Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
I must admit that sometimes I feel it is easier to be suspicious, on guard, and grasping then it is to be loving. Even in easy days it is harder to trust than to be cautious. One day I was towing my camper on the road and this other car came up beside me and the guy was trying to get my attention. Well, with all the trouble in this world, I am wondering just what this guy wants and trying to put on my tough guy face. (yeah, I don’t know if that really works) But the guy wanted to let me know that I had left my step down on the camper. It was a few inches from hitting something and getting it tore off. Sadly, it probably would not have been the worst thing I have ever done with my camper. So, I wave thanks to the man. I pull over and fix the problem and wonder why we live in a world that leads us to be mostly suspicious of others.
It is like when you get a phone call from someone you do not know. Dare you attempt any kind of a conversations with that person? The phone is simply a hot bed for scammers, cheats, and liars. There are people calling all the time looking for ways to take advantage of you. Lately a lot of this type of nefarious activity is now using text messaging. You might get a text message claiming you owe a bill for something you never bought or for an unfamiliar amount. Be on guard, and be careful. Never respond back to such a message in any form. Rather go to your account if you have one and see what it says. Know who you are dealing with.
This is good advice, but then the Bible reminds us to “Let Mutual Love continue.” In the Greek the word is φιλαδελφία “Philadelphia.” Of course, the direct translation for this word is brotherly love, or love of the brethren. Most likely the New Revised Standard Version translates the word as mutual love to be more inclusive, but what the text is saying is that we should treat others and particularly those of the Christian faith like we would treat a brother or sister. (Should I add on a good day) Family can sometimes test our patience more than anyone, but at the end of the day your family is still your family. Perhaps no one deserves more of your patience and effort because your family always share something of what makes you, you. It is this kind of love to which the Bible commends us.
As is typical of many epistles, Hebrews ends with a list of common-sense actions and advice that the writer desires for the reader to follow. Here we are also reminded of what this mutual love is about. Let mutual love continue, by showing hospitality to strangers. The root meaning for the word hospitality means love. While the text begins by speaking about love for the brethren, the next idea that follows is a reminder to “love those who are strangers.” Hospitality is an ancient concept within the scriptures, and deeply rooted within our religious tradition. The writer refers those who have entertained angels unaware. This remembers the story of Abraham and Sarah from Genesis 18. Abraham encountered 3 men. He served them food and waited on them. Before departing they promised Abraham that Sarah would have a child. Since Sarah was already older, the story tells us that Sarah laughed. Of course, we know in due time Isaac (whose name means laughter) was born. These three men were heavenly messengers, and Abraham knew that he was being visited. The Bible tells us that it is possible for us to be visited and not know it. Therefore, practice love for those you do not know.
Beyond this one might wonder how many times a person knocking on our door is more than just a coincidence. How many times does a person walk into our church and God is waiting to see how well we have prepared our church home to be someone else’s church home. Hospitality is about making a person feel at home, and it is about finding ways to give people answers to their questions before they ask. Does the stranger find a comfortable place and a way of connecting with us when they enter through our doors. We are commended toward hospitality and the better we do at providing ways people can becoming connect to our fellowship than the more likely our church will grow. Hospitality (making a stranger feel at home) is a key ingredient to a strong church.
Next mutual love means remembering those who are in prison and those who are being tortured. Lately newscasters have spent a lot of time on Brittany Griner who was convicted of drug charges in Russia. She inadvertently had a small amount of a marijuana derivative in her suitcase. This is a banned substance in Russia, and so they sentenced her to 9 years in prison. This is clearly an excessive sentence. The case is still being dealt with by our government. Maybe in some ways this illustrates the nature of life in Biblical times. It did not really take that much for a person to be thrown in jail. In Philippi the Apostle Paul was arrested simply for preaching the gospel and accused of creating a public disturbance. He cast a demon out of a woman. For this he was stripped, beaten, imprisoned, and the guard locked him up in an inner jail with his feet fasten down in stocks. I would label that type of treatment as torturous.
The Bible tells us to remember and care about the people who are so detained as if it were us that had fallen to such ill treatment. One of the reasons for this is because if an innocent person can suffer than so can everyone else. Just because we are free does not mean we are safe, when our world is ruled unjustly. That is why we should care.
What does it mean to us that the United States has the highest per capita prison population in the world? We have more people incarcerated than any other nation. China is a rather distant second to us. Think about it for just a bit. Is it because freedom breeds criminals; Our justice system is more effective, or is it because prisons are just big business? I am not an expert on the question, but sometimes we should care more about how our justice system functions. The Bible seems to be telling us to pay attention. Care about others who are struggling. Is there justice or is there persecution.
Besides this even if a person is guilty and due the punishment they are receiving, there is still reason to care. Once when I was visiting in a jail, I was able to talk to those locked up. One fellow asked me through the bars that surrounded him what repentance meant. I told him it meant that a person should stop doing what that had been doing and turn around and go in a different direction. Drawing from a scripture that came to my mind, (Ephesians 4:28 –Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.) I told him that if a person was stealing then he should stop stealing and work to earn a living. He looked at me and said that I had given him a strong word, because he was in jail for taking what wasn’t his. Maybe my words made a difference that he needed. Maybe God used me in that moment because I dared to go where I was not real comfortable being. We must care.
Next, mutual love commends us to live moral and faithful lives. Let marriage be held in honor by all. Doing something nice for a spouse should go without saying, but the writer of Hebrews says it anyway. Sharing a love note with your spouse, or an extra good hug, a few flowers delivered. Make it a habit to spend intentional time every day working on your marriage, treating your spouse with honor and bring the idea of a “mutual love” alive in your marriage.
Conversely the scriptures also warn that God will judge those who live with little regard for the meaning of marriage, and God will judge those who act out on every lustful intention within their heart and treat themselves and others like things. At heart the statement that God will judge the fornicators is the idea of the objectification of another. Today we live in an age where almost anything goes. How many seem to push for the support and acceptance of every sexual expression under the sun. The scriptures tell us that there are boundaries, and God does draw the line between what choices give life and what choices take it away. To put it simply if we live thinking of people as things or simply using others for our own short-term gain and pleasure then we will be on the wrong side of the line God has drawn. Mutual love does not dwell within self-indulgent satisfactions.
Finally, mutual love calls us to keep our lives free from the love of money. Be content, not greedy. Being “content” with money and material possessions is really another way of talking about generosity. Since God has provided for us and “will never leave … or forsake” us, we should live as stewards of God’s resources rather than hoarding what we will never keep. Giving money to the church, tithing, being generous to those in need — all of these are ways of managing God’s gifts to us and benefiting others. This is where God wants our hearts to dwell.
In these principles mutual love comes alive, and we reap the benefits of a life well lived. Perhaps we may even be able to keep ourselves from becoming too suspicious and too overly protective. Yes, the world can be a harsh place and there are people who think they deserve your life savings if they can con you out of all that you worked for. But by and large the solution to the problems of the world is choosing to live differently.
For Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. There is no change in his love and sacrifice for us. There is not failing in his constant effort for our good. There is no lessening in his intended blessings upon our lives. In Christ we have an inner spring of life forever pouring forth and refreshing us even when parched. This is good. Therefore, the writer of Hebrews sums up his thoughts in saying, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Such sacrifices are the fruit of God’s abiding and mutual love alive within us and bring life and change into our world. Amen.