Proper 6C Sermon (2013)

Proper 6 (June 12-18)
Texts: Luke 7:36-8:3;
Galatians 2:15-21


Hospitality. It’s an important part of our culture. Emily Post made a career out of guiding people in ‘proper etiquette and manners,’ beginning in 1922 with her first book Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home. Today if you enter “hospitality” as the keyword on Amazon, you get 14,531 results!

In Jesus’ day, the Bible was the main ‘guide book’, along with traditions from both Middle Eastern and Greek cultures. Today’s Gospel gives a glimpse of hospitality basics: water for washing your guest’s feet, a kiss in greeting, some oil for anointing a guest’s head. But Jesus’ host even failed those basics, shown-up by the ‘sinful’ woman, who went above and beyond with her treatment of Jesus. The unnamed woman, a cultural outsider in all ways, shows hospitality to Jesus where Simon the Pharisee, the homeowner, host, and cultural insider, failed.

That’s hospitality human-style. But today Jesus also shows us hospitality God-style. The hospitality he shows the woman bewilders Simon. It’s the in-breaking hospitality of God that blows away conventional Greek, Hebrew, and yes, even Emily Post hospitality. It’s difficult to find a comparison in today’s world that would help us understand what moral outrage and shock the woman’s presence caused. To say this woman barging in and treating Jesus as she did was jaw dropping is simply inadequate. And if her actions weren’t shocking enough, Jesus’ hospitable acceptance would have had them expecting lightning to strike. And the final straw? Jesus using the woman to show up Simon’s lack of hospitality.

Jesus shows us a dimension of hospitality that comes from God precisely because it crosses all cultural boundaries. Why did God break into our world through Jesus’ act of radical hospitality? Because God is creating one new humanity, and even basic things like human ways of hospitality get in the way of that. Jesus, was constantly blowing conventional hospitality apart, and it eventually cost him his life. On the cross Jesus had to cross the human boundary from insider to outsider becoming the outcast, the scapegoat — in order to begin breaking down the walls that divide us from being one new humanity.

Hospitality is our first core value at Prince of Peace. What does that mean? Conventional human hospitality? Yes, certainly. From Sunday morning Greeters to an Evangelism team helping to guide us in the basics of being welcoming. But do we also mean unconventional hospitality Gospel-style, Jesus-style? What would that look like in today’s church culture? What boundaries do we cross? A basic form of hospitality is our welcoming of strangers into our midst by sharing our building with outside groups. This year it has been delightful to welcome the Portage program of teaching English as a Second Language. We literally are a multi-cultural place mid-week during the school year. Opening our building to outside groups provides a simple means of hospitality Gospel-style.

But there are more things to consider as we complete a process of visioning and strategizing in the coming weeks [extemporize briefly on the following]:

  • Is our Communion table fully open? In our lifetimes we’ve seen barriers come down. Example of Lily and Shohreh.
  • Are we as full welcoming of LGBT friends as we might be?
  • What would it take to break the color line of the most segregated hour of the week?

I’d like to end by stretching us a bit further in terms of religious boundaries, with a story from Brian McLaren‘s latest book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, which we studied this past year during the Sunday learning hour. In it, he tells this hospitality Gospel-style story of crossing the boundaries set up by religion to make new friends:

One of the most dramatic of those friendships began in the aftermath of 9/11/01. Like a lot of churches, our little congregation held a prayer service. While praying, I felt a voice speaking, as it were, in my chest: Your Muslim neighbors are in danger of reprisals. You must try to protect them. The next morning, I wrote and made copies of a letter extending, belatedly, friendship toward Muslim communities in my area, and offering solidarity and help if simmering anti-Muslim sentiments should be translated into action.

I drove to the three mosques nearby … to deliver my letter in person. The first two were locked tight — no doubt for fear of reprisals — so I put my letters in the mailbox. When I arrived at the third, a TV satellite truck was pulling out. There had in fact been an incident the afternoon before. A Muslim woman — easily identified by her religious dress — was pushed down on the sidewalk, and an angry man stood over her and shouted, “You’re probably glad this happened.” The TV crew had come to get a statement from the local imam about the incident.

As the TV truck pulled out, the automatic gates were closing so I — without thinking — stepped on the gas and rushed my car through the gates. When the imam saw a stranger speeding into his driveway, he ran toward me, motioning for me to stop. I slammed on my brakes, threw the transmission into park, and jumped out, leaving the engine still running. I couldn’t have been more intimidating to the poor imam!

I clumsily introduced myself as the pastor from down the street, apologized both for my scary entry and for my failure to visit sooner. I then handed him my letter, which he opened and read as I stood there awkwardly. I remember the imam, a man short in stature, slowly looking down at the letter in the bright September sun, then up into my face, then down, then up, and each time he looked up, his eyes were more moist. Suddenly, he threw his arms around me — a perfect stranger who had entered his property in a less-than-sensitive way. I still remember the feeling of his head pressed against my chest, squeezing me as if I were his long-lost brother.

“It means so much to me that you have come,” he said. “Please, please, please come inside.” … My host welcomed me not with hostility or even suspicion, but with the open heart of a friend. (1)

McLaren concludes this story with a conclusion fitting our reflections today about hospitality Gospel-style: “Imagine what might happen around the world if more and more Christians rediscover that central to Christian life and mission is what we could call subversive … friendship — friendship that crosses boundaries of otherness and dares to offer and receive hospitality. Imagine what could happen if our experience of communion around the Lord’s table on Sundays motivated us, like the Lord himself, to enjoy table fellowship with “the wrong people” all through the week. Imagine the good that could happen — and the evil that could be prevented from happening — if more Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and others cross the roads and other barriers that have separated them, and discover one another as friends.” (2) Amen.

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, June 15-16, 2013

1. Brian McLaren, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, pp. 225-26.

2. Ibid., p. 228.

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