Who to Imitate?

Seth Patterson, May 21, 2017

Scripture Hebrews 13:1–3, 5–7

Young people, I want to let you in on a little secret: all adults love all sermons all the time and never get bored. Adults: This isn’t actually true, is it?

Well, either way, it is time for the sermon, and today we are all here. I am really glad we are all here. And I was asked to give a sermon. I am really honored that I was asked. And to respect the melting ice cream in Guild Hall, if you look in the bulletin it says “meditation” and not “sermon,” and that means it will be short.

Our friend Henry just read a passage from a book from the Bible called the Letter to the Hebrews, or just Hebrews for short. And the Letter to the Hebrews is in the part of the Bible that we call the New Testament. And somebody a long time ago decided that this letter should be found towards the end of our book. (Third-graders, check out your new Bible and see where you can find it.) As many of us already know, the Bible is broken up into two parts: the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament, which is more or less all about Jesus and is the shorter part of the Bible overall. And the New Testament is mostly made up of letters like this that were written back and forth to different communities about how to live as Christians when living as a Christian was still a new thing. And the Bible only has some of the many, many letters that were likely written. And that means we only have part of the conversation—so we don’t know what the questions were that this letter was trying to answer. It would be like if you found a letter from me that said, “Blessings! And the answer to the big question is ‘16 clowns and a pair of pants and make sure to love everyone equally,’” but you don’t know what the question was! You don’t know what the conversation was about. And then, just to make this more fun, we don’t know who was writing these letters. Throughout history, we have often said that these letters were written by a guy named Paul, but this one was almost certainly not written by that guy named Paul. And this letter is really old, written about 30 years after Jesus died, which is older than the books in the Bible that we call the Gospels, which are about Jesus’ life.

I know this is a lot of information, and it might even be confusing. (There will be no test, I promise.) I mention all of this only to explain where these words that Henry read come from. I think that it is important that we know a little about their context. It helps me, at least, remember that the words are not magical and were originally written for people in a very different place and time from where and when we are now. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t hold any value for us anymore. Just because we were not the original audience doesn’t mean that we can’t learn something from this.

Okay, so let’s quickly go through this little passage. (Follow along in your new Bibles.) What can we learn from this? What is not-Paul trying to tell people here?

It begins, “Let mutual love continue.” I think we can all get behind that. Mutual love means that we all, in this community, love each other equally. We try not to love one group of people more than another.

It goes on: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” This is a good thing to remember, too. We need to be kind and welcoming to strangers. It is a good reminder in this building as we often have guests and want to have even more. It is also good to remember outside of this building in the world—treat other people, even if you don’t know them, with respect. Treat other people as you would like them to treat you. And remember: strangers can also be people that you see all the time but have not yet spoken to.

“Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being hurt, as though you yourselves were being hurt.” This is a great reminder to live with empathy and love to those who are being hurt and to those that are imprisoned. All of us face pain in our life, so remember those who are living with it when you happen to be free of it.

“Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.” Yup, that one is pretty clear, not sure there is much I can say about it. I will just say it again: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.”

“So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’” This is another way of saying that we will trust in God. God doesn’t promise that everything will be good all the time or that there will never be anything to fear (otherwise there would be no people in prison or hurting for us to remember and empathize with). Instead, what God promises is hope, which can alleviate (or reduce) fear. Living with less fear is a powerful way of living.

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” And this is why I chose this passage. This line, I think, is quite important.

Young people: It is important that you pay attention to the ways in which the leaders in this church behave. And leaders in this world, as you are already overly aware, are most frequently the adults. You are in a long and, in most ways, unending process of growing up and learning how to be a responsible, generous and gracious person in this world. You are learning how to identify love, power and justice in the actions of the people around you. And you are learning how to live in this world that others have built up before you. As humans, especially as young humans, we learn by watching and observing and imitating. Pay attention to the leaders. And in this church the leaders are not just those of us who have titles and positions and are given microphones to speak into. The leaders are all of us.

So, adults, remember that you are being observed. Younger eyes are watching how you interact with others, how you welcome the stranger, how you try to remember those in pain or prison. It is up to us, the adults, to model what it means to have mutual love and have some trust in God. In this community, in this world, we are being observed, and younger people may just decide to consider the outcomes of our lives and imitate our faith. And to model does not mean to be perfect by any means. It doesn’t mean to not make mistakes or to hold yourself to unachievable standards. Rather it means to act with awareness, thoughtfulness and a sense that your words and actions might, over time, be seen as the way things should be.

And I would be remiss this morning, if I did not also point out that today it is our young people who are the leaders! It is the children and youth of this church that are leading the service today and speaking the word of God to us all. So, today, my friends, it is you who are the leaders!

So, adults: Remember your leaders from today and consider the outcomes of their lives and imitate their faith.

And young leaders: remember that you are important, that people care how you act and how you live your faith. We care how you treat the stranger, we care how you remember people in pain, we care how you try to be content with what you have. You, too, are leaders in this place, and we might just need to imitate you, too, sometimes.

We are all in this together. Let mutual love continue. Amen.