Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sermon; 15 Pentecost/Proper 17C; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Luke 14:1, 7-14

Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.

This section of Hebrews is a listing of behaviors the Christian community was admonished and expected to live by.  Show hospitality. Visit those who are in prison.  Remain faithful to your spouse.  Avoid the love of money.  Do not neglect to do good and share what you have.

On the surface these are just good things to do.  Play nice.  Help those in trouble.  Don't steal.  Share your toys.  Maybe being a Christian really is like being in kindergarten.  But, as usual, it's more deep and more complicated than that.

At the heart of these behavioral ground rules is the idea that we are not simply living for ourselves.  These ground rules point us toward living with a responsibility to others; they remind us that we are all part of the one body of Christ, and that we have an obligation to ensure that all parts of the body are not only functioning, but healthy.  Simply put, we can't be completely healthy if we only focus on ourselves.

For us to be completely healthy, we must have both an inward and outward focus; we must examine ourselves as well as looking beyond our walls.  This section of Hebrews addresses that outside focus.  Show hospitality to strangers.  Among other things, greet, welcome, and engage people who come through our doors.  It also means we need to pay attention to how we deal with others when we are outside our doors.  Are we hospitable to people on the street or to those not like us?  There are innumerable ways to show hospitality to others.

Remember those in prison.  This was certainly a concern for a Christian community that faced persecution and imprisonment in their day.  Today, however, people's very homes can become a prison; and far too many people are trapped in these modern prisons and forgotten.  Visit our shut-ins and do not forget them.

Remain free from the love of money.  Money is necessary, but loving money becomes problematic.  If we love money, we see giving to others as harmful to us.  If we love money, we develop ways to avoid all kinds of things that could help the common good and the health of the community.  If we love money, we end up dedicating our lives not to God, but to George.

Do not neglect to do good and share what you have.  How much stuff do we have?  How much stuff do we we really need?  Can we, or are we willing to, share what we have with others?  Joelene and I are in the process of preparing for our upcoming move.  We are trying to figure out just how much stuff we can share with others.  It may be that our biggest hurdle is the belief that “we might need it someday.”

Within this passage from Hebrews is an understanding that we are not the center of attention.  It really isn't all about us – it's about the body of Christ in particular and the larger community in general.  It's about remembering to have an outward focus.

This same outward focus shows up in today's gospel as well.  Jesus is at a banquet and notices people jockeying for position in attempts to attain the important social standing.  He tells two stories – or, one parable and one piece of advice.

In the parable Jesus tells his listeners to be more concerned with others than with themselves.  Don't be so quick to make yourself the center of attention.  In fact, choose to raise up others before yourself.  There are plenty of people in society who proclaim themselves to be the greatest or best, and who are more than happy to elevate themselves to society's upper echelons.  Jesus basically says, “Don't do that.  Let God determine who are the greatest.”

Jesus makes that point even more clear when he gives a piece of advice to the host.  “When you throw a banquet,” he says, “don't invite those who are able to repay you – friends, relatives, or rich neighbors.  Invite instead the poor, crippled, lame, and blind.”

There are a lot of different directions we could go with this, but I want to tie it back to the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews.  Once again we are being told that Christianity requires us to look beyond ourselves.  Once again we are being told that Christianity requires us to look beyond our walls.  And once again we are reminded that these readings from Scripture really do pertain to us today.

To whom do we show hospitality?  How many of our shut-ins get visited on a regular basis?  With whom are we sharing our gifts and resources?  Are we feeding, sheltering, clothing, or caring for those in need?

As we move forward both in our lives and in our faith, I am hopeful that we can begin to develop an outward focus.

That's not to say that we shouldn't make time for self-care.  We do need to spend time focusing on and developing ourselves.  But a continual inward focus is not healthy.  An organization or individual with a solely inward focus is an organization or an individual that is ultimately unhealthy.  The Dead Sea is a body of water that is completely inwardly focused, there's no outward focus, no outlet.  As such, we also need an outward focus.

Another way of talking about an outward focus is to ask, “What is our mission?”

Opportunities for mission surround us and are plentiful.  This past week I’ve had three requests for fuel assistance, two people asking for a hotel room because the mission was full, one person offering to work for cash, and another looking for food because all the normal places were closed.  Add to that the needs of the students at Ft. Vannoy and there is no shortage of outside places in which to focus our energies.

What is our outward focus?  What is our mission?  Do we have one?  Do we want one?  These are just a few gospel questions that we need to be asking ourselves in the very near future.

Whatever that mission is, whatever that outward focus becomes, then, as today's closing line from Hebrews says, the sacrifice we make will be pleasing to God.



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