23rd Sunday After Trinity November 7, 1999
238, 421, 464, 427
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body. Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me. Here ends our text.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Whom we love because He first loved us, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
I see from the newspaper that Radio Shack has a sale on at the moment. And one of the items they have on sale is a circuit tester. Some of you probably know what that is—maybe you even have one on your tool bench at home. A circuit tester is a device that tests the continuity of an electrical circuit in an appliance. In a radio, for instance, there has to be continuity of the electrical circuit in order for music to play. The power has to flow in a closed loop from the outlet, to the tuner, to the amplifier, to the speaker and back to the outlet again. If one of those components is missing, or there’s a break anywhere along the line, your radio won’t play.
In our text for today, the writer to the Hebrews tells us that brotherly love works much the same way. The love we have for our fellow-believers flows from its power source, which is the love of God. Brotherly love carries out many different functions in our lives, but the circuit is essentially the same: God loves us, we love our fellowman, and we love God in return. But if there’s a break in that circuit—especially if we’re cut off from our power source—our lives as Christians will work improperly, or not at all. Have you been feeling a little disconnected lately? Have you been missing the warmth, the feeling of family and kinship that you should have toward your fellow-believers in this congregation? Well, today’s text is like a circuit tester for brotherly love. It’s the perfect tool to help you diagnose and correct any problem you might have in that area. That’s why our theme for this morning is:
The section immediately preceding our text is an interesting one. In it, the writer to the Hebrews contrasts the Old Testament people of God—Israel, with the New Testament people of God—the Christians. He goes to some length to point out the very high and exalted position we enjoy owing to the grace and love of our God. True, God brought Israel to the majesty of Mount Sinai at the time of the giving of the Law. But God has brought you and me to an even more majestic place—the Holy Christian Church, the fellowship of believers. This the writer refers to symbolically as “Mount Zion”. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven. Heb 12:22-23.
What does that mean for us? How shall we live, now that we find ourselves among the “chosen few” of God? The writer tells us in verse 28 of chapter twelve: Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. Heb 12:28. And in our text for this morning, the writer details the best way acceptably to serve God: Let brotherly love continue. We are not to let His love stop with us. It is to continue through us, and flow from us to others. He reminds us that brotherly love is a continuous circuit. For when it is connected to God’s love, it shows love for its fellow-Christians.
This first part is the most obvious way in which we show brotherly love—by our relationships and attitudes over against our fellow-Christians. By entertaining strangers, by remembering the prisoners and those who suffer among our brethren, by holding marriage in honor and by Christian spouses acting with love and consideration toward one another. How does your circuit bear up under this test? Is there continuity in this part of your Christian life? This congregation has a member who is currently a prisoner. Did you know that? Do you know who he is? Have you written or visited him? We have members who are shut in and unable to attend worship. Have you visited them? Do you remember them in your prayers? You married people—do all your words and actions toward your spouse reflect the great honor that is due within the holy bonds of marriage, which God Himself established?
If you’re like me, you may have to admit that you’ve got a short-circuit or two in this area. Let’s go back to our power source: The love of our gracious God. I’m reminded of a story that’s told about the great American jurist, Daniel Webster. One winter’s day he left work early, in a hurry to get home to the bedside of his wife, who lay dying. In his rush he forgot his scarf, and when his wife noticed it, she gently scolded him. She warned him that he’d catch cold if he forgot to wear his scarf. Webster left the room sobbing. “Dying, and she thinks of me!” he said.
Jesus’ love for you drove Him all the way to the cross. It was love for you that kept Him there, suffering those interminable hours of pain on Calvary’s mountain. What was in His mind during that time? You were! Dying, he thought of you. And of me, and of sinners the world over who would be released from the prison of their sins through His sacrifice.. In chapter twelve the writer said, Look “…unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Heb 12:2.
Poor Christians we would be if we could not now think of others! Can we not bear in our hearts the needs and distresses of our fellow-Christians? Can we not show hospitality to strangers? We may not actually entertain angels unawares, as Abraham did on the plains of Mamre, or as Lot did in Sodom. But opportunities may come along to open our homes to Christians we’ve never met before. For instance, I think it’s time our congregation considered hosting one of the meetings of our Pacific Coast Pastoral Conference. What else can you do? You can bear in mind those of our brethren who are in prison or suffering—visit them, write to them, remember them in your prayers. Above all, let charity begin at home: you can show the honor and love due to your spouse, and the other members of your family. Not grudgingly or as a duty but out of love for the One who first loved you. Remember the words of our Savior, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Matt 25:40.
In testing the continuous circuit of brotherly love, the writer next turns his attention from our attitude toward people to our attitude toward possessions. Our text says, Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have. Another lesson of brotherly love is this, that connected to God’s promises, it is content with what it has.
And in our materialistic world of 1998, it is here where a short-circuit is most likely to occur. How easily things that were luxuries turn into “necessities” in our lives, isn’t it true? We find we have to have the newest car, the biggest house, the latest phones and computers and electronic gadgets, the finest coffee (even though it costs three dollars a cup!) And the result? Could it be that covetousness begins to creep into our lives? Could it be that the thorns and thistles of the cares and pleasures of this life begin to crowd out the Word of God, begin to choke the fruits of the Spirit, as Jesus warned they would? Only you can answer that question for yourself. In my case, I already know what the answer is!
Once again, we need to complete the circuit to our source of power. We need to reconnect to the only power capable of real happiness and contentedness in life, and that is the sure promises of our God!
Let me tell you something: everything you’ve got to have, God is going to give you. Let me say that again: everything you’ve got to have, God is going to GIVE you. “How can you say that, Pastor? You don’t know my life, my financial situation, my needs.” But it’s true nonetheless. How do I know? BECAUSE IT SAYS SO RIGHT HERE! Be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.
That’s a quote, by the way. From the 31st and 118th Psalms. The 118th Psalm was Luther’s favorite Psalm, and for very good reason. Luther had some very daunting challenges in his life, not the least of which was the opposition of virtually all of organized Christianity to that point. But no matter what your situation in life, no matter how great your needs or how challenging your situation, God has promised to be with you and to help you. God knows that you have problems and difficulties to overcome in your life, too. That’s why He promises you in this place, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. I wish I could give you a Greek lesson at this point, because the original language in this passage is so very precious. There are FIVE negatives in this one little verse. The writer says “NOT” and “NEVER” five times, in order to emphasize the absolute impossibility of you—the Christian—ever being forsaken by your loving God! It reminds me of that beautiful hymn in which we hear our Lord say,
“The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, NO NEVER forsake!”
One Christian writer said that this single promise of God is better than the signed promissory notes of any bank. Unlike the bank or the insurance company, God knows exactly what’s going to happen to you next week, next month, next year. What a comfort to know that He already has planned the way He’s going to protect you and provide for you in every need you will encounter. What security, what freedom this gives us as children of God! Now we are free to truly serve the Lord, and to truly serve our neighbor in brotherly love. For we know that God is going to take care of us, no matter what. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee. Isa 54:10.
One day when we were boys, my brother Dave and I got a lesson in electrical circuits. We were visiting a farm near my grandparents’ home in Iowa. I happened to be wearing rubber boots that day. I reached out to touch an electric livestock fence to see whether it was on. When I didn’t feel anything, I grabbed it with my whole hand. At that moment my brother happened by, and for some reason I reached out and touch him. He was not wearing rubber boots. At that moment the circuit closed between the wire and the ground, and as you might expect we both got a jolt that rattled our teeth and sent us crying to our mother. That lesson was a painful one—today’s lesson is not. My Christian friends, God’s love is a power that can electrify and energize our lives. It can jolt us out of our humdrum complacency, and revitalize our relationships with our fellow-believers. God grant that that power may always be “on” in our lives. Then, for us, brotherly love will be what it was meant to be—a continuous circuit. AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.