by. Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
We begin today, with a sermon series on what it means to be “Christian.” Being a Christian is complicated, and each person has their own definition. So, I wanted to get an up-to-date, contemporary understanding of Christian living, so I Googled it: “What does it mean to be Christian?” I asked the Google machine and the answer was delivered: About 448,000,000 results….
Each person has their own concept of what being a Christian is all about. So, fill in the blank: For me, being a Christian means:
Being good, doing what’s right, following Jesus’ instructions, devoting myself to God, praising God in all things.
Because each of us has our own definition – almost 500 million definitions according to Google – it is up to us, as followers of this teacher called Jesus Christ, to discover some of the characteristics JESUS thought were important. And we start today with Hospitality.
Hospitality is a relationship between the guest and the host and it begins with an invitation. The verb “to invite” occurs 10 times in our text from Luke chapter 14, between verses 7-24. When a writer uses a word or a phrase 10 times in 17 verses… it must be important! But this word: Kaleo in Greek, used HERE as the verb “to invite.” Is also used by Paul in his letters in terms of being called by God…
• 1 Corinthians 1:9 God is faithful; by him you were called (you were invited) into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
• Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ (who invited you in the grace of Christ) and are turning to a different gospel.
• Ephesians 4: 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling. (just as you were invited to the one hope of your invitation.)
The invitation is a privilege extended from host to guest. It is a way of showing the guest that I value you – that your presence is important, that you are loved. An invitation to a family meal means you are included, you are part of us. An invitation to a birthday party or a wedding means, “I want you to share this important day in my life.” An invitation creates a connection between host and guest, forging a new relationship between the two.
And in our text, Jesus find himself invited to eat the Sabbath meal with a leader of the Pharisees. And when he entered the home, he noticed the other guests chose the “places of honor.”
Now, in the ancient world, this kind of “order” for seating was among the rules for common meals. There is a place for the most important and the least important and everyone in between. Disciples reclining beside Jesus, for example, would have a special designation – they were in the places of honor. In fact, John’s gospel puts “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (thought to be John himself) into such intimate proximity with Jesus that he lay down with his head close to Jesus’ chest according to John 13:23. (1)
But he gave them some good advice: when you enter a house to share in a common meal– don’t choose the best seats, because when the host comes and asks you to move – that will be humiliating for you. Instead, sit at the less important seats, so that – if by chance you are asked to move up – you will feel better about yourselves. This advice is practical – it saves us, the guest, from public disgrace, an acknowledgement that we may not be as important as we think we are….
But this was not just a strategy to “save face” a way to protect ourselves from humiliation… it was a way to guard ourselves from the temptation of pride, ambition, self-importance. Jesus warns us in verse 11:
11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
And then he explains further in his advises for HOSTS. He says, in verse 12:
‘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. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
An invitation is not extended in order that we receive an invitation in return. An invitation is not to be used as blackmail –“See what I did for you! I invited you to my wedding, party or dinner… and now you must give me a great gift, or invite me to a dinner that is comparable. “No,” Jesus says, ”invite – instead – the poor and needy. That way you will prevent your selfishness from demanding something in return.” (2)
Hospitality is not merely asking people to share a meal with us. It is not a way to show off our newest recipe or our elegant China. True hospitality – true Christlike hospitality – is seeing each person as a guest – not in our house – but in God’s house – to acknowledge that what we have is on loan to us from God and that – whether we are the inviter or the invitee – God is our host!
In his book “Reaching Out”, Author Henri Nouwen said this: “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
What if we viewed each invitation we extended, each invitation we received as a opportunity to for inviter and invitee to gather and be in the presence of God, the host. An opportunity for God to work in us and through us. An opportunity for relationship and connection with one another?
A few years ago, a young mother called the church for help. Actually her mother called, frantically one day and asked if we could help her daughter. Her daughter lived close by and was in trouble: she had a toddler and was pregnant with twins due any time and the father of the babies had left her without any money. And she was not eating… because she couldn’t afford food. Could we help her?
Of course! I said, knowing we had some money in a “pastor’s emergency fund” just for this reason! “I can get some cash on hand, will she be able to pick it up at the church office?”
“Um… she doesn’t drive…” the mother said.
“Oh… well maybe I can drop it off… I have some errands to run today. Where does she live? “ I asked.
She mumbled…. “40 miles away…”
And I will confess to you, for a moment I thought – “I have a lot to do today… all those errands and all that paperwork and if I don’t get it done, I will be behind the rest of the week….”
But the image of this young pregnant woman foregoing food because she had nothing – this image kept flashing through my mind. So I asked for the address and made the trip.
A few months later, I got another call from the mother. She was in the area and would like to meet with me to say thank you. So I met with her, and having just checked the pastor’s emergency fund, I brought some money with me, thinking maybe her daughter could use it. As I met with the mother, she did thank me and then asked if I had any way to loan her some money… times were tough and she needed some help. When I pulled out the money from the fund, she hugged me and promised to pay us back.
A few weeks ago, she called again. Her daughter – now the mother of that toddler and brand new twins – were going to move. Could we help with some luggage? I had some extra suitcases in my closet so one day after church, I drove them the 40 miles again and with a blessing for their future, I left them with the young mother and her 3 kids.
Will they call again? Perhaps. Will I help again? Yes, I will. Because when I took that phone call – I accepted the invitation to be a part of their lives. We (as a church) have a relationship with this family. We are connected one to another by the grace of God.
Hospitality means opening our hearts and our selves to connect with others. And it may not always be nice, it may not always be easy, but we are one family, connected to each other.
“But Krista, “ you may say, “I can’t invite others to dinner. I can’t have people stay with me. I am not about to go out and do as Jesus says, to invite the poor and needy to my family dinners… I don’t even KNOW them!”
And that’s where we begin…. How do we get to know “THEM?” How do we get them to know us? And how do open up a free space where a stranger can become a friend, where God can work with us both and where change can take place?
And so, even if you cannot open your house– inviting others to a meal or inviting others to stay for days on end – Jesus calls us to open ourselves to others: to invite them into our lives, to welcome them into the family of God.
As we gather for Holy Communion today, we welcome others around the table. You and I – regardless to which church we belong, regardless of what we believe, regardless of where we stand on the path of our faith journey – you and I are invited (called by God) to be in relationship with God and with each other. And may we remember the words of the writer of Hebrews: May we Let mutual love continue. and may we never neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Let us take our place around the table. And may we give thanks to God, our Host.
1. Brian Stoffregen found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke14x1.htm
2. William Loader found on http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LkPentecost15.htm