Scripture: Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16
Sermon: “Unshakable Love”
This is my last sermon with you, yet I remember so vividly my very first sermon with you! A lot has changed in this world since the first day I met you. We’ve all been through quite a lot together, and quite a lot in this world! It is technically my “last sermon” as your pastor at North Lonsdale United Church. But it’s not the last sermon (I hope) for me in my life, and for you in yours. Life brings forth life, and love brings forth love. And I’d like to think that sermons bring forth hope, as we hear the Word of God proclaimed for us in this day and time.
Today we have heard from the Book of Hebrews. The author is sharing with us how to live well. And in the heart of that living well, is love. Not just love between two lovers, or love between a parent and a child, or love between friends…but love as it relates to all things in all ways.
If you remember my sermon on I Corinthians (don’t worry…I won’t really test you on what you remember about my sermons…) BUT, if you remember….the one thing that will last, is love. Faith and Hope are with us on this earth, but once we are together forever in God’s heavenly kingdom, those things are fulfilled in the presence of God eternally. Love is the gift from God that is unshakable, unending, and stays with us long after we’re gone, and long after we part from one another. And remains with us when we are together again, one day. If love stays with us, we need to pay attention to how to love well on this side of heaven! One of my favourite phrases was one that Barbara Prinsloo taught me…she said, “When I wake up in the morning, I give thanks that I’m on the green side of the grass!” J This morning we’ve all woken up to the green side of the grass—we’re here, living and breathing together, sharing life. And Hebrews wants to help us grow in that life in the way that we love. Love as it relates to the home, but also love as it relates to our Christian fellowship, and love as it relates to our entire society at large.
Before we know how to love in all those ways, we go to the source of love, in God’s love for us through Christ Jesus.
One of the gifts I’ve had at being at North Lonsdale is the honour it’s been to baptize those who have come forth ready to join the Kingdom of God! In my time here, we’ve witnessed together the baptisms of children and adults alike---some born right here in the Lower Mainland, others who’ve come from far off lands. In those moments, we witness, and we remember, the gift of God’s love for us. We’ve also witnessed that as we partake of the Lord’s Supper together, which we’ll do one last time here today, but not forever the last time. Every time I partake in the Lord’s Supper in Toronto, I’ll be connected with you here, as you too, receive God’s body and God’s blood in remembrance of the One who died for us all.
I think many of you know that I’ve appreciated following what’s called the “Lectionary.” The lectionary is the given texts for a particular Sunday, and all across the world many other congregations may be hearing sermons from the very same Scripture that we are right now. So, for today, August 28, 2022, I still wanted to follow the given texts for this Sunday…and I was amazed that this one in Hebrews was before us. It felt ever so right.
This 13th Chapter of Hebrews, is about assurance. Assurance of love no matter what we’ve endured, and no matter what comes ahead. That sounds comfortable enough. But Hebrews takes us deeper. Our Christian life isn’t just about our own ‘assurance.’ God calls us to live out our lives in ways that others might also know the abundant love offered to all. Last week, Erin Glanville shared about Sabbath, and understandably talked about how each one of us tends to try and find ways to keep the Sabbath, or find ways to live out a sabbath practice. But she reminded us that this faith isn’t just about us. How do we look outward in sabbath. How do we cultivate ways that we’re creating space for those treated unjustly, or are marginalized to also experience and practice sabbath.
Hebrews is about assurance, but it’s also about loving others.
Folks have been in and out of the office this week, and I’ve seen some who’ve been unable to come to church for a very long time. But, they were so kind to stop and share and thank me for this time—and we joked that one thing for sure, my time here will forever be marked, as a very unprecedented time in history!
Hebrews speaks into that history in time. “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.”
“It's easy to be debilitated by fear, but better to be fearless in the knowledge that Jesus stands with us throughout life's journey.”
I remember the good ole days, before the world changed. The Men were able to meet monthly for their Men’s Breakfast, which I learned about early on in my time here! I remember Texas Toast, and good hearty breakfasts! I was fortunate enough to experience the Holy Rollers as they had their grand finale year together. And, I remember the Community Dinners, where people flooded in from the streets to share in a meal in person, side by side.I remember every funeral, every life, every marriage and birth and all the events of life that bring us closer together in the faith and in love.
It is unreal to think that this September would’ve been the beginning of my 4th year at North Lonsdale, yet this past Holy Week and Easter was my first time to be able to walk through it in person with you. What a crazy journey we’ve been on. I didn’t know during that Holy Week time that it would be my last with you, but I do remember that I treasured every step of the walk that week.
Hebrews 13: verse 1 begins with such great words “let mutual love continue!” But, in the Scriptures…we’ve just come from Hebrews Chapter 12…and that ends with “Our God is a consuming fire!” which is quoting the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.
Remember last week when we read Psalm 46. The word Selah is given to us in the midst of that Psalm, which means a pause. As Hebrews 12 ends with “God as a consuming fire” to the very next sentence…”let mutual love continue!” I imagine a need for a pause there. A time to stop, reflect, and then go on.
A consuming fire overwhelms, surrounds, invades, encompasses all. In the forest, when a fire has consumed a forest, new growth occurs. Growth that was unexpected. Growth that bears different fruit and new beginnings.
We may feel, after living through a pandemic, that we’ve been consumed by a fire. We may feel worn and weary. But, new growth is already happening. Just this past week, our Chat Time group made a lovely connection with a community worker who has a heart for caring for the caregivers. So, they had a party here last Wednesday! 20 people came who are caregivers to our Seniors in our nearby community. There was music, food, fun, and even dancing! And guess what, they want to come back! So stay tuned, as our congregation can learn more about hosting and showing hospitality to those who are weary and worn out and to whom also need caring and love.
May we be consumed with God---letting God do his work in us, and then pause—remember, reflect, rest, and then: “Let mutual love continue.” God will not stop loving us—nor others. Love goes both ways—that’s what makes it love!
Hebrews 13 at first may feel like it reads a bit like a list of rules…Do this, and don’t do that. Remember this, and live honorably towards others and those you share life with. It is in a way a set of instruction—life-giving instruction. Hebrews throughout uses the language of family. Loving one another as brothers and sisters together. Yet, the book also urges us not to remain insular, but loving those whom may be new to us, loving the stranger.
I loved spending time with a South African bishop one time who told me, “Whenever I accepted Jesus into my heart, I accepted all his friends with him.” Jesus spent a lot of time with a lot of people we wouldn’t normally seek out. And Hebrews is reminding us, too, to remember those who are being mistreated, or those whom are in prison. One theologian writes for “They are all part of the same body, so the congregation should serve those suffering just as if they were going through the same horrors.”
The Scripture urges those to honour their place in their marriages for those whom are married, and for all to live and exist in lives of contentment—what God has given, is sufficient for us!
That’s not always easy to believe. I was with some friends not long ago who are unable to conceive. It’s no surprise that they get the question often, “when are you two going to start having children?” It’s painful. It’s not what they’ve designed or desired. How do we find our place of contentment, when we don’t receive what we seek. One pastor used to say, it’s why we pray---so that God might change our wanter around.” I don’t know if these two will ever birth children, but if not, they are incredible with the children I’ve seen in their lives. Who knows what God will do with their ability to care for others in a way whereby parenting might limit them to only a few.
Hebrews is a book given to us so that we might be reminded, no matter what we face the words of our God, “I will never leave you nor will I forsake you.”
There is no need to worry about material good is we have the presence and protection of God. Remember when Moses promises the people and Joshua that God will protect them as they poise to enter the land of Canaan? The promise, ultimately, is that God will sustain them. Our assurance is a heavenly land of promise one day. And our hope and joy is living to help all others find that way to God’s presence here today, and forever.
I love how this passage begins today. “Let mutual love continue.” That reminds me of North Lonsdale! You have always shown a way to love others, even when the way was unclear. I have never seen such resilience in a people as when covid isolation hit this community. Folks like Verna, Lois, Georgia and others created phone chains and connections with folks that were truly salve to the soul during such times of separation.
You continued what you already knew—to love. The word “continue” marks an ongoing habit and mark of God’s people…showing love. And Hebrews reminds us that as we love, we shouldn’t neglect showing hospitality. The clarity here is that we naturally love those in our midst—those we know—those we’ve lived life with. But, don’t neglect showing hospitality, too! The Greek word for hospitality means “love of the strange.”
One writer says “such hospitality makes the unexpected possible.” This caregiver ministry that has literally sprung up in front of us, was a gathering of strangers this past Wednesday. When we’re able to receive the Community Dinners again in person, strangers will come through the door for the first time. Every Sunday, for those newcomers who’ve been seeking for a place of respite, peace, assurance—and find their way through these doors—are strangers.
And as we show hospitality, and love—the unexpected is possible! God shows us life together in ways we couldn’t have fashioned on our own. Only through what God has done in Christ can we “draw near” and truly find grace together as we help and serve and love others in times of need.
Whatever the struggle, whatever the illness, whatever the heartache, whatever the need…Christ meets us in those moments, as we share life together, continually showing love, and by not neglecting the stranger.
We are also not to neglect doing good and sharing what we have.
In Hebrews verse 16 it reads : “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Doing good and sharing what you have….did you notice the words: “such sacrifices!” These don’t strike me as sacrifices…they strike me as right. As the way we should be. As the way of life. Our natural tendency is to help ourselves, protect ourselves, nurture ourselves. God says, think of others, share with others, love others. The gospel message of love is better shared.
NT Wright writes that “The message of the gospel isn’t for tomorrow only; you can’t put it off and imagine things will be easier when you’ve finished this task, made these decisions, earned some more money, and settled down. The challenge of Jesus is for today, for this moment, this decision, this difficulty.”
This past week, things changed. What once was my office and home, became empty shelves and boxes. When all of our belongings at home got packed, there were the extras that weren’t allowed to go on a truck—due to them being combustible, or what have you. So, I messaged the neighbourhood and said “I’ve got W-40, Rubbing Alcohol, a can of Endust and a jug of Tide….come one come all.” And people did! It must have sparked an idea, because soon after I sent that message, another in the neighbourhood wrote “Hey, I could really borrow a ladder for a project this week, anyone have one I could use?” Folks wrote in immediately.
Sometimes we tend to reach out when we’re going through transition or a change, but in reality, we should always be sharing, all the time! I wonder what we could put out on our front lawn here at North Lonsdale that we have to share with others? We could send out a note to the entire neighbourhood-- “Hey, we’ve got extra compassion that we would love to share.” “We’ve got some folks who have time to pray for your worry or illness or concern!” “We’ve got some children who’d love to rake your leaves since your limbs are feeble and not as able to work in the yard.” “We know a Lord who’s got so much love to give…it’s enough for you, too!”
North Lonsdale, let your mutual love continue! It’s beautiful. It’s needed. It’s for right now, it’s for tomorrow. It’s a love that’s consumed you like a fire, and it’s a love that’s meant to grow. There’s more and more and more and more of it to share—and guess what, this love won’t ever leave you.” It’s unshakable. It lasts, even when we part from one another. God’s love remains the tie that binds. Forever. Amen.
 Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons
 Peeler, Amy, Working Preacher Commentary.