Let’s pause for a moment to centre ourselves in prayer:
May we open our hearts to you, O God,
moving beyond all that clutters our lives
and all that is waiting for our attention.
May your spirit calm us amid the chaos,
and tune our ears to hear your voice above all else;
calling us to find our centre in you. …
Move us more deeply into your presence
where we can be fully attentive
to the depth of your wisdom,
the stirring of your spirit,
the lessons of our faith tradition,
so that renewed and refreshed
we may respond with gratitude
and share your love, with others,
in the actions of our lives.
(Seasons of the Spirit, July 2010, adapted)
Today’s brief excerpt from Hebrews is chock-full of important reminders and encouragement with respect to keeping the faith in difficult times.
It is important to remember that the epistle to the Hebrews was written at the very end of the 1st century when Christians were experiencing adversity and challenges to their faith and to their commitment as followers of the Way of Jesus.
The reading from Hebrews begins with an emphasis on the importance of mutuality and love as key values of Christian communities. There is also the encouragement to continue to live these values in everyday life. One of the ways of showing love is through hospitality – a practice that is highly valued and is deeply rooted in the traditions of our ancestors in faith. Hebrews says,
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2) When those who received the epistle heard this, they would have immediately remembered the story of Abraham and Sarah who offered hospitality to strangers by the oaks of Mamre. They would also remember that Abraham and Sarah were surprised to discover that these strangers were actually messengers from God who carried with them unbelievably good news. (Genesis 18:1-15)
I was reminded this week that the English word hospitality comes from the Latin word “hospes”, meaning host, guest, or stranger. This is of particular interest in the Christian context in that Christ is often referred to as both guest and host and in appearance stories is frequently experienced as a stranger and then revealed as the Christ. (eg. Luke 24:13-35)
The excerpt from Hebrews goes on to extol the importance of remembering, “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them… Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you… (Hebrews 13:3a,7a) Remembering, in the 1st Century Christian context, did not mean simply thinking about someone or something – rather it was a call to action. Remembering those in prison meant visiting them, offering food, comfort and encouragement as well as holding them in loving prayer. And, to “remember your leaders” similarly meant to offer hospitality and support while emulating their example of living faithfully as followers of Christ.
Christians would also remember Jesus by following the example he set by his life and ministry. The stories of his teachings would have been well known to early Christian communities. When they heard the words from Hebrews about remembering those in prison Jesus’ words would have come quickly to mind,
“I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
I was naked and you gave me clothing,
I was sick and you took care of me,
I was in prison and you visited me.
…Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36,40)
Christians throughout the centuries have been inspired by Jesus’ example. The encouragement to treat others, strangers and friends alike, the same as you would treat Christ himself has long been a goal of Christians. Examples, in recent history, of persons who have taken this to heart are Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day. These two women followed Christ’s example and focussed on each person individually as precious in the sight of God. Mother Teresa worked with the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India. Dorothy Dayworked with the most economically challenged persons in New York city as co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement which began in the 1930’s depression era. Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day chose voluntary poverty in order to be on an equal level with those they served. They were both known for their great love, humility and mutual respect. Recently, I read an article about Dorothy Day. I was impressed by a quote that is reflective of her ministry as well as that of Mother Teresa.
…the Worker’s primary concern is faithfulness, not results, and one is able to focus on one action – one person – at a time. Yet such work often produces good results, if only ‘little by little’ and through the grace of Christ. What we do is very little but it is like the little boy with a few loaves and fishes. Christ took that little and increased it. He will do the rest. …Our work is to sow. Another generation will be reaping the harvest. (Dorothy Day’s Radical Hospitality by Coleman Fannin, 2007)
The future has always been precarious and uncertain and the reminder to hold fast to Christ and his teachings is as important for Christians today and it was in the 1st century. The author of Hebrews encourages Christians with the reminder that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow” and that “it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” (Hebrews 13:8,9)
In the July/August edition of the United Church Observer magazine, the United Church of Canada’s General Secretary, Nora Sanders was quoted as saying that “Current church members and adherents…have a chance to be part of a changing church as it adapts to a still-unknown future.” Sanders encourages current members to participate fully and “…to dream big about what it means to be The United Church of Canada now and into the future…”
And she hopes the church will “be courageous enough to dream of what it is that God’s calling us to do and be, in the world we live in and our children live in.” (July/August UCC Observer, pg. 37)
Words of encouragement from our current church leaders, from the writings of the Christian Scriptures, and from the stories and wisdom of our ancestors in faith are as necessary today as they were for 1st Century Christian communities. We are a people on a journey of faith who share our stories within the context of a shared story as followers of the one we call Christ. We know that we are not alone on this journey. We know the way will not always be easy. We have experienced challenging times in the past and we will continue to face challenging times in the future. Our strength is the strength of faith, love and community. In gratitude for these gifts we offer hospitality and faith-filled action for the betterment of our community and our world.
May our hearts be strengthened by God’s grace
and may our actions reflect Christ’s example of faith-filled living.
May this be true for us as individuals
and as a community of faith,
this day and always.