Living the Generous and Sacrificial Life of Jesus
Aug 28, 2022
One way to understand the book of Hebrews is as a collection of sermons rather than a letter, and the portion we read today is the wrap-up … the final words and advice for the church. If we were to summarize them, “be generous” might be a good common thread.
Commentator Scott Hoezee sums it up in this way: “Host strangers (they could be angels, after all). Don’t get attached to money or things but give them away to those who have less. God will take care of you, so don’t clutch your things too tightly as though it were all up to you. Imitate Jesus and imitate those who are good at proclaiming Christ and living as he did. Jesus does not change with the fashions of the times so keep your eyes on his example and do likewise.”
In his book The Divine Conspiracy, author Dallas Willard reminds us of the goal of discipleship, to live like Jesus. I’ll quote him, (The goal is) “to be generous and sacrificial, like Jesus. This is not a metaphor. This is not some overblown aspiration. This really is to be the bright center of our lives. And it may involve suffering. It may involve sacrifice of various kinds. It likely requires us to do thing that we are not overly comfortable doing, all things being equal, but that are necessary if we are ever going to break out of our safe bubbles so as to include and enfold others, starting with the needy, those in prison, those who are strangers (and who are flat out strange) to us.” (1)
That is certainly one way to become more devoted and less distracted disciples, which is our goal during this Pentecost season. Many of you did just that at the Akron Pride Festival yesterday, walking in the equity march and staffing Faith’s booth at the festival. And, on September 10 we can break out of our safe bubbles again by volunteering at DLM or participating in a First Serve activity, all part of the “beyond our walls” portion of the ELCA Day of Service. (Take a look at your green Weekly Beacon to see how you can sign-up.)
There are, however, two important things to remember as we stive to live like Jesus. The first is that doing so is our response to having been saved by God’s grace, made known to us in Jesus; it is not the way to earn God’s forgiveness and favor. How often have we noted that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more, or less – that’s grace! The only reason we can seek to be like Jesus is because of God’s abiding gift of grace – the Holy Spirit – which empowers us to have faith and to serve.
The second thing to remember is another common thread in today’s reading from Hebrews, which focuses on God’s reliability. In verse 5, we are reminded of God’s promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you,” and in verse 8 that “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever.” Because God’s people can count on God to provide what we need, we can live in ways that imitate Jesus. As commentator Doug Bratt proclaims, “…God eternal reliability frees us to act like Christ, even when the consequences of such actions may threaten us.” (2)
Now, let’s go back to where I started, that this is a passage focused on the well-being of the church. In it, a picture is painted of what it means to be a Christian living in community. None of the things that we are asked to do can be accomplished alone; we need others in our lives with whom to share mutual love, support and accountability. It is our duty and privilege to help others, fully empathizing with their circumstances. (3) (Remember that last week we saw the deep empathy of Jesus toward the suffering woman, so he healed her on the Sabbath which was not allowed, because he did not want to delay mercy one more day.)
Here’s another way to consider this; in a column about pursuing wellness/wholeness, Christi Brown writes that in an unstable world, when nothing seems grounded, it is difficult to live holistically, “This is why the mutual love and hospitality that the author of Hebrews mentions as present in a Christian community are so important. It is via the love and encouragement of others that all of us are able to press on toward living our lives as fully and faithfully as possible.” (4)
We need each other. One of the books I read while at the Chautauqua Institution was Search for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. You may find me quoting from it often in the months to come because she was such an astute theologian and story teller. (Sadly, Ms. Evans died unexpectedly in 2019 at the age of 38.)
She writes that, “at its best, the church functions as a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people speak difficult truths to one another.” The church is not so much for good people as resurrected people.
Ms. Evans tells the story of her friend, Kathy, who spent many years “climbing the leadership ladder at a megachurch in Denver” before leaving that setting to help found and pastor “the Refuge”, a faith community that practices “honesty for the sake of restoration” to which all sorts of unexpected people show up including, “orphans, outcasts, prostitutes, pastors, single moms and dads, church burnouts, and everyone in-between.”
In that setting they experience grace, mercy and healing as they strive to live like Jesus. And while the Refuge is a place where everyone is safe, says Kathy, it also is a place where no one is comfortable. (5)
Why is that? Well, I imagine that the combination of honesty about one’s life and faith struggles, and striving to live like Jesus creates more than a few challenges. I read this week that a congregation’s vitality is not tied to the plethora of its programming or the flashiness of its preacher or worship, but on its demonstration of “deep love, radical hospitality, solidarity with those on the margins of society, honoring marriage, sharing possessions, practicing contentment and emulating the positive behavior of those who have gone before them.” (6)
To do all that we need each other. That’s why Jesus’ followers, including us, are exhorted to live in community where we offer support and accountability to one another as we are devoted to living the generous and sacrificial life of Jesus. AMEN
- Commentary on Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 by Scott Hoezee, August 28, 2016, www.cepreaching.org
- Commentary on Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 by Doug Bratt, August 28, 2022, www.cepreaching.org
- “Living Wholly in Christian Community: A Lectionary Reflection on Hebrews 13” by Christi O. Brown, August 21, 2013
- Same as #3
- Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans, 2015 Nelson Books, pgs. 66-73
Commentary on Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 by Christopher Holmes, www.workingpreacher.org