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September 3, 2019, 1:55 PM

True Hospitality - Sermon, 9/1/19


When I decided to preach about hospitality this morning, I wanted to find an appropriate quotation about it. Typing in “Christian Hospitality Quotations,” I was directed to some pretty scary sites maintained by Christians. One had as its headline: “Most professing Christians will be damned. Are you really saved?” Well, that didn’t sound particularly hospitable – not to mention incredibly judgmental.

Then I searched for “Hospitality Quotations,” and ended up with a page of quotations about the hospitality industry. There is apparently an art to working in the hospitality business that is quickly fading, at least according to these sources.

Finally, nearly at the end of my rope, I found a useful quote. It is not about condemning professing Christians to eternal damnation. It is not about the art of working in a hotel or in the food service industry. Instead, this quotation is actually about real hospitality. “Hospitality should have no other nature than love.” This quotation is from a woman named Henrietta Mears who was involved in Christian education and a powerful advocate for Sunday school. Her primary ministry took place in the early 1900s and she died in 1963.

Hospitality should have no other nature than love.” Let’s keep that idea in mind as we take a tour through two of this morning’s lessons. There are three distinct yet related stories about hospitality in our New Testament readings: one in the letter to the Hebrews and two in the Gospel of Luke.

In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, we hear the maybe familiar and might-be famous image of “entertaining angels unawares.” Paul writes, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

The image of entertaining – or welcoming – others without knowing if they are angels suggests that some of us here today might, in fact, be angels. If so, thank you for not blinding us with your halos and for keeping your wings hidden. Welcome!

But the idea of welcoming angels might also mean that there are angels out in the world who are in desperate need of our hospitality. Perhaps we know of some of these angels – even if we don’t know their true heavenly identity. These hidden angels feel apart from the love of Christ as experienced in a church community. Hidden angels might feel as though they are beyond the reach of Christ’s forgiveness, health, or love. For whatever reason, they feel hopeless and alone.

The apostle Paul challenges us this morning to not only welcome people when they walk through the doors of the church but also to seek out these hidden angels. Even if we’re not sure if someone is really an angel, even if the angels’ halos are tarnished or their wings are broken, we are called to seek them out and draw them into the love we experience as a church community. After all, as Henrietta Mears suggested, “Hospitality should have no other nature than love.” It is the love of God and the love of our fellow humans that should motivate us to share that love with others.

We hear two similarly challenging messages in Luke’s Gospel today. The first lesson to be learned about hospitality in Luke’s Gospel is Jesus’ warning not to take the seat of honor in someone’s home. I admit that this is a difficult calling to hear as a priest, as the one standing before you. Even my chair faces in a different direction!

It’s not just clergy that Jesus challenges. I believe Jesus is challenging all of us! In Christ’s words, I hear an invitation to bring others to seat of honor, others who, like in Hebrews, feel detached from the love of God. If we allow our positions, particularly our positions in the church, to detach and distract us from our vocation to call other people to God’s side and to the seat of honor, then we are missing the point.

We are humans – loved and redeemed by Christ – but we have also fallen short of the glory of God. I believe Jesus knows how far we have fallen from his vision for humanity but I also believe Jesus gives us relatively clear suggestions on how to restore creation to that original vision. Jesus states, pretty plainly, the following: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I don’t know if it’s good news or not, but Jesus continues to challenge his audience back then as well as his audience today in the closing verses of the story from Luke. In some ways, this final lesson might be the most intimidating lesson of the three we hear this morning. Jesus tells us, instructs us, demands of us that, when we host a banquet, we need to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” without any hope or expectation of repayment.

We, the people of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, might feel that we do pretty well in following Christ’s commandment because we host and participate in the Lunch on Us ministry. This feeding ministry is extremely important in the life of our congregation as well as in the lives of our guests but there is more to which Christ is challenging us.

Jesus is reminding his followers – both the original ones back then as well as the ones today – that we need to do more than simply providing food to people in need. In addition to meeting people’s physical needs, I believe Jesus wants us to be generous in other ways – generous without counting the cost.

The generosity to which Christ calls us is the kind of generosity that is free, that is without hope of repayment, and that is free from the expectation of receiving anything in return. Yes, we invite our guests to eat here in Rennell Hall, but does that invitation extend to the altar?

It is our Christian vocation – our calling from the mouth of Jesus – to extend true generosity and true hospitality without hope or expectation of repayment: no money, no gratitude, no honor, no words of congratulations. Jesus is challenging all of his followers to live in true and loving service. For that, great will be our reward in heaven.

Going back to the quotation from Henrietta Mears, “hospitality should have no other nature than love.” Nothing other than and nothing more than love should be our motivation in offering true and generous hospitality to the stranger.

May it be love that motivates each of us to invite and welcome hidden angels to the seat of honor next to Christ! Amen.


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