Advice is great, especially when it is good and people follow it. This is nicely illustrated in Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16. As is true for the entire Bible, whoever wrote any part of it is not as important as the principles taught. We needn’t argue about religious myth versus actual history because in both we find truth. Sadly, there are many people who make a hobby of nit-picking. Rather than derive joy from receiving and sharing God’s principles, such folks become haters, angry with anyone and anything that challenges their ignorance. We must be on guard lest we descend into the same pit that devours them. With that encouragement we can proceed to gain light and life from today’s message.
The writer of Hebrews starts with love for one another as the chief way we also demonstrate love of God. Love entails behavior as basic as hospitality and as deep as empathy, which is feeling other peoples’ struggles. We learn here to feel for those who are either in prison or who are being persecuted. The text says nothing about whether the people in prison deserve to be there because it doesn’t matter. The fundamental need for compassion requires that we demonstrate it to all those who are incarcerated. The oft-quoted phrase of “Let them rot in prison” is neither helpful nor safe. Such a dismissive, cynical attitude leads to annihilation. More than anyone, Christians must confess a need for empathy, even to those who are paying for their sins.
Hebrews next highlights marriage fidelity, another timeless, persistent struggle. Statistics point to how common are destructive relationships. With half of all marriages ending in divorce, we see life’s road strewn with shattered lives and broken dreams. Fidelity encourages people to work things out, to invest in what they have rather than to destroy. True, some relationships are toxic and must be terminated because of threats to life and liberty. Thankfully, increasing numbers of churches have stopped condemning divorced persons. As always, it takes two committed partners to make a great relationship and one person can’t hold things together if the other partner is determined to leave.
Hebrews also suggests that it is easy for people to make excuses for not keeping the “till death do we part” of their wedding vows. People unjustly place the burden on another human being to make them happy. No one else can make us happy if we haven’t already chosen to be. A bright spot in this drab topic is how marital relations are undefiled, that there’s the blessing of intimacy as two consenting adults celebrate holy union. There’s no need for clandestine encounters, which promise a tantalizing novelty but which ultimately destroy. Better is it to cultivate healthy relationships with those in whom we’ve already invested, maturing together in a manner that both seasons and sustains life.
Now comes the oh-so relevant topic of avoiding greed, something that in our materialistic, highly-charged economy causes peril. The advice here is wonderfully nuanced as it encourages people to be content with what they have. This doesn’t suggest that we shouldn’t grow onwards and upwards. We are encouraged to be thankful for and appreciative of what we have. Being content doesn’t mean being finished because it proposes that God and gratitude fulfill us rather than goods and greed. The relentless pursuit of money is a living hell, one people impose upon themselves as they a healthy spiritual life. Being satisfied with who and what we are involves a deep knowledge of and commitment to transforming spirituality (and not simply going through the repetitive motions of mere religion and ritual).
We grow when we realize that power and purse can’t substitute for principles and purpose. God designed humans to be fulfilled if and when they pursue the path of life and light, a holistic spirituality that integrates all our being. God provides a multitude of emotional, physical, intellectual and even financial blessings. Yet this process of receiving and sharing comes in a certain order. We first pursue God’s way and then the effect (the blessings) follow. If we get impatient or distracted then the order can get reversed and we wonder why bad stuff consumes us. Real life is far more complicated than reducing it to pithy sayings. The problem is to translate principles into practice, to let scripture inspire us as we grapple with how to apply God’s love within every moment.
Next in Hebrew’s litany of advice is faith stability, the type that avoids fear paralysis causing a stymied soul. We’re supposed to be confident in our faith. This means that we find ways to manage anxieties, worries and concerns. Otherwise, we risk fleeing life rather than embracing it. Life is never easy, but we make it all more difficult if we allow unhealthy thinking and behavior to control our destiny. At all costs we must avoid the unholy trinity of fear, ignorance and anger. It seems strange that people would rather work toward self-destruction rather than life-enhancement. As always, it’s easy to describe a problem but far more difficult to live the solution. We’re careful to not point accusing fingers too quickly because we are all subject to failure.
Hebrews suggests that we find role models whose behavior we can imitate. It’s not about simply looking to authority because celebrities may distract us because of their fame and fortune. Rather than seek to emulate only those who seem successful we must peer below the surface. We must discern the timeless principles that empower wakefulness and mindfulness. If we try hard we may find some behavior worth emulating. After all, the good is not the enemy of the perfect.
Our task remains: to live what we say we believe. The source of the principles we cherish doesn’t matter. The bottom-line is that truth can be found in many sources (God intended it that way). Far more challenging than finding the truth is living it. Ignore those people who feed arguments to build their egos. All you’ll get from them is spiritual indigestion. The good food of the Spirit will sustain us even amid nauseating challenges. Think well and live well and continue your magnificent faith journey. God bless you! –Reverend Larry Hoxey.