Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 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.’ So we can say with confidence,
‘The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?’
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. 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 benefited those who observe them. We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
The passage seems really to be saying that God’s people are stronger together. Anything that causes division and hurt – deceit, greed, infidelity – these are like open wounds in a Christian community. They spread poison through the body of Christ and undermine everything that the church should be. By contrast, the love commended in these words goes beyond affection based on attraction, or even on common interest and purpose. True Christian love is life-long, and an authentic response to the fact that we have been entrusted to each other by God. Our responsibility is not just towards those we naturally get on with, but is just as important, perhaps more so, for those we find it hard to love. This is simple, practical advice about how to stay strong together under pressure. Every community – whether Christian or not – would do well to follow it. But it is more than that. For Christians, good works and right living are not just about ‘doing the right thing’ or sticking to an agreed set of moral standards for the sake of the common good. Rather, they are at the heart of the ‘sacrifice of praise’ which is the duty and joy of all God’s people.
We went on to have a really good session on the relationship between worship leading and all other aspects of ministry. What to do when someone comes into a church service and sits at the back crying? How to approach the regular member of the congregation who mentions over coffee that the things we do on Sunday seem irrelevant to her work during the week, how to plan a Mothering Sunday service for a congregation that includes single people, survivors of parental child abuse, and couples who have suffered multiple miscarriages….
The writer to the Hebrews is quite clear that worship and life can’t be separated. And Irenaeus of Lyons said memorably that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. This is a challenge – I’m pretty sure that I don’t all the time live in a way that completely glorifies God, and yet this is what I’m called to, as are we all. Wonderfully, the group of ALMs this evening showed exactly what it means too be a work in progress, to be flawed yet full of integrity, to be struggling to balance aspiration with realism and to transform the church and the world bit by bit. Lately I’ve found myself resenting the evenings I spend working (which is most evenings) – but never is this the case for the evenings I spend with those just entering ministry. They ensure that my faith has integrity, and that my own ministry stays fresh and active.
Thank you, ALMs! And the posh biccies are on me…