Sermon by Fletcher Padoko
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
July 15, 2018
Living As Christians On The Margin
The Scripture that we have read today was written to a congregation that struggled every day. These Christians were followers of Christ and they lived on the margins. They struggled to hold on to their belief. This Hebrews text was written at a time when Christians were not considered to be a desirable segment of the society. Our fellow Christians had physical struggles; they had social and emotional struggles. But above all, they had spiritual struggles, just like us. They lived on the margins. Many were tempted to leave Christianity and go back to their old ways. And so this morning, we come to the book of Hebrews Chapter 13, where the author is advising these Christians how to live as Christians. How do they survive as Christians on the margins? What would make them different from the people of other religions?
The title of my sermon this morning is “Living as Christians on the Margins.” We will attempt to answer this question: How do we survive as Christians in a world that is pushing Christians to the margins? How do we survive as Christians in a world that is pushing us to the margins? How do we survive as Christians in an environment that is getting hostile towards Christians?
In Hebrews Chapters 13, we see the author rounding out her sermon with a set of ethical teachings. She encourages Christians never to give up because they had Jesus Christ who would never forsake them. It is the same message we get today. Christ is here for us, all the way. We see in this concluding chapter of the letter to the Hebrews that the author is offering real practical lessons. The writer of Hebrews begins today by showing us how the church is to be functioning well. What is our responsibility as members of Christ’s church? What is our responsibility to others and to Christ? It is as if she is saying, “If you forget everything else that I have been saying in the first 12 chapters, remember these few tips, and it shall be well with your Christian life.”
First of all, Christians are encouraged to Love one another. Verse 1 simply states, “Let mutual love continue.” Let mutual love continue. So, how do we survive as Christians in a world that is pushing Christians to the margins?
The answer is: Let mutual continue. The author writes to a marginalized people who are looking over their shoulders all the time. The enemies are bringing disunity among the believers. They are sowing seeds of discord to discourage Christians from following Christ. So, this text teaches us that the key to staying together as a Christian family on the margins is to Love one another. Love has a way of making our Christian life effective.
But as we love one another, we should also love others, because that is exactly what Christ would do! Notice how the author explains the Love concept. Love must not only go to fellow believers or our spouses. It must not only go to those who are called Christians! It should also be extended to strangers, prisoners, and those who are suffering (verse 2). In other words, we should extend our love to those who do not look like us. We should extend our love to those who do not speak like us. We should extend our Love to those whose beliefs are different from ours. We should extend love to those who are from across the borders. Yes, we are to love and serve our fellow church members. Yes, we are to love and serve our wives or husbands. But on the other hand, we are also to love and serve strangers. For God to be glorified in our lives, then we have to love and serve others. The best way to show love to strangers is to demonstrate hospitality. The best way to show love to those in prison is to visit them.
A church that is in unity and mutual love will be striving to accomplish these most basic important acts of service.
And as Christians, we should always remember that sometimes it is very easy to love our fellow Christians because these fellow Christians will also love us back. It comes naturally in the field of Christianity. But it can be very difficult to love strangers. You see, my dear sisters and brothers, most of the strangers do not give back the love that we give them. If you show love to a stranger, expect nothing in return. If you invite a stranger for a dinner, the stranger will not invite you for a return dinner next week. Loving strangers is a thankless job; you rarely get anything in return. Sometimes you even get into trouble for helping strangers. Nonetheless we are commanded to love the strangers anyway.
Furthermore, we notice that the discussion about Love continues when the author talks about money in verse 5. She says, “Keep your lives free from the Love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” This is a call to be careful, for while wealth and riches are not evil in and of themselves, they usually will become evil as they become our focus. The love of money, temptations of gathering material possessions, and the desire to be rich has led astray and destroyed countless people over the centuries! We are called to be content with what God has provided and not bend to greed. The point is that our real and true treasures are imperishable and eternal. Thus, our security is who we are in Christ, not what we have. How we handle our finances is a real reflection of our spiritual life.
Secondly, after talking about Love the author gives us an important lesson on how we can survive on the margins. This is Faith. As discussed in verse 7, Faith is a very important pillar for our salvation. In fact, without Faith, there would be no salvation because we embrace Christ through Faith. We confess Christ through Faith. We are saved by grace through Faith. Ephesians 2 verses 8 and 9 make it clear: “For by grace you have been saved through Faith, and this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”
But the author doesn’t just mention Faith in isolation. Faith is tied to the leaders of the Church.
Verse 7 begins with the call, “Remember your leaders.” These are Christian leaders, meaning “those who spoke the word of God” to the Christians. She goes further to instruct the Christians to “consider the outcome” of the Faith of those leaders. She says that they should consider the “way of life, and imitate their Faith,” (verse 7). She continues in verse 8 to say, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The author wants the Christians to imitate the Faith of these leaders because the leaders got their Faith from Christ! This is Jesus Christ who hasn’t changed. Christ who has been the same throughout. The Faith that has been passed on from the leaders is correct and the current Christians must embrace it.
The author goes further to state, in verse 9, “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefitted those who observe them.” We, as Christians, cannot have Faith without grace, and we cannot have grace without Faith. And so she is stating that if Christians can follow the Faith of their leaders, they will not be carried away by strange teachings! It is clear that the writer is aware of the struggles that Christians are facing. The Christians are living on the margins and there are all sorts of teachings and ideas that are beckoning to the believers, “come on this side, the grass is greener here!”
What is this text trying to say with these two important pillars of Christianity? What do we take out of these two fundamentals of Love and Faith as discussed in Hebrews 13 verses 1-16? The answer is simple: If we are going to survive as Christians in a world that is pushing Christians to the margins, then we must Love one another and have Faith in Christ. That is the only way for us to survive. This is Love that knows no bounds, and this is Faith that is not shaken regardless of the struggles! Christians should not only have Love and Faith in the summer, that is to say when everything is looking up good. Christians should have Love and Faith in the winter as well. So, even when everything is really frozen in our life, just like the horrible and windy winters of Chicago, we should still have Love and Faith.
It is therefore befitting when she calls the Christians “not to neglect to do good and to share,” what they have “for such sacrifices are pleasing to God,” (verse 16). In other words, Christians on the margins are called to demonstrate Love by sharing what they have with others. The reason is that sharing is a form of sacrifice and when this is done through Love and Faith in Christ, God is pleased! If we glorify God through Faith and Love, many will know Christ and they will be part of the Church. If we are disobedient to the word, meaning we don’t demonstrate Love and Faith in Christ, others will disobey the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So, my dear sisters and brothers, if we combine Love and Faith, our Christian life will be well, for Christ will be with us all the time as we live on the margins. Amen.
Prepared and delivered by: Dr. Fletcher Padoko, Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church, July 15, 2018