In my more cynical moments I often think that if I came up with an esoteric ritual with a mysterious name accompanied by suitable world music and charged a big fee people would come flocking. Much in the world of advertising and in the leisure industry is couched in the language of religion and spirituality. The gullible pay large amounts for new age treatments and therapies.
I could do that but if I did I would not be true to the Christian faith that has an earthy simplicity about it. What the Church has to offer is not always attractive. Think of some of our free gifts, a dry wafer and a sip of wine, a splash of water, a palm leaf, ash, and a candle. I notice that people often ask for something using the language of the world. They want a service, a venue for which they are happy to pay. They often ask how much a Baptism costs and seem rather uneasy when I say there is no charge. I resist the pious answer that it cost Jesus' death on the cross and that it invites total commitment as a response. God can't be bought off.
The truth is that the Christian faith is treasure in earthen vessels. It is priceless but hidden. The writer to the Hebrews captures this. The epistle is full of elaborate passages about the priesthood of Christ but he ends with today's reminder of how the Christian faith is to be lived out. His words are an encouragement to persevere in the face of persecution and difficulty, to resist the temptation to give up. So let us look more closely at today's reading.
- Mutual love and hospitality. Hospitality is an important Christian ministry. To do it well is costly, not simply in material terms but because we give of ourselves in an expression of mutual love. Christian hospitality is offered to strangers, angels in disguise, the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind commended by Jesus in today's Gospel.
- With the prisoners in prison. It is hard to offer hospitality to the unlovely and unattractive. The writer picks out prisoners for special attention. He may have in mind those imprisoned for their faith but he doesn't say so. Prisoners tortured and forgotten were the lowest of the low and yet worth of Christian empathy, as though you were imprisoned with them.
- Let the marriage bed be undefiled. Christians and Jews stood out in the classical world because of their high view of marriage and there rejection of the sexual promiscuity that was prevalent in the world around them. This teaching was not so much life denying and puritanical but radical and affirming of the value of all. In our world the link between intimacy and commitment is remains unrealised by many. As Christians our mission is to discover its value for ourselves and commend it to others.
- Money worries. Having dealt with cooking, prisons and sex the writer turns to that other great cause of human strife, money. Our lives are to be free from the love of money and we are to be content with what we have. God will provide so we need have no fear. We know this teaching to be right but it's hard to practice. We love the things money can buy and we worry about our finances. We need a change of heart and an increase in faith that is essentially a God given grace.
- Death. After tax the second great certainty in life is death. Many of the first leaders of the Christian communities had died, sometimes in appalling circumstances. Often they would have left despairing, frightened people behind. In such circumstances they needed that reminder of the outcome of faith, eternal life.
- 'Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Christians are subject to the same humanity as everyone. They too find it hard to love the outcasts; they eat too much, fall into sexual temptation and are fearful of death. Still subject to change and decay ours is the different perspective of eternity. In a changing world Jesus Christ is the always the same.
- How do we respond? - With a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess his name. That means in our worship and also in a willingness to speak to others about our faith as opportunity arises. It issues forth in doing good and in sharing what we have with others.
Unlike some religions Christianity is very earthy, because the Word became flesh. Hebrew's reminder of how the Christian life is to be lived out is not immediately attractive in its rejection of exclusivity, sexual freedom, the love of money and worldly power, or in its commendation of lives of worship and service even in the face of opposition. The Christian experience down the centuries is that such a way of life leads us to the ultimate satisfaction of knowing God and of sharing his life. It comes as a call and an invitation to respond in faith. We cannot know its truth in advance or in the abstract. We have to make the leap of faith to discover God who is always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than we desire or deserve.
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Last updated 29/08/04 09:00 Author: David Shepherd