Need a good model for that kid-moving-out or off-to-school speech? The “Now before you go, I really need to tell you” speech. Consider Hebrews 13. It has admonitions, including matters basic to Christian living: mutual love, hospitality, solidarity with prisoners, sexual morality, wealth, community leaders and generosity. Much like the parents’ desperate last words, they are a potpourri of freestanding exhortations. Yet, they have cumulative impact. These admonitions are well worth considering for both we as individuals and we as a community.
The first admonition is to let “mutual love” remain, to love brothers and sisters. In the early church all were considered to be sisters and brothers. Early Christians were known, and sometimes ridiculed, because of this “fictive” kinship. However, maintaining this practice conveys the theological conviction that members are all children of God, whom we call Father. It also reflected that like early Christians experienced rejection, even from their true kin. We can experience such rejection, even from those we love and admire.
Mutual love is a shorthand for practices and dispositions that preserve and strengthen. The hope is that the community will stir one another toward love and good deeds. We are to remember that mutual love is an important and tangible consequence of continuing to care and share.
The second admonition deals with hospitality. Hospitality includes not becoming insular, focused just on self. They are not to neglect or overlook the practice of hospitality to all. They can not forget to love the known and the stranger as well. Recalling the story of Abraham and Sarah reminds of the potential to “entertain angels.” Hospitality has a central place in the Bible.
The next challenge is the responsibility to express solidarity with two groups of people; those who are imprisoned and those who are being mistreated. We still have physical prisons today, but we can observe that our prisons of today take many forms. Forms as represented by discrimination, bias, prejudice and oppression. We must remember and continue to act on our commitment to the imprisoned and mistreated.
The next three admonitions relate to maintenance and integrity. Excessive or disordered desires, whether money or sexual relations, have disastrous effect on individual and communal live. The lead admonition is to adopt of lifestyle that does not include the “love of money.” The opposite, or corresponding virtue, is contentment. Practicing being content with what one has can tamp down the desire to accumulate or earn more and more. Contentment enables the community to share. A lack of gratitude or grasping for more wealth should not color lives. With little fanfare or explanation comes the admonition to honor marriage and to keep the “marriage bed” undefiled. It is simply stated, “God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers.” Perhaps no more needs to be said of this. Maintaining sexual morality remains a clear instruction.
The final admonition is to remember leaders. The admonition is to consider the “outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Remember, value the leaders. The next statement “8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” could stand independently. But we can deduce that Jesus’ permeance is meant as reassurance in the midst of changes. Leaders, then and now, may come and go, but Jesus Christ remains the same yesterday, today, and forever.
The off-to-college (and life) on their own speech has ended. A question is will they remember depends on the demonstration of deep love, radical hospitality, solidarity with those on the margins of society, honoring marriage, sharing (but not idolizing) money and possessions, practicing contentment, and emulating the exemplary behavior of those who have gone before them?
Let us pray that all remember. Let us pray that all will see this modelled in our community.
Robert J. Gustafson, Ph.D., P.E, is pastor of West Berlin Presbyterian Church, 2911 Berlin Station Road.