Same Ol’, Same Ol’ (Hebrews 13:1-17)
Rev. Peter Heckert
+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.
The text for our meditation today comes from our epistle lesson, especially where hear the amazing promise, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …
This text comes with it a bit of baggage, not unlike the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, or the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. We hear in this text many characteristics that one would expect to see in Christians: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers … Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have … Remember those who are in prison … Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have … Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled … Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls … Let brotherly love continue.”
You can hear echoes of the Sermon and the Decalogue smattered through this text; these are all things that we are called to fulfill, to do, as Christians. These exhortations show us how we should live, the way those redeemed by Christ, the crucified and resurrected, rightly ought to exist in this world. And that’s the problem. If you’re anything like me – and you are – you heard those words a few moments ago and … got a little uncomfortable. Yes, these exhortations are meet, right, and salutary on paper, but in practice? Does anyone here believe that we can keep to these high standards?
“Be content with what you have?” Have you lived in the modern world for the last two seconds where covetousness, envy, and avarice are woven into the very fabric of our society and economy? “Remember those in prison?” Like, go visit them? Sit within striking distance of a hardened criminal and talk to them about … what, Jesus? “Don’t neglect to do good and share what you’ve got?” Isn’t that what welfare is for? I mean, why else do I pay my taxes? “Let the marriage bed be undefiled?” What’s the expectation here? Don’t have sex outside of marriage? Isn’t that a bit passé? What is marriage anyway, when our culture seems to be constantly changing definitions of everything – indeed, what constitutes a man or woman? How gauche! “Obey your leaders and submit to them” – I mean, does that even require any explanation? “Brotherly love?” In this country? In this state? In this city? … In this church?
We hear these exhortations from the preacher, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, and we recognize how utterly we fail to live up to these admonishments. We don’t show brotherly love, hospitality, compassion for those imprisoned, or any of these things that we’re called to do. We see this list, we hear what’s expected of us, and we know we can’t – and sometimes won’t – do them. And we feel like sinners and failures.
Good. You should feel that way. That’s because the Law of God is doing its work, pricking your conscience, convicting you, holding before your open eyes the glaring truth, whether you want to hear it or not. You are a failure, a sinner, a transgressor, deserving nothing but death and damnation. That’s who we are. That’s what we are. That’s what we deserve for our flagrant floundering and flip-flopping. And at the risk of belaboring the point, I really want you to sit in this discomfort. I want you to look at that list of exhortations given in our text and honestly assess whether or not you do them. Honestly assess how you’re doing in terms of living up to these expectations God has for you. This is what we’re supposed to do as Christians, and if you’re not living up to this standard, shame on you! Shame on me!
We’re the same: knowing, but refraining from the good we know we ought to do; and knowing the evil we should refrain from, and yet still do it. We waver and wobble in what we do, and sure, maybe we try to do our best – and rightly so – but we know we’re not doing it right. Perfection is unattainable for us on this side of eternity. Consistency and constancy are wisps of a dream. Absolute adherence and faithfulness to God’s Law is a fevered pipedream for us sinners … but, in spite of our faithlessness, when the only thing constant and consistent about us is our sin, our Lord … remains the same.
It’s a short sentence in a text so full of Law, but this is pure, unadulterated Gospel. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. He Himself does not change; He doesn’t get weaker, more frustrated, more exasperated with the passage of time. He is constant. The patience and mercy that Jesus showed the woman caught in adultery is the same He shows you when you do something of similar sinfulness and stupidity. His omniscience remains, His omnipresence remains, His omnipotence remains. He is the same Almighty who spoke the cosmos into existence, the same Lord who has abided with His people for millennia. He is the same God … who died … to make full atonement, complete payment, for your sins and mine. The love He showed as He poured out His blood from the cross is the same today as it was then.
His promises are the same. The promise He once spoke to a condemned criminal on a cross beside Him – “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise” – is the same that He speaks to all who cling to His Word as their eyes are closing in death. The same promise He gave through His apostle, Peter – “Baptism now saves you” – is spoken upon every wee child doused in the forgiving flood of baptism. The same promise, spoken on the night when He was betrayed – “Take, eat; this is My body … Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” – is still the promise He proclaims throughout the world, from every Lord’s Table, to those hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
In this life, the only thing that remains constant about us is our sinfulness. Martin Luther’s final written words reveal the true desperation of our station: “We are beggars, this is true.” We know the good that we ought to do, but don’t, and the evil we shouldn’t do, and yet keep doing. We are the same ol’ sinners we always have been. Thanks be to God, Jesus is the same ol’ Savior He always has been, freely bestowing forgiveness, comforting the bereaved, lifting up the broken, and healing the shattered. We are sinners, my friends, but Jesus remains, and will remain, who He always has been: the friend of sinners.
+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.