August 26, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Hebrews 13:1-5, 7-8 (NRSV)
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”. . Remember your leaders, those 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.
Read all of Hebrews 13 here.
Love each other, the writer of the Hebrews says. Show hospitality. Minister to the imprisoned and persecuted. Be faithful in marriage. Use your money and possessions wisely. Honor and listen to the saints that have gone before. Jesus has been with you in the past and will go with you into the future.
When I was a teenager, there was a Christian bookstore in my hometown, called Provident Bookstore. It’s closed now—it was part of a small midwestern Mennonite chain that later got elbowed out by larger groups like LifeWay and Family Christian, although that’s beside the point.
Before the coming of the Internet, as some of you will remember, getting to know your local bookstore owners was imperative because they could order things for you that you couldn’t find locally. My mother was a church music minister, and we spent a lot of time in Provident either buying things or ordering things. They stocked lots of books. Nearly all the great Christian books that were meaningful to me in my childhood came from there, and they also sold books that nowadays I think you’d probably only find in a “secular” bookstore, like M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. They had teaching supplies for Sunday Schools and Christian schools, and also sold a moderate amount of Christian home décor—mostly Precious Moments (anyone remember Precious Moments? Google tells me you can still buy them, if you want).
And they sold plaques. One day my mother was shopping and I was sitting on the floor (this was a lot easier for me to do 35 years ago) and looking at the plaques. One of them had Hebrews 13:8 on it: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Now, you can buy hundreds of plaques with this saying, but this one was different. The word “yesterday” was in a Victorian font. The word “today” was in a popular 1980s font—think Comic Sans. The word “forever” was in futuristic computer type.
I don’t think we bought the plaque—at least, I can’t find it now—but I can still see it in my head as if I am still holding it in my hands. It brought home to me in a new way that Jesus Christ had not only been with me in the past but would go with me into the future, even the impossibly far-off 21st century.
Our reading from Hebrews 13 today picks up a little beyond where I left you two weeks ago. Hebrews 11 describes so beautifully the great cloud of saintly witnesses. Hebrews 12 brings that home with an invitation to us to follow in their footsteps:
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for indeed our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:22-24, 28-29)
Hebrews 13 asks the very practical question: Now what? Now that we have come to Mount Zion and been enrolled with the righteous and received the kingdom, how should this affect our daily life?
Love each other, the writer of the Hebrews says. Show hospitality. Minister to the imprisoned and persecuted. Be faithful in marriage. Use your money and possessions wisely. Honor and listen to the saints that have gone before. Here our passage for today stops, but the writer goes on (13:9-19): don’t be “carried away” by strange teachings and over-scrupulousness about worship, but praise God, share with others, do good, obey your leaders, and pray. Not a bad set of recommendations for the Christian life, in fact.
Why? Well, if the readers need more explanation than Hebrews 1-12 has already provided, the writer reminds them that Jesus has been with them in the past and will go with them into the future. Jesus “also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood,” the author of Hebrews writes (13:12); so trust him, go to him, and look for “the city that is to come” (13:14).
Here I am in the impossibly far-off 21st century, decades after I held that plaque in my hands. My mom is now among the saints. I have tried to love others and do good and pray. I have looked for the city that is to come. Sometimes I have failed. Jesus has never left me.
My grandfather, also now in the glorious company of the saints in light, used to use Hebrews 13:20-21 as a benediction. I leave it with you today:
Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, as he works among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever. Amen.
Where was Jesus with you yesterday?
Where is he with you today?
Where will he be with you in the future?
We used the famous old hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” by Isaac Watts at our wedding to testify to the Lord who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Here’s a great arrangement of it (lyrics on screen). It’s hard not to quote the whole thing, but ponder especially the first verse:
O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home.
Lord, thank you for walking with me yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Money Matters (Hebrews 13:5-6)
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
Click here to view Jennifer’s profile.