7th Sunday after Pentecost July 23, 2017
Luke 14:1, 7-14
416, Christian Worship 524 (alt. TLH 412), CW 490 (alt. TLH 481), 402:4-5
Prayer of the Day (Collect): Heavenly Father, who through the work of your Son Jesus Christ restored to us Your peace, we give You all glory, thanks, and praise. Strengthen our friendship with You through Your Word and Sacraments. Through the Spirit’s work strengthen our relationships with friends here on earth, especially those who have joined us here today. We ask this in Jesus’ saving name. Amen.
Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Remember your leaders, 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.
I was in fourth grade when I used a personal computer for the first time. Our school had two of them. They were Apple II computers. I learned a lot on those machines: how to run programs; how to write programs; how to print posters and banners. I hadn’t seen an Apple II computer for a long time until one day I suddenly found myself staring at one again—in the Smithsonian Museum of American History!
Sure enough, the computer I first used is now a museum piece! You see, times have changed. Nobody uses those machines anymore. Nobody in the current generation would even know how to use one. Computers and technology change so fast that anything more than a year old is often considered outdated. Change is the thing.
Cars are “vintage” now after 25 years. Printed encyclopedias are obsolete. We can’t help our children with their homework because they do it “differently” now.
Is change good? Sometimes. A lot of times it is for the better. But the word of God before us this morning reminds us that there are certain things that are best left unchanged. Certain things, in fact, that God demands should never change. Let’s think about what they are so that we can properly resist change when it should not take place.
The writer to the Hebrews says, “Keep on loving each other as brothers.” The word for “love” here in the original language is a familiar one: Philadelphia. As in “brotherly love.” This is an affectionate love of friendship, especially friendship for those who are fellow believers in Jesus. It is the way, ideally, that good friends care for one another, look out for one another, and are concerned for one another. Think for a moment in your mind of your "best friend”—and you will have an idea of the “brotherly love” that is meant here.
This brotherly love, the writer says, is something that should not change. It should continue. Your loving care and concern for each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord should never come to an end. “Keep on loving each other” it says. And that’s not just a “suggestion.” God does not give you the option suddenly to quit treating one another as friends.
Yet there are times when that is exactly what we do. You see school children do it. One does something hurtful to another and what happens? One stomps off saying, “I’m not going to be your friend anymore.” You see it in adults too. Someone’s feelings get hurt. Someone gets angry and decides, “I’m not going to be friendly with them anymore.” This is what the devil does: He tempts us to discard brotherly love, to put an end to it whenever we feel we have been wronged. But this is sinful and it is not the Lord’s will for our lives. Satan wants to make us walk away from as many Christian friendships as he possibly can—to make us the loneliest people he possibly can so he can attack us more easily (it’s easier to attack an individual than a crowd). The Bible says “Keep on loving each other as brothers.” Keep your friendships intact. Treat one another like family.
In Bible times, the “love of friendship” extended even to complete strangers. You may remember the three visitors who came to Abraham’s house. (The visitors happened to be the Lord God and two angels, although Abraham did not know it at first.) He invited them in, fixed a meal for them, and treated them like they were his best friends. This was the customary way to greet any travelers on the road in those days. Today, we do not have the custom of inviting every stranger who passes by into our homes for a meal, but Scripture’s point is clear: Do not forget to treat with friendship those people the Lord sends into your lives. “Keep on loving each other as brothers.”
It helps us to befriend one another if we “put ourselves in their shoes.” You know what that means. It means think about how you would want to be treated if you were in someone else’s place. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Think about the circumstances of others, not just about how you feel or how upset you are, or what you want for yourself, or what you think is important. Empathize with others. Imagine if you were in their place and were dealing with the things they were dealing with and it will help you to see how you can be a better friend to them. “Keep on loving each other as brothers.”
If you are married, your closest friendship is with your spouse (at least that is the goal). If you are not married, you no doubt have friends who are. So whether married or not, you can keep your friendships strong by honoring marriage and avoiding all kinds of adultery and sexual immorality. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure.”
What does honoring marriage have to do with keeping friendships? I don’t read “Dear Abby” in the newspaper regularly, but you know how it is sometimes when you’re looking at the paper over lunch and your eye just reads everything it sees. The other day a married man wrote in saying that a neighbor woman had approached him wanting to have an affair with him. He wrote that when she did it had a negative impact on their friendship. I should think so! Marriage is the closest of all our friendships and if that relationship is not protected faithfully, that one and many other friendships will be threatened.
“Keep on loving each other as brothers.” Of all the things in life that change, this is something that should not change. Christian friendships ought to remain. We need to see to it that they do.
How do we succeed in this effort? How does brotherly love continue and how is it preserved among us? It is through the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have all been guilty of straining our friendships, failing to show friendship toward others when we should have, or changing friendly relationships into sour ones by our sin. But Jesus reaches down to heal us. In order for us to move past our wrongs and seek godly ways, we need Him to put our sin out of sight and behind us. He put our sin away so that it cannot be brought up anymore to accuse us or threaten us.
Christ does this because He is your truest and most helpful Friend. With love and affection He assures you that He has taken on Himself all your guilt. He has made Himself an offering once for the sins of all people. With His death, your punishment was placed on Him. With Christ, your wrongs are buried just as He was buried in the grave.
And He does not change. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” That means for as many times as we rely on His friendship, it is there for us. Yesterday, today, always. For as many times as we turn to Him in prayer saying, “My Friend Jesus, forgive me for what I have done to others and to you,” He answers saying, “I am still your Friend. You are forgiven. I have paid the price for every unfriendly deed.” Jesus’ friendship toward us does not waver. It does not change.
In order for us to befriend others, we must know the friendship of Jesus. To be able to reach out with affection toward others, we need to be confident first that Christ holds nothing against us—for if we are angry with Him we will take it out on others. So the apostle assures us in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
What a Friend we have in Jesus! A Friend who says,“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Jesus is a Friend who is our Helper and clears our record of wrongs.
Our Friend Jesus also goes on to give us aid and counsel so that we are able to build and maintain our Christian friendships from day to day. I’m talking here about what the writer to the Hebrews mentions in v.7, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Knowing we are forgiven in Christ, we look to walk in newness of life—to be stronger in our friendships than before. The Lord helps us to do this by giving us the example of others. So many times we undermine our friendships by the way we act. Here we are urged to look to those good examples of faith and behavior that Jesus has given us. Look to the spiritual leaders in the church. Think of your pastors over the years. Think of all those who have spoken the word of God to you, both here and in other places. Imitate them. Jesus puts other Christians around us that we can follow. Walk in the good examples set by others (in patience, forgiveness, and love) and your friendships will be stronger and better developed.
A fellow pastor once suffered the loss of both his parents within a couple days of each other. Rather than be overwhelmed with grief, he wrote words of thanks and praise to God for the Friendship of Jesus and the life everlasting. Remember things like that. Imitate them. “Remember your leaders … and imitate their faith.”
Although we live in a rapidly changing world, there are some things that should never change. Near the top of this list is brotherly love. May it always continue among us, with the help and guidance of our unchanging Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.