- As Jews who believe in Jesus of Nazareth, they are rejected by their Jewish brothers and sisters as heretics.
- As Christians who believe in Jesus as Kyrios, ‘Lord’, they are thought by the Roman imperial authorities to be subversives who are undermining the foundations of the Empire.
From the way the author frames his argument it appears that some of the Jewish Christians are tempted to abandon the Christian way and return to Judaism with its recognized ritual life and its protection under Roman law. To counteract this temptation the author portrays the New Covenant made by God with humanity in Jesus of Nazareth as superior to the Covenant made by God with the people of Israel in the desert of the Exodus. To demonstrate this superiority the author argues that
- God’s voice is a living voice and is still speaking;
- Jesus, our high priest, shares our humanity even as he sits in honour at God’s side;
- The Spirit is constantly revealing and interpreting the Word of God to humanity and
- The ekklesia, the fellowship of sisters and brothers, has been called to exercise a privileged role in God’s purposes.
In today’s reading from the final chapter of Hebrews the author encourages his community to live out that privileged role
- By loving the stranger rather than fearing the stranger;
- By recognizing that money and sex are not private matters but two of the ways power and selfishness are lived out in society;
- By acknowledging that the church is a pilgrim minority that is outside the social and political structures of their time.
He closes his exhortation with words that describe the fundamental purpose of Christian worship: “Through [Christ], then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Hebrews 13.15-16)
- Is there some vocation that you sense God is calling you to undertake that seems to lead you on an unexpected journey?
- Do you need to look at the world differently in order to undertake this vocation?
- Are you going to have to play a little loose with the rules in order to undertake this vocation?
I believe that God is calling us to leave behind an understanding of the church as powerful and prestigious. I believe that God is calling us to realize that we are surrounded by strangers who need to be shown hospitality. I believe that God is calling us to reconsider many of the rules and structures that we are accustomed to identify as markers of what it means to be ‘church’.
- Let us show mutual love for one another, a love that seeks to build one another up so that we can become fully mature, fully alive as God intends us to be.
- Let us show hospitality to the strangers, a hospitality that opens us up to the possibility of doing things differently and to see the world in new ways.
- Let us remember those who are in any need or trouble, a remembering that takes shape not only in the words of our prayers but in the actions and choices of our lives.
- Let us honour relationships rooted in genuine love and commitment, a honour that praises fidelity and mutual respect.
- Let us be good stewards of the goods entrusted to our care, a stewardship that works towards genuine equity for all people.
- Let us raise up leaders who will both encourage and challenge us to be witnesses to the life of Jesus, a life for all times and for all peoples.
This is why we offer here our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. This is why we eat this bread and drink this cup.