Text Hebrews 13:1-8
“Let mutual love continue.”
We have no idea who wrote the Book of Hebrews so for discussion’s sake let’s just call him Fred. No disrespect intended.
Right after Fred give this imperative about love he gives further instructions such as a command about hospitality, a command to hold marriage in honor, and a command to be free of the love of money. I have an idea that these commands are not as random as they first appear. In fact perhaps what Fred is giving us are very concrete and practical examples of how we can ensure that mutual love continues. But before we consider that in more detail it is noteworthy that Fred calls on his listeners not only continue in love, but to continue in MUTUAL love. Some translations use “brotherly love” but the word “mutual” more instructive. Why is that important? It is important because one sided love can be very damaging. We know this to be true in interpersonal relationships. If one partner is continually giving and serving and laying down their life while their partner is an unfeeling narcissist, the relationship will either not last very long or it will become very unhealthy.
Similarly love that is not mutual in the Body of Christ can be very damaging. Years ago we had a young woman in our church in Florida that looking back I believe had a borderline personality disorder. She was smart, attractive and very high functioning but she was ill, but ill in an almost evil kind of way. She was needy, so folks in the church reached out to her. She would befriend the wife and then spend so much time with the wife, either in person or on the phone, that she would come between the wife and husband. Then when the wife became completely drained and/or began to lay down some boundaries, she would move on to another family in the church and not only do the same thing there, but talk badly about the previous family. So family number two would now think very poorly about family number one. The same thing would happen again and she would move on to family number three, who in turn would think very poorly about families one and two. It took me awhile to see her pattern but when I realized that she was sowing some very serious seeds of division in the flock I called her on it and gave her some boundaries. As you can imagine she ignored them so to protect the flock I ended up asking her to leave. Of course she moved on to another church and spoke badly about me and our church.
We tried to love her but because the love was not mutual, because she was a taker and not a giver, the relationship became something that hurt rather than built up the Body of Christ. The Church is a hospital and so we attract broken people. But we need to be clear that the goal is to move as quickly as possible towards health and wholeness. The Church is not here to perpetuate illness and as difficult as it is to understand, there are folks who don’t really want to be helped. We still have to love people who refuse to get well but we love them with a fireman’s love; that is from a far.
So the first thing we need to ask ourselves is do we give as well as take when it comes to love in the Body of Christ? Is our love mutual or are we a black hole that absorbs everyone around us? How do we evaluate that? Let’s move to Fred’s other commands and see.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality…” That is certainly a way to ensure that mutual love continues. Showing hospitality is how we ensure that we are a giver and not just a taker.
I fear our fast food, smart phone American culture has lost appreciation for hospitality but in other cultures it is very important. I was taken to a gentlemen’s home in Egypt and on the way my host said, “He will offer you tea or a coke and even if you don’t want it, say ‘yes.’ He would be deeply insulted if you did not accept his hospitality.” And that sentiment is true in many parts of the world. It would do us well in the U.S. to regain this perspective.
Being hospitable is a very practical way to show love. In my last year of high school I was a lifeguard on the Chesapeake Bay. During a break I went with two college guys to Rehoboth Beach and coming back late at night we decided to pull over and get some sleep. We were all too broke to afford a motel room so we parked in a corn field. Very early the next morning, it was a Sunday, there was a tap on the car window. It was the farmer who was waking us up and I was relieved that he was tapping and not shooting. He said to us, “You boys come on into the house and wash up, breakfast is almost ready.” We washed up and sat down at the table and then he said, “This is a Christian home and this is Sunday so we are going to say our prayers before we eat and go to church. You boys kneel right there at your chairs.” So we all knelt down and leaned on our chairs and he prayed for what seemed like forever. I don’t think there was one missionary in China that didn’t get prayed for. He finally finished and we sat down for breakfast. Just as I was about to dig in he stopped me and said grace. I had never seen anyone pray twice before! I thought that surly the first long prayer covered the food but evidently not.
That happened more years ago than I care to remember but I can not only recall that event, I can still feel the emotion that his hospitality evoked in me. I have no doubt that he sowed seeds of the kingdom in my life.
I have said it before and will continue to do so, that the two greatest tools of evangelism that nearly every one of you has available are your cars and your dining room tables. Don’t just invite someone to church, tell them what time you are picking them up. That is hospitality. And then to show even more hospitality by break bread together. We above all others should know the covenantal power of taking a meal together. So use your cars and your dining room table to sow seeds of the kingdom into the lives of others. That promotes mutual love. And since, as Fred said, you may even be entertaining angels when you do so, you are missing out on a blessing if you fail to be hospitable.
The next practical way to ensure that mutual love continues is through compassion. We are to remember those who are in prison and those who are being tortured.
When I was doing social work I took a group of young troublemakers to a state prison for a scared straight program. But instead of being scared straight they saw so many of their uncles and cousins and friends that I ended up hosting a family reunion. These are not the kinds of prisoners that this text is calling on us to remember. In these verses Fred is referring to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being imprisoned and tortured for their faith. The idea here is that because we are part of the same family, a part of one Body, if it is happening to them then we need to realize that it is happening to us. If we are calloused to the sufferings of other parts of Christ’s Body then mutual love will not continue. Therefore I am so grateful for Fr. Chris’ leadership in bringing to us Underground Church. He is helping us to better understand what our brothers and sisters around the world are enduring for the sake of the Gospel. When I have met some of these folks and asked them what they needed from the Church in the West they uniformly answer “prayer.” I want to encourage you to come to Underground Church and learn more and learn how to pray for them.
Next Fred tells his listeners to honor marriage. How does honoring marriage ensure that mutual love continues? It does so because a healthy marriage is the best example of genuine love that there is. I say that because the Scriptures teach that husband and wife are an icon of Christ and the Church and there is no greater love than that of Jesus for His Church.
How do we go about honoring marriage? First we do so by only accepting Jesus’ definition of marriage. Jesus said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and cling unto his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” Marriage is a divine institution and so the Supreme Court was out of bounds to redefine it. That is why I reject their redefinition and why I will no longer sign a State marriage document. Even if one day it costs us our tax free status we must not waver on this matter.
We honor marriage by not living together before marriage. Fred gives us here a pretty strong warning about both adultery and fornication, which is sex outside of marriage. I read a university study that concluded that those who live together before marriage have an even higher divorce rate, so the theory of giving it a trail run is factually proven wrong. When we do things God’s way life works better because we are following the manufacturer’s recommendations.
We honor marriage by doing all that we can do to strengthen them. The fairy stories may conclude, “and they lived happily ever after” but marriage takes work. You need to be very intentional in order to serve and honor and lay down your life for another. But it is worth the work not only for a good marriage but for the good of the Church because strong marriages built strong churches. Thus mutual love continues.
But what does keeping our lives free from the love of money have to do with mutual love? If you have the love of money then there is never enough and when there is never enough you turn into Uncle Scrooge. Isn’t it true that Uncle Scrooge was hardly known for his love?
If you are free of the love of money then you will tend to be generous and what could be more loving than helping a widow pay a light bill or sending an offering to Food for the Poor or going on a mission trip to Honduras to get water to an orphanage? As Jesus said, we cannot serve two Masters so if you are a servant of money then you are not truly free to serve Christ or others. If you love money then you tend to use people but as Christians we are to do just the opposite. We are to use money and love people.
As many of you who have experienced, as a result of going through Financial Peace University, the first step is to get out from under the burden of debt. The Bible says that we are to owe no one anything but love and life feels very differently when that becomes a reality. We are going to keep offering FPU so that as a church we remain free of the love of money and free from debt so that we can give generously to show the love of Christ to those in need.
Lastly we ensure that mutual love continues by remembering our leaders who speak the word of God to us. We are to be teachable and receptive to their leadership because it is for our own good. As they speak the word of God to us we have a clearer picture of who God is and what His plans are for our lives. As they speak the word of God to us we see more clearly God’s love for us. As they speak the word of God to us we grow in our relationship with Christ and we become more whole and more able to live not only for ourselves but for the sake of others. We find, as the collect in the Book of Common Prayer says, that service to God is how we come to perfect freedom. It is perfect freedom because when you serve God and others you get rid of the two year old brat who lives inside, always having needs and demanding his own way and pouting when he does not get it. It is perfect freedom to come to a place in life when you are no longer self absorbed and you start looking around for ways of helping others
If you know your Bible then you know that it is not an accident that Fred has gone from teaching us the last couple of weeks about faith to now speaking about love. The two are like kissing cousins and they promote one another. To grow in faith is to grow in love and visa versa. As St. Paul put it, “now abideth faith, hope and love but the greatest of these is love.” So let mutual love continue. Amen.