A Word of Exhortation
Call to Worship
Welcome to Grad Chapel. 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 nights and Sunday mornings. 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.
- I didn’t grow up where the insider language, “our text for today,” referred to a lectionary, a set of Sunday readings laid out not only for your church but also for all the churches that embraced the Christian Year as its liturgical calendar.
- Continuing for the fourth year, Grad Chapel is going to follow the lectionary in order to provide us a rhythm that for all of you who come regularly to this place through the academic year can worship our God and in the words of last Sunday’s lectionary text “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.”
- The Lectionary does not follow the academic year. The academic year begins towards the end of the Christian Year, during the season of Pentecost, Ordinary Time of Year C, Proper 17. And our text for this coming Sunday is Hebrews 13.
- Our text exhorts us with “a word of exhortation” to welcome you here in mutual love, for who knows, there might be angels among us… And they might be wearing their underwear.
22 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.
- “A Word of Exhortation” – it would not be Hebrews if we did not go back to the OT for some examples. The Deuteronomist 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 Deuteronomic history, 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.
- 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, 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. 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.”
- And, as all good preachers do, this preacher gives us a list of concrete expressions of those challenges and possibilities. Listen again to his list…
Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels unaware. 3 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. 4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5 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.” 6 So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?”
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
This preacher chooses this list because these challenges and possibilities connect to the audience’s immediate context. As you begin this academic year, 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 … keeping our marriages and other covenant relationships pure and undefiled. In the midst of so much temporary and mobile connections, where “hooking up” is glorified.
- 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 … leaders who are worthy of imitation because of their faith.
So as we begin this academic year together, with two final exhortations …
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.
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.