Known By Our Love
August 28, 2022, by Rev. Laura Healy
We are in week four of our 4-part series, entitled: Operating Instructions. Looking at the way the author of Hebrews instructed his readers on how to be a gathering of Jesus followers – how to be the church in the difficult days of early Christianity. As we have learned, the author of Hebrews is unknow and the audience he was writing to is unclear. We are not even sure about when it was written.
And I want to remind you of the Tom Long quote Pastor Lisa has shared, to remind you that the early church who first read this letter was tired: tired of serving the world, tired of worship, tired of Christian Education, tired of being peculiar and whispered about in society, tired of the spiritual struggle, tired of trying to keep up their prayer lives and tired, even, of Jesus.
I wonder if they were also tired of each other? The early church lived in tight-knit community. This scripture is an exhortation offering up practices that would bind up the community where it might have begun to unravel, practices that would help to preserve and strengthen it.
M. Scott Peck begins his book The Different Drum with this declaration:
In and through community lies the salvation of the world.
The early church knew this that the way they gathered and the way they shared and lived in harmony was one of the things that set them apart from the society around them. They understood what we have learned: we cannot be the church individually.
I have a friend who spends his Sunday mornings hiking in the woods around his home. He says that’s where he feels closest to God and he praises and thanks God through these weekly walks. And I have no doubt he does – but Jesus makes it pretty clear – and the writer of Hebrews reminds us that in order to truly worship and offer up praise and serve God, we have to gather. We have to do it in community.
Isn’t that why covid was so heart-breaking? That we were kept apart on Sunday mornings.
This portion of Hebrews is a reminder and a primer on how to be in community with each other, a community that reflects honesty and solidarity and begins with this: Let mutual love continue.
This type of love, mutual love – we sometimes call brotherly love or family love. In the Greek, it is a combination of two words: phileo – to love and adelphós – brother.
The author of Hebrews reminds his readers to keep loving each other like family. Would it surprise you that I have a lot to say about that?
But before I do, I want to touch on the other points the author makes on how best to be the church, to be a community of believers.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers. Some of you will remember when my son was small and I used to sit right back there in the pews. I knew then that greeting visitors and newcomers to the church was important and it was what I should be doing but I felt shy – and I was never quite sure how to go about it. Now, fortunately for me, I had a good friend who would gently nudge me in the direction of visitors. I learned, through their encouragement to be brave, and to put out my hand and introduce myself and say hello. That’s one way we can offer hospitality and if you feel unsure or shy, just ask a friend to help you!
If you look around the sanctuary this morning, you may see some of the college students we are welcoming today with a potluck lunch after worship. Why, here is another opportunity to practice hospitality! Come to the potluck – even if you weren’t planning to, even if you didn’t bring anything or forgot all about it. There will be plenty of food, I promise.
Come to the potluck and introduce yourself to these young people who have found their way here this morning!
There is nothing like gathering together around a table to make you feel a little less lost and a little more found. It is community at it’s very best.
The author of Hebrews continues. Remember those suffering as if you were suffering with them. The scripture speaks of those in prison and being tortured – but there are many kinds of prisons. The prison of loneliness, of doubt, of shame, of suffering along with our correctional institutions and the many souls who are bound up in them and what about those among us tortured by grief or sadness or regret…
We must have compassion for the suffering of others, remembering that compassion literally means to suffer with.
And next, Honor marriage. This is nothing more or less than keeping our promises to each other and to support others in keeping their promises, to be honest and truthful and trustworthy – to make ourselves worthy of the trust we have engendered in this community together. To be grateful for that and then – to trust in God’s great promise, in God’s abundant gifts. Our scripture says Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have. To be content with what God has given us and to be grateful. To cultivate gratitude for the good things in our lives.
One of the most richly rewarding practices I have is keeping a gratitude journal. It’s just a little notebook on the nightstand that I pick up every night and list three things big or small that I am grateful for. It is a small way of thanking God for my blessings at the end of the day. Is there some way you can beginning to cultivate, to sew the seeds of gratitude in your life? I challenge you to find ways to count God’s good gifts in your life and then practice (that’s the tricky part) taking note of them in some way.
The author of Hebrews continues, Remember your leaders. And I would venture that this is not just the company of saints who have gone before but the community of leaders who are with us right now, in this very room, our lay leaders, our committee chairs and Sunday school teachers, all those who give of their time and their hearts to lead us and guide us and love us here at Laurel Heights.
And that, dear friends, brings me to the most profound statement, the first words we heard in the scripture reading today – Let mutual love continue.
American author, bell hooks says “there is no better place to learn the art of loving than in community” and I would add, no better place to begin than in this community, the church.
As I was finishing up my requirements to become a licensed local pastor, I asked several pastors whose work I admired to give me some advice on being a good associate pastor. And strangely enough, they all gave me the exact same answer: love the people. And I thought, well, I can most certainly do that. All of you make that part easy.
But love has to go deeper than good mornings and I love yous and hugs or handshakes on Sunday morning. I am thinking about how often I ask or answer the question “How are you?” It’s said John Wesley would open small group meetings by asking “how is it with your soul?” That’s harder to answer isn’t it?
I don’t know if I am ready to ask my favorite grocery clerk at HEB about her soul, but in this place, in this company, I know I can ask this question and I know it is a safe place for me to answer it as well. To answer this sort of question requires vulnerability, a willingness to open our hearts.
This kind of asking and answering and sharing and listening is hard, it may sometimes be impossible, but I think the author of Hebrews is asking us to try. I think it is a hallmark of mutual love, a more engaged and relational way of being together. So next Sunday when someone asks “how are you?” think beyond the usual fine or okay or good or my personal favorite busy but good and think about tugging on that thread of mutual love and letting a little of what’s truly on your heart come through.
It’s the church’s job, the author of Hebrews reminds us, to create spaces where we can be brave and vulnerable in ways that open us up to asking and answering with all the honesty we can muster.
And here is the best part – to create a loving community, to make sure that mutual love continues, we have to be all in but it is not all us. Anne Lamott says “if people are patient and kind, that’s a lot – something of spirit is at work. It is the result of grace.”
Friends, if we create the space, if we ask and listen and answer each other with our whole hearts, God’s grace will fill in the gaps. It isn’t all us. God’s great love is right here with us.
So let mutual love continue and grow richer and even more beautiful here at Laurel Heights and after worship, come to the potluck and welcome our college students and welcome each other home.
May it be so.