A Sermon on Hebrews 13
A Sermon Preached by Canon Simon Butler
The Letter to the Hebrews is, along with the Revelation to John, the most unusual piece of
writing in the New Testament. It is unique among all the books of the bible. It’s not a book
of prophecy, it’s not the story of Jesus’ life, and it’s not actually a letter, although scholars
believe it was later changed to make it look a bit like a letter. The Letter to the Hebrews is
probably originally a sermon, a homily that was written down and later distributed. Paul’s
letters, remember, were written when he was away from his community, and they followed
a specific literary style. But the author of Hebrews probably knew what was going on in the
day to day life of the community. Hebrews is also one of the most elegant writings in the
New Testament. The author had probably been very well educated. And it seems to be old:
most scholars think it was written around 63-64 AD, or about 30 years after the Crucifixion.
This is a window into the life of one of the earliest Christian communities.
So this piece of Scripture should be easy for us to relate to. We hear sermons all the time.
This one follows the same format that most preachers use. There are two components.
There is an element of teaching about the faith, and there is an element where the author
explains how this teaching plays out in the Christian life. This passage that we hear today
comes at the very end of Hebres, and it sums up all of the practical advice. This is basic
Christian living. It’s intensely practical; and it’s all stuff that we can actually do. There are
two bookends which really sum things up. At the beginning, the author says, ‘Let mutual
love continue’, and at the end, ‘Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have.’ This
is the summary.
And then we have some practical examples: show hospitality and generosity. This is about
trusting that God will give us enough and we will have enough to share with others. Then we
are told to care for those in prison. We are told that people who make mistakes are still
children of God and worthy of our respect and care. We are told to be one with those who
suffer because we are all part of one family.
We are told to respect marriage. Apart from the obvious recommendation to support each
other’s marriages, we can see a broader recommendation. We are called to support each
other in the commitments that we make to one another. We’re not alone; we can and
should help each other. And sometimes this means having the humility to accept help.
The author also warns us about the love of money. People have always been attracted to
money and the comfort that comes from having money. But things haven’t changed too
much in the past few thousand years. People tend to crave money in an unhealthy way, and
they lose sight of the gifts they have right in front of them. We are supposed to do our best
to be content with what we have.
Remember your leaders, and follow their example. This one is a bit of a double edged sword
because it assumes that our leaders are living blameless and holy lives, which is not always
the case. So this piece of advice is also a bit of a warning to the leaders as well. But this does
bring us back to the message of mutual love and support. By the way, this isn’t really about
the clergy either. We have lots of leaders here in this parish we can look to (and those
leaders should remember that people are looking to them).
The author of Hebrews offers practical advice: Recognizing that we are all children of God
and worthy of dignity. Seeing the face of Christ in the least and the most marginalized
people. Supporting one another in our commitments. Cultivating gratitude for our gifts and
not being chained to material things. Doing good in the world is a sacrifice to God.
The important part of this is that simply doing the work that we are supposed to do can lead
to a change of heart. Too often we often think that if we intend to change or intend to do
good, then we’ve done the hard part. And sometimes that works. Sometimes we are
inspired to change our lives. But other times, we don’t really want to change. Perhaps we
know we ought to do a bit more, but deep in hearts, we don’t really want to. The message
of the author of Hebrews is that if we just get on and do the work, then we might find our
hearts have come along without our even noticing. If we get to know a stranger or we care
for someone who is suffering, then we’ve seen more of God. If we listen to someone who
needs our help, or if we decide we don’t really need the best of something, we’re seen more
So sometime in the 60s AD, a preacher stood among the congregation with this message.
And the advice he gives still rings true. With all of the changes in our world, we can look at
this advice and see how we could do these things every day. These are things that we can
really do. And if we can do them, and if we can start to do them a little more, then we will
find that our hearts turn more and more to God. Before we know it, we will be able to say
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”