Do not neglect to do good

Meditation on Hebrews 13:1–8, 15–16

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

Aug. 28, 2022

Link to livestreamed recording of the service: https://fb.watch/fbviulFegf/

     Summer is nearly over. How did that happen? I hope it has been a good summer for you.

We have had the joy of visits from family members who live out of state. Our son, Danny, and his wife, Hiu-fai and daughters, Maddie and Jessie, were here at the beginning of the month for a whirlwind weekend.

     Then, a week ago Saturday, our youngest son, James, and his girlfriend, Andrea, arrived from Minnesota. We hadn’t seen them in more than a year. They came to worship last Sunday—and fell in love with the church.

     You welcomed them. Thank you for that!

     Those who had family visiting with you recently, what are you doing the entire time they are with you? Anticipating their every need. Do you let them go hungry? No, we eat more than we usually do. If they need or want to go somewhere, we get them there.

We are hoping that they will enjoy their time and be happy. We all want our families to be happy.

      Sometimes, we put aside the things we like to do and maybe do some things we aren’t crazy about when they are visiting. Our routine is gone. We put their needs and desires before ours.

    We share what we have. We give without expecting anything in return.

    We don’t neglect to do good.

    Our scripture in Hebrews, once again, stirs us to think about family relationships—and what it means to love and practice hospitality in a church. Love takes work—but it’s a good work that we are all called to do—a sacrifice that is pleasing to God. Right from the beginning of this passage, the writer of Hebrews makes clear what is needed for a healthy community of faith: “mutual love.” The Greek word translated “mutual love” is philadelphia. Just like the city. Anyone here from Phillie? Anyone here just love Phillie? William Penn envisioned the capital city of his colony to be a place where people could practice their faith the way they wanted and live without fear of persecution. Philadelphia is the city of brotherly love.

     Mutual love or sibling love—philadelphia—is the love practiced within the faith community. Mutual love doesn’t exclude anyone. It doesn’t discriminate by gender, age, ethnicity, wealth, culture, language, marital status. It doesn’t matter who you are. If you abide in the faith community and seek to please the Lord, you have the same work to do: mutual love. Philadelphia!

      But the writer of Hebrews doesn’t stop at mutual love, philadelphia. This comes from my Austin Seminary professor, Paul Hooker, in a commentary called Connections. The second focus of the 13th chapter “requires the same practice of love (philia) toward those beyond the community.” Mutual love is paired with hospitality. This is the surprising part. The Greek word translated “hospitality” is philoxenia, which means “love of strangers.”

       The Church is called not just to love its own members. We have to love strangers, too.

Now, it could be that the strangers the writer of Hebrews is talking about are Christians visiting from distant places. This is what Paul talks about in Rom. 12:13, “Contribute to the needs of the saints; pursue hospitality to strangers.” And this is what Peter is talking about In 1 Peter 4:9, when he says, “Be hospitable to one another without complaining.” He means show love to strangers within the Body of Christ. This is a sacrifice that is pleasing to God—when we do not neglect to do good and share what we have.

      This word “hospitality” philoxenia or love of strangers captures the attention of the writer of Hebrews, Professor Hooker says, with this mention of the possibility of entertaining angels, without knowing it. That’s my favorite part of this passage. Do you think you have entertained angels before when you have shown hospitality—love to strangers?     

       We don’t know, but it’s possible we have angels in our midst right now—and we don’t recognize them.

       The reference to angels may be a connection to Genesis 18:1-15. Abraham and Sarah are waiting for the promise of a son to be fulfilled; 3 “visitors” show up at the oaks of Mamre. They welcome them and prepare a large meal. Abraham waits on them as they eat; he doesn’t even eat with them! The angels bless him for his hospitality, confirming the promise God made to Abraham years before—that Sarah would give birth, finally, to a child and Abraham would become as he is named, “Father of many nations.”

       The writer of Hebrews goes on to tell us two things that get in the way of these two kinds of love—philadelphia and philoxenia (hospitality or love of strangers). He names two things that destroy loving relationships within the family and the church. One is adultery. This creates all kinds of brokenness—with God and one another! The other is greed. The writer of Hebrews says, “keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.” Greed and always wanting more than we have—and thinking that we need more to be happy—destroys family relationships. And the love of money—greed—destroys relationships in a congregation, as well.

       Christ doesn’t want his followers to argue about money—and let that ruin the love and unity in the community. We are called to show our love with our welcome and generosity—and seek the source of all love, the one who is the same, yesterday, today and forever—for all eternity. The writer quotes Deuteronomy 31:6 and Psalm 118:6, a hymn to God’s steadfast goodness to Israel.

      “For he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’

***

     Summer is coming to an end. School starts this week, doesn’t it? Our visits with our family members from far away have come to an end, too.

    It was even harder to say goodbye to James and Andrea than our granddaughters and their parents. At least with Danny and Hiu-fai and the girls, we could say, “See you sometime in the fall.” They live in Cambridge, Mass.—a car ride and a ferry ride away. Minnesota is a long way away.

     As I waited with James and Andrea at the train station in St. James on Friday, I kept thinking how quickly the visit went. Too quickly!

       Their train pulled up noisily on the tracks. We had to raise our voices to be heard. Before they could wheel away their suitcases on the platform, I grabbed them and gave them one last hug and a kiss.

     I told them I loved them, thanked them for coming.

      And then I turned away and started to cry as I walked back to my car. I looked back to wave at them and they were gone. I kept thinking that I won’t see them for more than a year.

      But I will think of them every day. Just as you do with your loved ones who are far away.

      We will hold them in our hearts and prayers.

       And to honor Jesus, to walk in the newness of resurrected lives by faith, we will do our best not to neglect to do good—loving people within and outside the church community, giving generously to keep ourselves free from the love of money.

     Showing love to strangers. And perhaps, just perhaps, entertaining angels, without knowing it. Learning to be content. Trusting in the One who is the same, yesterday, today, and for all eternity.

      “For he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’

Let us pray.  

Holy One, we thank you for the promise of new, resurrected lives when we walk each day with your Son, seeking to learn how to love. Build up the faith, welcome, generosity, and hospitality of your people, dear Lord, so that strangers and angels will come and join with us. Help us to keep free of the love of money. Bless and strengthen our marriages and families, especially those who may be struggling right now. Teach us to live in peace and contentment, without fear, knowing our Lord who is always the same will always be with us. Lead us to do the good works you have planned and be pleasing to you. In the Triune God we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Rory, a standard poodle.

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