A Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, September 1, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector on the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, September 1, 2019

It’s wedding season for my family. Our children are in their late 20’s early 30’s, and so are their friends. Last weekend went to a family friends’ wedding at St. Dorothy’s Rest, and we are now on the countdown to our son’s wedding in October.  Some of the preparation has been fun, like tasting10 flavors of gourmet cupcakes, and some of it has been challenging, like the decisions around the guest list. All of these social decisions reminded me of our readings this week, and made me ponder the many kinds of hospitality.

Most common in our society is “the hospitality industry,” a transactional kind of hospitality.  We make a reservation at a restaurant or a hotel. We show up on time, we pay our money.  It’s kind of neutral in tone. But it’s important to remember that it wasn’t so long ago that “the hospitality industry” discriminated against people of color.  This kind of hospitality is not so neutral after all.

Private events offer another kind of hospitality.  Jesus talks about this kind of hospitality a lot because basically there was no hospitality industry in his time. And so, the image of the Banquet figures large in scripture.  Consider the Wedding at Cana, the gatherings at Mary and Martha’s house, and his meals with the Pharisee’s, like in today’s reading. 

What is Jesus trying to teach us this morning about hospitality?

Whenever we enter a social event, we ask ourselves “where do I fit in?  Where do I sit?” which is why seating charts are so popular.   Jesus knows that some people jockey for the best seat, and want to see and be seen close to the host. But they also don’t want to be shamed and demoted.  Jesus offers some basic lessons in manners:  Sit towards the back and you might get upgraded.  He suggests humility.

What makes this passage a parable is Jesus’ turning common sense advice into a theological teaching.  He says, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Jesus shows us how God evens out social status.

Whatever our social position in human society, God looks at us with eyes of love.  In God’s eyes, we are all the same social status, we are all loved as God’s own.  At God’s table we are all at the “head table” next to the host.  When we see through the eyes of Jesus, the guest lists and social hierarchies melt away to reveal holy hospitality for all.

Jesus knows how hard it is to offer holy hospitality in the real world.  And so he challenges his host.  He tells them: don’t invite the usual crowd, expecting reciprocation within your own social circle.  But expand the circle to include even the most vulnerable. He says, ”you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus says true hospitality is not about expecting payment, or reciprocity, but extending God’s love out to all.  That is holy hospitality.

In our reading from Hebrews this morning we hear Paul say, “Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  This is another example of holy hospitality.

Long ago, I had a memorable experience of receiving Holy Hospitality. I was 19, and my college roommate and I were traveling by train through Europe the summer of our sophomore year. We stopped in Canterbury, England for the day, and left our backpacks in the “left luggage” area in the railway station while we went sightseeing.  When we went back to retrieve them, the station locked.  It was closed for the night. We had nowhere to stay, and as it got dark, we began to knock on the doors of hotels and bed and breakfasts.  It was high tourist season.  Everyplace was full.  Just as we were about to panic, an innkeeper invited us in.  He said we could sleep in the living room if we set all the tables for breakfast the next day.  He would not accept our money; he only asked us to share the favor to someone else in the future.  To me, he was an angel of hospitality, and I will never forget him.  Over the years, I’ve tried to practice holy hospitality, too.

Here in the church, we’re called to offer holy hospitality, and to offer a community of God’s love on earth.  It is not always easy because it stands in tension with our social training and the society around us.

I think it comes down to baking hospitality into our Sunday morning routine. Ushers and greeters are important ministries because they offer holy hospitality.  How do people know where to sit? We need to make it less threatening to walk through that iron gate on Waller, come up the stairs and through those double doors. That walk from the street to the sanctuary is more of a barrier than insiders like us realize. How do newcomers learn our names? Interims are supposed to raise these questions. 

In the meantime, All Saints’ quietly serves people in need a home-cooked meal at the neighborhood brunch program every Saturday morning. We do not expect anyone to reciprocate, although guests have become servers.  As our Interim, I see this as one of All Saints’ strengths that we can support.  It’s an offering of holy hospitality, where sometimes angels come to break bread with us.

It’s an expression of God’s love that echoes the sacrament we gather every week to celebrate at God’s table. 

You may have noticed that throughout the Gospels, Jesus is always the guest at other people’s tables. But here, at this table, the altar, Jesus is the host.  Jesus offers us a foretaste of the great banquet waiting for us from before the foundation of the world, where all sit at the table with Christ, in holy hospitality.   Come, a place is set for you. Come to receive nourishment for your ministry of holy hospitality in the world.  Amen.

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