend and know that a bed will keep him around for a while.  Some are so desirous of affection or lust that they will abandon the natural order to get it, or they will even forsake reality to be aroused by images on a computer screen.  The world sees this as normal.  Purity is mocked and perversion is praised.  But hear this word: “God will judge.” (Hebrews 13:4)  The Lord established marriage for the good of a man and a woman.  He blesses the marriage bed so they can rightly carry out their desires.  God will judge all who defile this.  Man does not fear this, but we do fear the label we will get if we stand firm with Jesus.  We fear, love, and trust in the wrong things.
     This is what the Lord says: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2)  We fear losing our possessions.  When we crave our goods, we care little for the people who might benefit from using them.  Yes, there is always going to be a risk that someone is conning you, but the fact is: Generosity will always be abused.  Even we abuse God's generosity as we use God's blessings to love ourselves and not our neighbor.  And yet, God continues to love, to bless, and to be merciful to sinners.
     We do not live up to God's Commandments because we fear what we might lose by doing so.  We are afraid of losing money.  We are afraid of our reputation being maligned.  We are afraid that friends may turn on us.  And so our fear is greater than our faith.  For, we do not fear God's judgment.  Let the words sink in: God will judge.  No one will escape it.  Repent.
     Jesus Christ is forever the same.  He does not change his word when things are difficult.  But there is good news in that statement.  Jesus does not change his word when things get difficult.  Jesus Christ is forever the same, which means he is forever your Savior.  Jesus demonstrated perfect love for his fellow man by giving up heavenly glory for sinners.  He proved a perfect love for his Father in keeping his commandments.  And yet, his perfect love was rewarded by people hating him and slandering him.  He had all of his goods confiscated from him.  He was arrested, imprisoned, and finally put to death.  All this Jesus did so that we would be delivered from our sins.  He loved perfectly on behalf of us who have loved poorly.  Jesus emptied himself of all things in order to redeem us sinners.  And Jesus knew the risks.  He knew many would never care or repent.  He paid the price anyway, and lets his grace get abused.  Even though we remain sinners, Jesus Christ forever intercedes for us so that we are continually forgiven of our sins.  Not only does Jesus deliver us from our sins, he has even overcome death so that death and hell cannot have us.  We belong to Jesus.  And 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?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)  
     Since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever, we do not need to fear anything.  Every Christian can live confidently, no matter what threats you face from anyone or anything.  Jesus Christ alleviates our fears so that we can live our faith.  We seek the good of our fellow man without fearing what it will cost us.  We seek the glory of God by confessing his word and living according to it without worrying what other people will think of us.  So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)  If we lose our goods, our freedom, our friends, or our reputation, or even our life, we need not fear.  These things are only temporary anyway.  And if we should have to suffer for the sake of Jesus, then let us live as the body of Christ and tend to each other in our griefs and needs.  After all, if we are willing to show hospitality to strangers, then surely we will care for each other.
     Jesus Christ is forever the same.  That stands firm.  His kingdom and his mercy endure, no matter what we endure.  And from what we read in Hebrews, it seems that they had to endure a lot!  Consider this word of instruction: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.  Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)  Since he uses the word, “Remember,” it seems likely that this congregation had lost some of its pastors.  Perhaps they were imprisoned, or exiled, or even martyred.  I don't know.  These Christians were told to “consider the outcome of their way of life.” (Hebrews 13:7)  They were not told: “These men believed in Jesus and preached him.  See how good things were for them?”  If they suffered and died, things were not good.  The Christians were told to consider the outcome of their way of life.  Even if they were killed, they were not lost.  Jesus Christ remained their Savior even in the worst of suffering.  Consider that and imitate it, remembering our Lord's promise: “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)  No matter what man did to them, they could not rob them from Jesus Christ, and they could not rob them of Christ's salvation.
     So, do not fear.  Jesus Christ is forever the same.  His word stands.  His kingdom endures.  He has said,“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  He does not forget his redeemed, and he does not back off on his promises.  Therefore, be faithful.  Jesus Christ is forever the same.  He is forever your Savior.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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