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Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

About the Author

Have you been preaching through Hebrews in August? Perhaps you’ve been going through a mini-series of the last 3 chapters of Hebrews. I haven’t, but maybe in 3 years. And if I do, I’m going to preach this series through the golden era of Christian music.

As a ‘90s Youth Group Kid (YGK??) I was blessed to live through the height of Christian music ingenuity. Obviously, to this YGK, the Christian music scene today is packaged and predictable, but in the ‘90s it was great. No, this isn’t my nostalgia speaking…

Last week, preaching the end of Hebrews 12, you could have used Third Day’s (Did you know they’re STILL “making” music?) early hit “Consuming Fire” from their first studio album in 1996.( There’s something about the cringe worthiness of the music video and Mac Powell’s goatee that is so endearing.

And this Sunday you could include the Newsboys last decent album “Step Up to the Microphone” when Phil Joel still sang and Peter Furler was still in the band in all of his Aussie eye-liner glory. While the band has always been a revolving door of musicians, their best days were obviously when I listened to them! In my humble opinion, with “Love, Liberty, Disco” the Newsboys jumped the shark. And now they have as frontman Michael Tait of DC Talk! This is not the Newsboys of YGK’s. I digress…

In their last album of value, Newsboys released the his song “entertaining angels.” ( Can other YGK’s still hear the “Old-timey” violin intro? Sing along with me, “Entertaining angels by the light of my t.v. screen. 24-7 you wait for me. Entertaining angels by the time I fall to my knees. Host of heaven, sing over me.”

Nineties Christian bands bust have had a thing for the book of Hebrews. Which brings us to our pericope for Proper 17C. As free as Christian bands used to be, do these verses sound a bit legalistic? Or perhaps rigid? “Do this.” “Don’t do that.” It almost sounds like the Christian music industry of 2016 according to John Crist. (

  • Have mutual love

  • Don’t neglect to show hospitality

  • Remember those in prison

  • Remember those being tortured

  • Keep marriage pure; no fornication or adultery

  • Don’t love money

  • Be content

  • Remember your leaders

Is this reading just a list of things Christians are mandated to do? And what do these seemingly disconnected commands have to do with one another.

I’m wondering, and I don’t have any way to actually verify this, but I’m wondering if expectations like these end up feeling legalistic to those who don’t live by them? Perhaps those who do practice these ethics don’t find them binding but freeing.

Perhaps this passage may sound rigid because the lectionary reading regretfully omits essential verses. Preacher, consider including verses 9-14 in your sermon this Sunday. These verses carry an important qualifier. Let we think the writer of Hebrews is simply providing a list of do’s and don’ts (s)he adds in verse 9, “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them.”

You catch that? Are the strange teachings (s)he brings up the dietary restrictions once mandated by the Temple? Christians aren’t to follow non-beneficial regulations.

The author goes on to say that Christ followers have an altar from which to eat that the officials in the tent have no right to. Likened to the sacrifices of old, (s)he writes that the sacrifices take place outside of the tent, therefore, this is where we belong. As those who self-identify with Christ’s sufferings, we don’t perform sacrifices, we participate in being sacrificed.

The litany of verses 1-8 need the qualification of verses 9-14 in order to be seen not as a list of rules to follow, but as a list of things Christians do because the one rule they’ve followed is to give themselves up as Christ has given himself up. As those who have gone outside of the tent in order to be sacrificed with Christ, verses 1-8 don’t sound like commands but as identity.

We submit to one another in mutual love because we have given ourselves over to God and to one another. We don’t neglect to show hospitality to one another because we have given our own lives up and feel no pretension about welcoming others into our lives. We remember those in prison, as though we were in prison, because our life is not our own. We remember those who were tortured, as though we were tortured, because we have died to self. We keep marriage pure; not committing “pornos” or adultery, because marriage is a holy act of perpetually putting the needs of another above your own; because marriage is sanctifying. We don’t love money, we are content, because our hope rests not in what can be bought but in the resurrection; that thing to which sacrifice leads. And we remember our leaders because, in the church, our leaders are the ones who have sought not wealth or accolades but have gone with Christ outside of the tent. The great Catholic tradition of saints remembers those who have given their life, often literally, to Christ and his Kingdom. As the author says, we “consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith,” not their oratory effectiveness or prestige.

You see, it’s about sacrifice, or, as Paul would put it, Kenosis; self-emptying, denial of self, sacrifice. It’s not that we MUST do these, it is that we CAN do all these. It’s not command, it’s permission. By going with Christ outside of the tent, not by practicing sacrifices but by being sacrificed, we are freed to live lives in full service to others without pretense.

Preach well these words, sisters and brothers. You weekly attendance to the arduous and good task of preaching is bringing about Christ’s Kingdom. I’m thankful for you.