Reading(s): Luke 14:1, 7-14 and Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16. This sermon was given by Vanessa at St Mark’s and All Saints.
This week I have had a couple of days with my cell group – so a group of friends from theological college – we meet to pray together, to discuss how things are going with our respective callings, and share hospitality together. We have been doing this a couple of times a year for the last 23 years, so we know each other pretty well!
There are 5 of us in our cell group, and the hospitality we share with each other is very important to us all, and one of our core values as a group. Sharing hospitality – living together, eating together, praying together – is a risky thing. We make ourselves vulnerable when we share in life together. For the cell group to have worked for so many years, we have needed to be generous and open in our hospitality, to accept the rough with the smooth, to know that we care about each other even if we disagree.
In our readings today we hear much about hospitality. Jesus has been invited to the house of the leader of the pharisees, but they are ‘watching him closely’. This doesn’t feel to me like generous and open hospitality! This seems particularly pertinent on the sabbath.
In Sally’s sermon last week we heard that we heard that Sabbath means rest and liberation - not just for the ox and donkey. The Sabbath itself is a reminder of the release from captivity that God has affected. True worship is not bound by rules and conditions it is a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude and praise. The single greatest act of generosity and hospitality we offer God is worship.
I wonder how that statement feels to you? Do you feel you are offering God hospitality when you come to worship? If not, how could you be more open to God in your heart and mind as you connect with the service today?
When we meet as a cell group, we usually stay in an AirbnB and I must confess I do like an Airbnb! Every one is individual and different, and you usually get some kind of clue as to the personality of the owner. This time, there were a number of guitars and several pearl jam albums on vinyl, so that gave us a bit of clue about both the age and the kind of person the owner is. It made me think about church. I wonder what clues there are around in church that might indicate what sort of community we are? If you were coming here for the first time, what would you see and notice that might suggest who we are?
(Have a think about this and, if you’d like to, email your thoughts to email@example.com.)
Luke’s gospel has more meal-time scenes than all the others.
His vision of the Christian life, from one point of view, is a journey, from another point of view it’s a party. Several stories end with a festive meal – like, for instance, the parable of the prodigal son in the next chapter. These themes come together in the Last Supper and, finally, the story of the road to Emmaus in chapter 24.
In chapter 14 Luke gives us two parables about feasting. The first, the one we have here in verses 7–11, is not always recognised as a parable, because it looks simply like a piece of social advice, of practical wisdom.
You want to avoid embarrassment in front of your fellow guests? Then take this tip. That’s not the Jesus we read about in Luke. Not Lifestyle guru or writing a book on social etiquette. Jesus had seen the way in which people of his day were jostling for position in the eyes of God, eager to push themselves forward, to show how well they were keeping the law, maintaining their own purity.
But Jesus, throughout this section of Luke, is turning things upside down, not following the rules, but emphasising extravagant hospitality. As usual, associating with the wrong kind of people - touching the untouchable, calling the nobodies.
The parable, then, isn’t so much good advice for social occasions – in Jesus' day it was all too easy for the well-off and the legally trained to imagine that they were superior in God’s sight to the poor, to those without the opportunity to study, let alone practise, the law.
I wonder who Jesus might think about today? He suggests to the pharisees to invite the poor, the lame, and the blind. Which groups might he think we should be being particularly hospitable to today? Who might find it hard to come to church, and why?
Hear those words from Hebrews again: “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”