Hospitality & Humility 9/1/19

Lyons United Methodist Church

Pastor Brett Johnson (Disclaimer – this sermon are the intellectual property of Pastor Johnson)

September 1, 2019

 

Luke 14:1, 7-14

14 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched…

7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

 

Hospitality and Humility

Hospitality and humility seem like they are things that we are able to accomplish without much thought. We’re nice to people, we don’t talk too much about all of the wonderful community service work that we do as individuals or as a congregation, we don’t grumble too loudly when someone new sits in our pew, and we try not to leverage decision making based on the amount we are able to give. That’s hospitality and humility, right? If you asked your average American churchgoer that would probably be the sort of answer you could receive. But as we look at our Scripture readings for today, I think that there is a different picture being painted.

When I was in high school, my eleventh grade history teacher gave me an award at the end of the year. It truly shocked me that he would do this, especially at an awards assembly. That is, until he said what the award was for. It was for knowing more than the teacher. I mean that right there should have told me that I would be better off as a history major than starting as a music education major in college, but I was that know-it-all kid who would correct a teacher about historical facts. And let’s face it, I was kind of a jerk about it. I would willingly call out the teacher because the master’s degree educated history teacher got one fact wrong.

Now with regard to hospitality, I’ve already shared how at my home church as a child, the third pew on the lectern side was the Thomas family pew. And if you were not a Thomas, married to a Thomas relative, or the guest of a Thomas you were not welcome to sit there. If by some miraculous event you were able to beat one of the family to church that day and sit in that pew, the look of disdain on our faces could kill. Not to mention the confusion it caused that we were forced to sit somewhere else and the cushions were not perfectly molded to our backsides, and the prayer books and hymnals didn’t have the correct pages marked.

Now what about the ten thousand foot view of society as a whole? This is where I think some fiction authors are able to place a mirror in front of our faces and we will still buy their books. The late Tom Clancy is one of my favorite novelists and I’ve started listening to audiobooks in the car, taking a break from the podcasts that the Millennial Generation is so known for. As I’ve been listening to Red Rabbit, Clancy is able to express how selfish and greedy we are through the lens of the Cold War. If we fast forward to 2019, the same is true about American society as a whole if we listen to what our national enemies are saying about us.

What about us on an individual level? Are there times where we have been given the opportunity to express hospitality and humility and have turned inward? I remember growing up that if someone came to church in ratty jeans and a holey t-shirt we judged the ever living daylights out of them. Even though Jesus tells us that we should not judge others and that we need to worry about the telephone pole sized log in our eye versus the speck in our neighbor’s. We are all broken and dealing with stuff, and we have walked through the door needing to feel loved and that we are worthwhile. Then why do we as a broader church so often adopt a holier than thou attitude with someone who walked in the door for the first time?

In our Scripture readings today, we see directives to extend hospitality and live in a spirit of humility. In the Hebrews reading, the author is reminding the Church that it can’t always look inwardly. In Genesis God promised Abraham many times that he would be the father of many nations, and yet it never seemed to happen. However, it was after Abraham welcomed in the three visitors and cared for them by washing their feet and offering them food that things changed. True hospitality was shown, and the promise was fulfilled through Isaac.

Now when we look at our Gospel reading we find both hospitality and humility being presented with the parable of the wedding banquet. Jesus encourages the host to invite the poor, the forgotten, the infirm, those who are struggling, and have no way to repay other than through a grateful heart. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, especially in the upper echelons of society. Generally, it is the wealthy and powerful who are attending black-tie or even white-tie events. It’s seen as an opportunity to curry favor, make business deals, and gain political capital so that when one finds oneself in an unpleasant situation they have a chance of getting out of it.

But what about humility. There is a very famous preacher from a very famous church, who has sold many books, and is syndicated, that says the Bible doesn’t tell us that we are to walk around with a mild and meek attitude. Yet when I look at what Jesus is saying, he is telling us to be humble or meek. I think the best way to look at it, is that we are called to be servants of God and our neighbor, and as Jesus points out, “The servant is not above the master.” As servants we should not be looking to place ourselves above others, nor should we be drawing attention to all of the good things that we’re doing. Think about how many times you hear of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients respond, “I was just doing my duty.”

Unfortunately it is a rare congregation that can exercise both hospitality and humility effectively. I’ve heard it said from many different churches, “We’re a welcoming church.” If that were truly the case, then people would feel more comfortable about returning, they would not be seen as a warm body to put on the trustees or another committee because they check a box. Rather a congregation focused on hospitality and humility will be one that walks alongside everyone who crosses the threshold as they journey through their life of faith.

Too often we get caught up in numbers, especially when clergy get together. It’s all, “How many are in worship? How many baptisms? How many professions of faith?” And in some more evangelical congregations, among the clergy and the laity, “How many have you saved?” First, Christ is the only one who can save. Second, it is not about the numbers, rather it’s more about how are we as a congregation sharing the message of the Gospel and the redeeming love of God in Christ? Are we only looking at those who can offset a budget shortfall, or are we reaching out to the heroin addict, the domestic abuser, the hungry, the homeless, and all of those that society turns their noses up to?

Only when we are able to express true hospitality and humility in the manner of Christ will the world be changed. We have a duty to follow where God is leading through the power of the Holy Spirit, and Church that’s not only within these walls. It’s in the streets, on the farms, in the homes of those who struggle with the weight of the world on their shoulders. While Christ tells us that we must carry our cross and deny ourselves to truly be his disciple, he also tells us that when we take on his yoke, his yoke is easy and the burden is light. May our hearts be softened by the loving grace of God as we go out into the world to share Christ in all that we do. As the hymn goes, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”