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09.01.13 Living to Please God Hebrews 13 Sermon Summary

by on September 4, 2013

I know a lot of people who don’t listen to the sermon until they hear the words, “So in conclusion.” Well, here’s the conclusion to the sermon we know as the book of Hebrews.

Summary points

  • Three practical concluding points from the book of Hebrews
  • The summary of the whole book
  • Two pictures from Jesus
  • How Hebrews gives us the same picture of God
  • A faithful perspective on the Lord’s Supper

These verses are from the final chapters of the book of Hebrews, one of three Newer Testament books that have had the most profound impact on Christianity (in my opinion—Romans and John being the other two). Hebrews masquerades as a letter, but it really is more of a sermon. These final verses include practical advice for the original audience sprinkled with some summaries of the theology of Hebrews. Here are some ways it relates to us today.

I see three main practical points. The first comes from the first verse, which is that the church is to love one another. The example Hebrews gives, out of personal experience, is to show solidarity with the imprisoned and the tortured. Christian love, Paul reminds us, suffers with those who suffer and rejoices with those who rejoice. Christian love is based on the example of God’s love for us manifest in the presence and passion (which means suffering) of Christ with us. So one “final word” Hebrews wants us to be sure to get is that we are to love one another.

But our love, a reflection of God’s love, isn’t just for us in the church. So the second practical point Hebrews offers is to share with strangers. The reason, Hebrews tells us, is that by showing generosity to strangers, some have entertained angels without knowing it. Christ even promises that when we take care of the naked, hungry, imprisoned, and sick, we are taking care of him. Hebrews reflects this teaching by reminding us to welcome strangers because in essence we are welcoming Christ.

The final practical point, which is both a catch-all principle and a summary of the theology of the entire book, is that we are to praise God and do good works. You could say we are to praise God by doing good words: “Through Christ, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Since God has made a gift of Christ to us, our grateful generosity towards others is our return gift (thanksgiving) to God. Just as Jesus said, “I love you, and I have served you, so you should love and serve one another” (cf. John 13), and gave the greatest commandment as loving God and loving neighbor (Mark 12), so Hebrews gives us another way of saying that here.

In Gospel reading for today, Jesus gives us two pictures. The first one is from the perspective of the guest. He tells us when invited to assume the lowest seat so that we’re not humiliated should the host require us to move for a more honored guest. He then gives the teaching that shows up also in James 4 and 1 Peter 5, that those who humble themselves will be exalted by God.

The second is from the perspective of the host. Jesus tells us when inviting others not to include those who have the means to pay us back, but to invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. This list of invitees should be taken literally and figuratively—they represent the publically obvious outcasts, but really any outcast even if it isn’t so obvious.

The point Jesus wants to make here is that grace has no calculus. If grace could be calculated—I give this so then you have to give me that—then it would no longer be grace. The only calculus grace makes is one of sacrifice—the host sacrifices of himself to give to the outcast.

Hebrews gives us a similar picture of God. God as the great host gave us Christ in grace. The sacrifice God made to give us this gift is revealed in Christ’s being killed “outside the camp.” This is the recurring theme of the entire book of Hebrews, and it finds expression here in the conclusion. Hebrews invites us to follow God’s example in Christ, sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others who are also outside the camp, without calculus.

This is what it means to offer to God a sacrifice of praise, namely, to offer to God our good works on behalf of those outside the camp. So the question we have to ask ourselves is, “In our lives, who are the strangers? Who are the prisoners, the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind? And how is God calling us to go to them outside the camp, and give of ourselves for them?”

As we approach the Lord’s Table, to offer our thanks (“eucharist”) for God’s grace, let us remember the promise of today’s Psalm, that if we open our mouths wide, God will feed us with the finest wheat.” Let us remember that even though we have forgotten God, God does not forget us. Even though we have placed our trust in that which cannot satisfy, God has never withdrawn the satisfaction we find in Christ. Though we have failed to listen to God, God continues to speak to us.

Let us remember that Christ took the lowest seat at the table of God’s creation, dying with ignominy, and God exalted him to the throne of heaven. Let us hear Christ’s invitation to the banquet, as we ourselves are poor, crippled, lame, and blind. And let us respond to his invitation in faith. May we, by God’s Spirit, not only receive Christ at his table where he receives us, but may we also go forth strengthened to live as Christ did, serving those outside the camp.

 

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