Proper 17, Year C,
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14
What does mutual love mean? The author of Hebrews tells us how to live in Christian community. He gives us a series of what seem to be somewhat disjointed thoughts. First, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” This is fellowship with the people around us; our neighbors even though they may be strangers. How do we as a community welcome the stranger? This seems especially hard when we have an inherent distrust or even fear of our neighbors. We teach our children at a young age “Stranger Danger;” not to trust, don’t talk to, don’t take candy from strangers. This is clearly for our children’s safety and is the right thing to do. Yet how do we balance this reality of our lives with the hospitality we are called to offer? Trusting is made even more difficult when through technology we are virtual witness to so much crime and hatred. Somewhere along the way, as we grow up, we should learn or relearn to trust strangers once more.
When I was in high school, I knew the different groups of people; bullies, jocks, pot heads, geeks. Some, I knew I needed to stay away from for my safety. Others ignored me because of their popular status. I may not have known each of my classmates by name but by and large, I on some level knew my classmates. I guess when we interact with people in relatively close quarters for four years it is hard to be anonymous. My high school had about 3400 kids, approximately the same number of people as we have here in Eagle Lake. I know that some of you, especially those of you who were born and raised here do know many of the people in town. But I wonder if there are segments of the population that we do not know. Are there specific areas divided by social status, race, or geography that we give less attention to. If one of the aspects of mutual love with in this community of Christ Church is to demonstrate hospitality to the stranger, then how are we going to achieve this?
The Lenten Lunches touch on this. They are open to the whole community. They bring together many of the Christians communities in our city, but from what I can see there are few strangers that attend. This isn’t a critique, after all this is a rather religious gathering, even if it is not so formal. Similarly the Pancake supper that the Lions Club puts on may also be an example, but I’m not sure that we as a Christian community actively offer hospitality to strangers at this event. I will say that we have an opportunity coming up. The blessing of the animals could be an opportunity in which we can offer hospitality to the whole community. We can open ourselves up to the greater community of Eagle Lake; in which we offer food and beverages to anyone who comes by. We should not only invite friends to this event but we should invite strangers as well; demonstrating the hospitality that we are called to offer.
Part of great hospitality is to level the playing field between us and our neighbor. I think this is what Christ is telling us in our Gospel. He says, “When we give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers… but invite the poor, the crippled, the lame…” We are to invite the people that we normally do not hang around with, to share our hospitality. We are to invite people not out of power and prestige but out of humility out of our common humanity.
The Church, not Christ Church specifically, but the totality of the Christian Church is striving for unity among people of differences. We as Christ Church need to see that we have some part in this mission. We are to overcome and break down barriers of ethnic differences. We are to set aside distinctions within society that divide rich and poor.
When we look at both Hebrews and Luke we find that the barriers which are present often come from pride: “A feeling that you are more important or better than other people” (Merriam Webster) Whether this pride comes from a parish or a person or even a social club, it can be hurtful and unduly demeaning to others. Jesus uses an example of people jockey for position at a banquet. Today we usually use place cards at formal events so we do not have to witness this maneuvering that Jesus talks about. Occasions such as these are relatively rare, at least in my life, but there are other ways that we position ourselves, to express our sense of status. There are some of us who like to have the newest cell phone. Every year, or when the next model comes out they are in line to get the newest and best. The reality is that a brand new model cell phone has a life expectancy of 4.5 years though statistics show that we tend to get a new on in less than two.
In corporate environments people might jockey for who has the better office. Others seek titles or education in which to impress people. Closer to home, well we can speak about our homes. I once knew a cardiologist who often complained about the house that “his wife” bought. He claimed there was a wing that never got used and wasn’t even furnished. For others it may be cars, clothes, or the clubs we belong to. I think if we dig down a bit, most if not all of us could find at least one thing that we tend to be prideful about.
Sometimes this pride comes from an inflated sense of self in which we have the desire to show others how we are better or more important than they are. Other times it may actually come from a low sense of self-worth; in which we are trying to raise our self-esteem by impressing others on some level. These almost seem like opposite problems. Theologically, in either case, the problem is that we are not accepting ourselves as fully worth, or fully loved, by God. We do not see ourselves as equals to those around us. In this falsehood we are attempting to cover up a diminished or enlarged sense of self-worth by the things around us or by our attitudes we have towards others. This is what makes it sinful. Whether we are making ourselves out to be something we are not or that we feel that we are nothing when we are truly something we pull ourselves away from God. We are not accepting who God made us and we are not accepting that God loves us completely for who we are. It is by our mere existence that we are fully worthy of His love.
When we accept ourselves as complete and whole, in God’s sight; than we do not need false pretenses to demonstrate to others that we are worthy. We do not have to diminish the character or reputation of others so that we appear to be better. If we use the example of banquet that Jesus gives us, we can see that it is also a metaphor for the Kingdom of God.
God, the provider of all, will raise us up to a higher seat, because we are heirs to the Kingdom. We cannot go through life artificially raising ourselves up, nor should we believe that we are not somehow worthy of this honor. For when we take our faith seriously, we realize the truth of God and His love for us in our lives. And it is this love that we have to have for each other, especially the strangers in our midst.