Angels in Their Underwear

by   |  08.30.19  |  Sermons

I have updated a previous graduate chapel presentation from 2016 and preached the following sermon at Albany Church of Christ. Three years…that’s about right. The lectionary is on a three-year cycle.

A Word of Exhortation

Hebrews 13:1-8

Our text today, for those of you who grew up like I did, always brings a smile to my face. I grew up at church. My grandfather was an elder, my father was an elder, my mother was a Bible school teacher four quarters out of four both Wednesday and Sunday morning. I grew up in a home where babysitters came to my house so that my parents could go to Cottage Meetings to watch filmstrips. I started preaching when I was 13. Anytime I had a sermon and the preacher okayed the message, I could preach on Sunday nights at Elmwood Avenue Church of Christ in Lafayette Indiana. So, if you grew up like I did, and I know some of you didn’t, there emerges insider language. I’ve used quite a bit of insider language already. Our text today makes us insiders smile for it is the text about entertaining angels in their underwear. And for a little kid, an angel wearing boxers or briefs is funny.

You have been in that car, haven’t you? … “Are we there yet?” It is the constant question of a people traveling on a journey.

  1. The tension of WHEN— runs throughout Scripture: In the life of Abraham and Sara wondering about not only when would their offspring be like the stars of the sky, but when would they have just one child. And in the days of Judges as they asked when will we get a king? Prophets know the tension of WHEN. The Psalmist and Habakkuk both sing the chorus, “How Long O Lord, How Long?” The woman at the well expressed the tension when she said, “I know the Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will proclaim everything to us.” And in the early church, they heard scoffers saying, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” The tension of WHEN is felt when those under Roman persecution cry out “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!” —Are We There Yet?
  2. And we know the tension of WHEN—
  • Each time a baby cries in a neonatal intensive care…
  • Each time a husband calls the shelter stalking his wife…
  • Each time a mother receives a visit from the White House about her child who died for peace…
  • When hospice takes up residence in the next room…
  • And in the church, when the gospel falls on deaf ears, when a community suffers a natural disaster and the church has no hands to help, when one speaks falsely about another, or when grumbling overtakes rejoicing.
  • We know the tension of WHEN. When will rest, peace, and the joy of our salvation return?
  1. When? Such a simple question—
  • Such a simple question, “Are we there yet?” WHEN? But lingering underneath the surface, a complexity of issues. When we ask the question WHEN, we need to realize God’s word still speaks.

22 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.

  1. “A Word of Exhortation” – it would not be Hebrews if we did not go back to the OT for some examples. The text places Moses with his GPS saying, “You are Here.” The little blinking dots says, “You are on the border between here and there and before you go forward, let’s look back to where and why you’ve been.” And Moses offers words of exhortation to the camp of Israel, words of memory and hope. Throughout the Scriptures, words of exhortations, preaching, carries the story forward. Words that not only remind God’s people of God’s promises and mighty acts, but also words of warning, words of hope, and words of possibilities. Hebrews 13 reminds me of Moses and the Children of Israel who lived in the safety of a camp, protected by community and family, and who were exhorted to embrace the challenges and opportunities before them.
  2. And the preacher in Hebrews replicates that tradition with his word of exhortation saying, “Hold on to your faith in Jesus, the author, pioneer, and perfecter of our faith.” And the preacher here makes an allusion, Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them. 10 We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13 Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. And those who know the insider language know that “going outside the camp” is an exhortation that calls them to a different kind of ministry, a cruciformed ministry, a ministry of challenge and possibility. Words that call them, in his words, “torture.” Or, discipleship.
  3. Hebrews is all about folk who are being persecuted on their journey. They have not yet suffered to the point of shedding their blood, but they do feel weak knees. Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed (12:12-13).
  4. And, as all good preachers do, this preacher gives us a series of concrete expressions of those challenges and possibilities while the church travels the path. This preacher chooses this list because these challenges and possibilities connect to the audience’s immediate context.

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Let’s take one of the items on the list, “hospitality,” the entertaining of angels –de-centering (power differential about being a host; it is not about me in our narcissistic world), re-membering (restoring those in the human family to the family of God; in a world that if you cannot assimilate, you cast out), and right relations (in a world of broken, hateful, mistrust). [Christine Smith]

May this old list of challenges and opportunities guide you. Let this word be a word of exhortation.

  • Who among does not need to hear about … Mutual love in a divisive world so full of “we” versus “them” rhetoric, discriminatory and hateful words that only build walls?
  • Who among does not need to hear about … Hospitality in a wall building society where the strangers are cast in the role of enemy and fear of others is highly prized?
  • Who among does not need to hear about … Remembering those in prison especially those who are systemically profiled as undesirable and disproportionately removed from our neighborhoods?
  • Who among does not need to hear about … to keep our marriages and other covenant relationships pure and undefiled? In the midst of so much temporary and mobile connections, where “hooking up” is glorified, we need to hear a word of exhortation to fidelity.
  • Who among does not need to hear about … contentment, especially when all we hear about security is only in terms of social, national, or financial?
  • Who among does not need to hear about … about leaders who are worthy of imitation because of their faith?

So, as we continue down the path together,

15 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Benediction

20 Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

 

 

Christine Smith, “Preaching” in Purposes of Preaching edited by Jana Childers (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2004): 91-112.