Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
In the PC(USA) this is the "Year With Education"... and it is my hope that we can focus this year on learning... and growing spiritually. I don't know how you define "spirituality"... but I define it as a growing relationship with the Lord. Relationships involve getting to know one another... and our relationship with God is no different. We all need to get to know God better in a deepening relationship... and one way of doing that is to spend more time in the reading scripture.
I'm reminded of story I heard recently about a picky pilot... and a contentious mechanic. It seems this pilot took his plane into the shop... for about the fourth time... with the same complaint...
"Unfamiliar noise in engine."
The next day the plane was back in service.... and the pilot checked the log book to see what the problem had been. The entry read...
"Ran engine continuously for four hours. Noise now familiar."
Well, obviously that mechanic was being sarcastic... but maybe we should be able to say... read the Bible many hours... God now familiar!
As we explore this passage today... I'd like to demonstrate to you one method for studying scripture... which you may wish to use it in your own growing relationship with God.
This method involves looking first at what the passage has to say about God. In our passage today... the first direct mention of God appears in verse four where we read...
"God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral."
We are reminded here that God alone can claim righteousness... and in so doing God alone has the right to judge. In verse 5 we read...
"... God has said ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
and in verse 6...
"‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'"
If you are using a study Bible... like I have here... you will see that these are quotations from the Old Testament... and you might want to take a look at them. My reference notes tell me that the first quotation is found in Deuteronomy 31: 6... and the second in Psalm 118:6 and 7. These verses remind us that God will never back out on his relationship with us... he will always be there to help us when we call on him... in other words... God is faithful. Finally in verse 16 we read...
"... with such sacrifices God is pleased."
... a statement that tells us that there are ways for us to please God.
It is probably obvious by this time... that this passage also has a great deal to say to us about ourselves as well... and that makes good sense, doesn't it? After all a relationship always requires two... at least God and you... or me. So it follows that we need also to look at what the passage has to say to or about us.
It appears that mostly what this passage has to say to us... is about how we should relate to one another. Let's see... we are to keep on loving each other... entertain strangers... remember those in prison... mistreated... and suffering... honor our marriage. And then... in verse 5... those really difficult ones... do not love money... and be content with what you have. Finally in verse 7 we are told to remember the lives of those faithful leaders who have been our teachers and our guides... and to imitate their faithfulness.
Oh, boy... seems to me that's quite a big order! Especially when we consider just how unlovable most people are... and our tendency to "look out for number one"... and our culture's emphasis on wealth and accumulation of the finer things in life! If this is what pleases God... and we know that it is... how can we hope to have a good relationship? Sounds more like we are going to be the targets of that righteous judgment mentioned in verse 5, doesn't it?
At this point... it becomes obvious that we need to look for a third thing in scripture... and that's indications of God's mercy toward us. We know from the Genesis account of creation that our relationship with God was broken... and God's law... given in the Old Testament... has taught us the relationship cannot be mended by any effort on our part. The essential element in our spirituality... or growing relationship with God... is his mercy... he had to make it possible! As you read scripture... always be on the alert for hints about God's mercy... like the ones in verse 8.
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."
In the intervening verses between 8 and 15... which we did not read this morning... the writer of Hebrews tells us not to let anyone take this truth away from us. As Christians we believe that Jesus is the Christ... the Messiah promised to the Hebrews by God... the one who would save his people from their sins once and for all. Jesus the Christ was... is... and always shall be the instrument of our salvation by whom our relationship with God is made possible. As we jump to verse 15 we are reminded once again that it is through Jesus the Christ that we relate to God...
15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
I'd like to end today by suggesting that we go one step further in our consideration of scripture... and that is to consider what the passage has to say to us as a church... a body of believers... the living body of Jesus the Christ here on earth in this day and age. It may already be apparent to you... but... if not... let me point out that scripture is directed to the "people of God"... "God's community." Our relationship with God never stands alone... God's relationship is always with his people... and we as individuals are part of that group when we confess his name. Perhaps that's why we can best experience his presence and closeness when we gather for worship or for bible study and the sharing of our faith with one another.
Our passage this morning lists some of the characteristics that should be apparent in every body of believers... in this church... and in this community. These are some of the things that distinguish us from the world... these are the things that please God.
My prayer for us this morning is that we may draw ever closer to our Lord... and truly know our place in his community. Amen.
A Sermon Preached on August 30, 1998
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA
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