Rev. Deacon Allen Batchelder
September 1, 2013, Pentecost XV
Jeremiah 2:4-13, Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14
From the Old Testament:
But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the Lord.
From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews:
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Several years ago, Trinity Church or First Congregational Church of Waltham, which it was known at the time, was the site of Bristol Lodge and Soup Kitchen. We also provided shelter to homeless women. We did not provide the management of these programs, but we did provide the building and in return we received a modest rent from the organization. Anyone, the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind who was in need of a hot meal or a place to stay was welcomed. Trinity Church provided this service for some 18 years, and it came at a price. This program cost the church on the “wear and tear” of the physical building. It cost the church on its human resources; and it cost the church on its financial resources from increased utility and insurance expense.
A few years ago, Trinity Church went to the city to ask for financial help to restore this beautiful building; to perhaps receive some reward for the service we provided to the most vulnerable citizens of Waltham for so many years. Three other churches had received financial support from the city after doing far less, but unfortunately the city had a short memory and we weren’t treated very nice. We received no reward or financial support to restore this building.
But we didn’t do it in order to receive a reward or repayment from those in need or less fortunate. We did it to show our love for mankind. “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). And we “will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14).
Sabbath Day hospitality was an important part of Jewish life, so it was not unusual for Jesus to be invited to a home for a meal after the weekly synagogue service. Sometimes the host invited Him sincerely because he wanted to learn more of God’s truth. But many times Jesus was asked to dine only so His enemies could watch Him and find something to criticize and condemn. That was the case on the occasion described in our Gospel reading this morning when a leader of the Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner.
Jesus was fully aware of what was in men’s hearts (John 2:24-25), so He was never caught off guard. In fact, instead of hosts or guests judging Jesus, it was Jesus who passed judgment on them when they least expected it. Indeed, in this respect, He was a dangerous person to sit with at a meal or to follow on the road! In Luke 14, we see Jesus dealing with five different kinds of people and exposing what was false in their lives and their thinking. I am only going to touch on two: False popularity and false hospitality.
Experts in management tell us that most people wear an invisible sign that reads, “Please make me feel important”; if we heed that sign, we can succeed in human relations. On the other hand, if we say or do things that make others feel insignificant, we will fail. Then people will respond by becoming angry and resentful, because everybody wants to be noticed and made to feel important.
Think about how it is when we have a fundraiser. The pastor is given a list of all the people who helped and he is expected to read all the names from the pulpit and the names also get printed in the next newsletter. Heaven forbid that a name gets missed: the person might be offended, feelings hurt and they may even threaten to leave the church. This is why I personally don’t like to read the list of names that helped on a fundraiser. I would prefer to state: “I want to thank all those that helped on our fundraiser.” [Period]
We need to ask ourselves: why did we help on the fundraiser? Did we do it to help the church financially? Or did we do it to receive recognition for a job well done? You know what you did and God knows what you did. That’s what is important!
In Jesus’ day, as today, there were “status symbols” that helped people enhance and protect their high standing in society. If you were invited to the “right places,” then people would know how important you really were. The emphasis was on reputation, not character. It was more important to sit in the right places than to live the right kind of life.
In the New Testament times, the closer you sat to the host, the higher you stood on the social ladder and the more attention (and invitations) you would receive from others. Naturally, many people rushed to the “head table” when the doors were opened because they wanted to be important.
This kind of attitude betrays a false view of success. Albert Einstein said, “Try not to become a man of success, but try to become a man of value.” While there may be some exceptions, it’s usually true that valuable people are eventually recognized and appropriately honored. Success that comes only from self-promotion is temporary, and you may be embarrassed as you are asked to move down (Prov. 25:6-7).
When Jesus advised the guests to take the lowest places, He was not giving them a “gimmick” that guaranteed promotion. The false humility that takes the lowest place is just as hateful to God as the pride that takes the highest place. God is not impressed by our status in society or in the church. He is not influenced by what people say or think about us, because He sees the thoughts and motives of the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). God still humbles the proud and exalts the humble (James 4:6).
Humility is a fundamental grace in the Christian life, and yet it is elusive; if you know you have it, you have lost it! It has well been said that humility is not thinking less of ourselves; it is simply not thinking of ourselves at all.
Jesus knew that the host had invited his guests for two reasons: 1) to pay them back because they had invited him to past feasts, or 2) to put them under his debt so that they would invite him to future feasts. Such hospitality was not an expression of love and grace but rather an evidence of pride and selfishness. He was “buying” recognition.
Jesus does not prohibit us from entertaining family and friends, but He warns us against entertaining only family and friends exclusively and habitually. That kind of “fellowship” quickly degenerates into a “mutual admiration society” in which each one tries to outdo the other. I think of our coffee hour, where one week we have coffee and let’s say 3 items of food. The next week, the person in charge feels they need to do as much or more. Now my stomach is all in favor of competition; “bring it on” but the purpose of coffee and some simple food is just to assist us in good fellowship.
The basis for fellowship is brotherly love. And the deepest kind of fellowship is not based on race or family relationship; it is based on the spiritual life we have in Christ. A church fellowship based on anything other than love for Christ and for one another simply will not last.
Where there is true Christian love, there will also be hospitality (Heb. 13:2). This was an important ministry in the early church because persecution drove many believers away from their homes. Also, there were traveling ministers who needed places to stay (3 John 5-8). Many poor saints could not afford to stay in an inn; and since the churches met in homes (Rom. 16:5), it was natural for a visitor to just stay with his host. Pastors are supposed to be lovers of hospitality (Titus 1:8); but all saints should be “given to hospitality” (Rom. 12:13).
Moses (Gen. 18) gives the story of Abraham showing generous hospitality to Jesus Christ and two of His angels. Abraham did not know who they were when he welcomed them; it was only later that he discovered the identities of his illustrious guests.
You and I may not entertain angels in a literal sense, though it is possible; but any stranger could turn out to be a messenger of blessing to us.
Love also expresses itself in concern (Heb. 13:3). It was not unusual for Christians to be arrested and imprisoned for their faith. To identify with these prisoners might be dangerous; yet Christ’s love demanded a ministry to them. To minister to a Christian prisoner in the name of Christ is to minister to Christ Himself (Matt. 25:36, 40). In our free country we are not arrested for our religious beliefs; but in other parts of the world, believers suffer for their faith. All across the Middle East, Christians are being persecuted and killed; churches burned to the ground. Our prayers are with them.
Our motive for sharing must be the praise of God and not the applause of men, the eternal reward in heaven and not the temporary recognition on earth. “You can’t get your reward twice! On the day of judgment, many who today are first in the eyes of men will be last in God’s eyes, and many who are last in the eyes of men will be first in the eyes of God (Luke 13:30).
In our Lord’s time, it was not considered proper to ask poor people and handicapped people to public banquets. The women were not invited either. But Jesus commanded us to put these needy people at the top of our guest list because they cannot pay us back. If our hearts are right, God will see to it that we are properly rewarded, though getting a reward must not be the motive for our generosity. When we serve others from unselfish hearts, we are laying up treasures in heaven (Matt. 6:20) and becoming “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).
Our modern world is very competitive, and it is easy for God’s people to become more concerned about profit and loss than they are about sacrifice and service. “What will I get out of it?” may easily become life’s most important question (Matt. 19:27ff). But we are also becoming an entitlement and dependant country. God is being replaced with the government and this is intentional by some godless elected officials. We must strive to maintain the unselfish attitude that Jesus had; realize our spiritual hospitality and share what we have with others. Then we will receive our reward that Jesus has made possible through the sacrifice of His Body and Blood on the cross for our redemption. And that we are heirs, through hope, of His everlasting kingdom.
Let us pray:
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Grant in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.