Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-17; Luke 14:1, 7-14
September 1, 2013
Though not really a part of today’s sermon, Hebrews 13:7, 17 prompts me, as your interim pastor, to tell you something your next pastor probably won’t or can’t tell you.
We who speak God’s Word to you and keep watch over your souls will give account for how you fare spiritually. I take that very seriously as do most pastors I know well.
While we pastors are all too aware of our vulnerability, we know we are called to a way of life and faith for you to imitate. I am personally, acutely aware of the damage of pastoral misconduct and moral failure. We should not be put on a pedestal, but we should be models and guides.
This burden can be crushing, but you have the wonderful power to lighten it for your next pastor. As verse 17 says, “Let them do this with joy and not sighing.” Be spiritually receptive. As 3 John 4 says, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Rather than critiquing a pastor’s sermons and teaching, listen for the voice of God, even when off days repeat.
Unlike many of the homeless people who ate at our church’s community luncheon in Mt. Holly, NJ, Bill never asked for financial assistance. He worshipped enthusiastically at several churches in town. His clothes were tattered, his hair and beard shaggy, and his eyeglasses were held together with tape, but he was always clean. One afternoon I was at the public library reading New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. Bill came in and saw what I was reading. He asked if I had read anything else by Thomas Merton. I sheepishly acknowledged this was the first time I was reading a whole Merton book. Bill had read Thomas Merton’s entire corpus and said everything he wrote was worth reading. We talked all afternoon about spiritual disciplines and our own contemplative experiences. Our unusual friendship blossomed. One day I asked for his last name. He said, “Goodhart.” I began to wonder if Bill adopted homelessness as his spiritual disciple or if he might be an angel sent to see how we’d treat a genuinely gentle person.
Hebrews 13:2 says that by showing hospitality to strangers, some have entertained angels without knowing it. Have you wondered if an angel has encountered you?
Setting my experience with Bill up against the Scriptures for today begs another question. How do or can we form bonds of friendship with people we’ve been trained to be suspicious of?
Hebrews 13:8 prompts another challenging question. How do we proclaim Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever in our rapidly changing world?
As I’ve tried to soak in Hebrews 13 and Luke 14 this week, I believe the answer is for friendly churches to grow into Jesus’ style hospitality by inviting unlikely people to join them. Growing from friendly to hospitable means moving from welcoming people to inviting people. It means moving out of our expected circles of relationships to invite unexpected people to come along with us as we journey with Jesus.
We miss it English, but Hebrews 13:2 is wordplay in Greek. The word for hospitality is philoxenia, which means “love of strangers.” So hospitality is not so much entertaining people you already know as those you don’t.
Hebrews 1-12 is a tightly woven presentation of Christ using Hebrew Scripture and Platonic philosophy. Hebrews 13 may seem like a tacked on, disjointed collection of Christian moralisms. However, I take it as a mosaic of life together in the community of faith, starting with mutual love in verse 1. In our time, this caliber of hospitality is inviting people in our fragmented, polarized society who are hungry for authentic community, for dependable relationships to join us journeying with Jesus.
Hebrews 13:15-16 speaks of offering sacrifices of praise pleasing to God. Church is not about feeling good to be together. Our togetherness culminates in worshipping God. Spiritually hungry people crave a connection with God. As 1 Corinthians 14:25 reminds us, our worship should exude excitement that God is really among us.
The first ⅔ of Luke 14 explores Jesus’ style hospitality from several angles. We’ll focus on Luke 14:1, 7-14 to listen for Jesus’ word on how friendly churches can grow into Jesus’ style hospitality by inviting unlikely people to join them.
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.
7When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
12He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Read the whole passage to see how Jesus was being set up and watched for a Sabbath violation. But Jesus turned the tables as he noticed the guests chose places honor. Where did Jesus sit? I suspect he stood at the side and watched until only one place was left, and he sat in the lowest place. His parable is not about manipulatively jockeying for the lowest seats so you can be moved up and honored but as a way of getting to verse 11, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus’ style hospitality is built on humility, on the elimination of social rank.
Jesus’ style hospitality also abandons social reciprocity. It’s not just that you don’t expect a return invitation; you purposely invite people who cannot return your invitation. Such hospitality is essential for inviting unexpected people to join us on the journey with Jesus. They need to know that we don’t consider them a project to make the church bigger, give money, work on a committee or tally a convert. They need to know we care about them as people on the same level as we care about each other.
All of the guests heard Jesus speak to their host about giving a luncheon or dinner, but when he spoke of inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, he raised it to a banquet. Those were the most unlikely guests, and he listed them again in the next parable he told in verses 15-24. We certainly have plenty of such people around us, but I would expand the unlikely guest list to include secular but spiritually hungry and hurting people. Many are the children and grandchildren of baby boomers who have little if any church or religious background. Missiologist Todd M. Johnson and his team at Gordon-Conwell Seminary's Center for the Study of Global Christianity, recently reported its Christianity in its Global Context, 1970-2020 Report. They found that 20 percent of those who do not identify themselves as Christians in North America do not “personally know” any Christians. That's over 13 million people—about the population of metropolitan Los Angeles. Plenty of them live here in Odessa, TX. To reach them requires Jesus’ style hospitality. They are the unlikely people to invite to join us on our journey with Jesus.