August 28, 2022, Kingdom Hospitality, Luke 14:1,7-14 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon click here:
I’m going to start with a couple of movies this morning. A few weeks ago, Carroll and I watched a movie called “One Night in Miami.” One of the characters in the movie is the real-life pro-football star Jim Brown, who played for Cleveland back in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. In one of the early scenes of the movie, Brown, who is a Black man, visits a man who was his neighbor growing up, an elderly white man. Jim Brown was one of the greatest NFL players of his time, and the neighbor welcomes him as something of a hero. They sit on the porch together, and the neighbor’s daughter brings them out some lemonade. And then, as they are chatting, the daughter comes out to ask for help moving a heavy piece of furniture. Brown gets up to offer his help, but the man stops him with a pleasant smile. “Now you know,” he tells Brown, “we don’t let Black people inside the house.” (only he didn’t say “Black people.)
Then, last night, we started watching a Masterpiece Theater production of the Jane Austen book “Emma,” which is all about the literal “rules of engagement” that were held in the extremely class-conscious England of the early 19th century. The whole story revolves around the expectations and proprieties of how people were supposed to relate to one another: about the serious dangers of associating with a person outside of one’s proper class, whether that was in marriage or simply going to have dinner at someone’s house.
Which is all to point out that the way we practice hospitality, as individuals and as a society, really cuts to the heart of what we believe about ourselves and our neighbors. It reveals what we believe about our own worth, and the worth of others. It shows the degree to which we believe people deserve – or don’t deserve – respect. The way a people practices hospitality reveals the assumptions and the prejudices they hold by which they judge the value or worth of other people. I think it’s fair to say that some of the most sinful and destructive attitudes of any group of people are revealed in the way they conduct themselves in “polite” society. And it’s the practice of hospitality in his own society, in contrast with the hospitality of his own kingdom, that Jesus is addressing in the gospel reading today.
The reading begins: “On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.” But it quickly becomes clear in the reading that the tables are being turned, and that the watchers are about to become the watched, because we see that Jesus is also watching them closely. And he has something to say about what he sees.
In reading the Bible, the challenge for us is not just to find information or theology like we’re reading a textbook, but much more importantly, to allow ourselves to be changed by what we hear. It doesn’t do us any good at all to appreciate the beauty of the Beatitudes, just as an example, if we don’t hear the voice of Jesus calling us to honor the meek and comfort the sorrowing; to desire righteousness like a starving man craves bread; to expect to encounter persecution. Sometimes we are very good at explaining away the passages that challenge us and make us uncomfortable. But those are the very passages we most need to listen to. “Blessed are those who hear these words of mine AND DO THEM,” said Jesus, more than once.
So it is here. In this reading, Jesus is speaking to his fellow Jews, gathered together in the Pharisee’s home on a particular Sabbath day. He points out the foolishness of the way they jockey for places of greater honor. He points out their very human tendency to show hospitality only to those who will return the favor. But by the very nature of what the Bible is, at the same time, Jesus is also calling us to examine ourselves by taking a look at our own practices of hospitality – personally, as a society, and maybe especially as a church.
What does the way we practice hospitality reveal about how we consider our own worth? What does our hospitality reveal about how we judge the worth of our neighbors? Are there any destructive attitudes hidden in the way we practice hospitality? It’s pretty easy for us to identify and criticize the problems of first-century Israel, or the American South in the 1950’s, or Victorian England. It’s so much harder for us to recognize and identify our own problematic attitudes: our own racism, our own biases against the poor, our own class prejudices. It is hard for us to recognize our own failures of hospitality, because they are so tightly woven into the fabric of daily life here in the North Country in the year 2022 that most of the time, we don’t even see them.
We might consider what this passage has to say to us as a Church as we prepare for another Community Lunch this coming Wednesday. This month, I’m planning to bring an invitation to the group homes in Norwood. As usual, I’m late to the game and we might not get much response – I hope to do better next month. But, whoever comes, are we ready and willing to open our doors and our arms to people who might make us uncomfortable in some way? Are we ready and willing to serve people whose behavior or manners or appearance might even be offensive to us? (and I’m not speaking here only of the disabled, but anyone who might come in off the street) Do we serve our luncheons with an expectation of some kind of return – not necessarily donations, but maybe gratitude? Or appreciation? We can easily reassure ourselves that those are reasonable things to expect. But can we be challenged to hear what Jesus has to say today, when he tells us, “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you…”
Which brings us to what is really the main thing: At the heart of real hospitality, is not first and foremost what we do, or what we are supposed to do. Our hospitality begins with the one who has already shown hospitality to us. We are invited to the Lord’s table, week after week, not because of any goodness or respectability we possess in and of ourselves. Jesus doesn’t welcome us because we are good people, but for a much more wonderful reason. We are invited into the embrace of his family, we are welcomed to the table, because God has chosen to love us us as his own children. Because there is always room for the children at the family table.
We have been loved and welcomed unconditionally. We’ve been invited to this table through the amazing grace of God, the God who wraps a towel around his waist and kneels at the feet of his guests, to serve them, the God who loves us more than his own life. And so, our hospitality to our neighbors is never just a matter of us trying to be good people; rather, real hospitality, and real love for our neighbors, pours forth from the joyful mystery of the undeserved hospitality that has been freely offered to us in such abundance.
And, when we set our tables in the Parish Hall, when we invite people into our own homes, all those tables are extensions of the one great Table that has been set for us, the Table of Christ’s Presence that is the source and center of our lives. How can we fail to open our doors and our hands and our hearts freely to everyone that comes, when God has opened his heart, and the gates of his kingdom, freely, to us? How can we doubt that there should always be room at the table for everyone who comes? Because that is kingdom hospitality. +