Pentecost 4, 2013 (June 16)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
Luke 7: 36–8:3
TITLE: “Divine Hospitality”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Luke chapters Seven and Eight.
When I was a kid growing up, my pastor’s name was Dale Ness. Pastor Ness was rather a character. He drove around a green 1956 Chevy pickup named Hiawatha. He was the pastor at our small church, and the teacher at our K–8 school. Oh, and he also had eight children. The parsonage where they lived felt like a combination of a diner, an orphanage with kids sticking out of every corner, a junk yard (he also was a welder as a hobby), and maybe some kind of zoo. I think there were a couple dogs in the mix as well. But the one thing about the Ness house that was the most memorable is what I will call hospitality. No matter what other crazy things were going on, you were always welcome. It didn’t matter if there was no money, or space, or not enough food. You knew that they were happy you were there. They had an incredible sense of hospitality.
And that’s what we’re talking about today. The theology of hospitality.
What is Hospitality?
So what exactly is hospitality? When I hear the word hospitality, I have an image in my head somewhere in between June Cleaver and the Waltons. Hospitality means welcoming people into your home. Hospitality means giving them a place at the table, and food in front of them. Perhaps more than anything, hospitality means showing and demonstrating love to whomever God puts into your path in life, whether it is at your house, on the street, at school or work. Hospitality really means confessing that Jesus came into our flesh and blood, and that all of us are His children.
We can see this many times in the Bible. Abraham entertaining the three angels in Genesis 18 would be one example of many. Certainly there are countless times in Jesus’ ministry when He shows hospitality toward those around him. The woman at the well. The many times He ate with tax collectors and sinners like Matthew, or forgave the sins of so many, like the woman in our text today. And we certainly can’t forget in the book of Hebrews the exhortation, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2 ESV)
To Whom Do We Show It?
So to whom do we show hospitality? That is really the heart of our text today. Jesus has come to the house of a Pharisee. The Pharisee wants something from Jesus, and so seeks to get Jesus on His territory. He shows no hospitality to our Lord. He doesn’t use any of the conventions of their day, washing Jesus’ feet, greeting Him with a holy kiss. Jesus has entered into this house, but it is not the welcome of a home away from home. It is more like entering a lion’s den.
I think perhaps the hard part of hospitality for us is where we show it. It is easy to be nice to and care for people whom we already know and love. But what about the stranger? What about the person who needs your help, not simply those who want it? Like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan, it is all too easy for us to only “hang out” with people that fit our own little narrow definition. All too often, we will only show love and care for those that can give it back. We are all guilty of it.
But not so this woman of our text! She is not a respectable part of society in Jesus’ day. They had words for women like that, which I shall not repeat here. She was looked down upon, belittled, labeled a public sinner. No one had time or a place for her. She was in many ways a stranger in a strange land.
Yet she recognized something that the Pharisee did not. She recognized that Jesus loved her with an everlasting love. She recognized that Jesus did not look down on her or belittle her. He knew who she was and and He knew her sins, better than she did in fact. But Jesus still welcomed her. Can you imagine how much that meant to her, the one that society rejected, belittled and considered beneath them?
Why Show It?
So this is where we really get at what hospitality is all about. Why do we care for others? Do we care for others because we can get something from them? Do we show concern because we know that it will help us in the long run. Do we care for others because they have cared for us? Our motivations are always mixed and confusing when it comes to how we treat each other.
In the case of the woman in our text, she loves Jesus because of how much He had forgiven her. In other words, her love and actions toward our Lord are in direct response to what Jesus had done for her. Nothing more, nothing less. She recognized that in Jesus there was one who would never betray her, never use her or abuse her. She recognized in Jesus one who came down to her to lift her up.
And that simple reality brings us to God’s hospitality. When God looks at you, He loves you. It’s that simple. He doesn’t love you because you can do stuff for Him. He doesn’t love you because you’ve worked really hard and deserve it. No, He loves you because that is who He is. God is love, as we hear in St. John’s epistle. This means God’s actions toward you are not manipulative or sneaky. He’s not buttering you up so that He can sock you with a bunch of chores. No, He loves you so that He gave His one and only Son. He loves you so that He washes you in His font, brings you here into His house, and sets you up at His Holy Table. He does this all for you. It really is amazing, when you think about it.
What This Means for You Now
So what does this mean for you here and now, as we reflect on God’s hospitality and our own. There is no doubt that we fail at this, like so many things. We grow weary and tired of doing good. We get worn out from giving and giving and giving. But God, who is oh so merciful, God continues to give of Himself again and again and again. When we wear out and grow tired, He strengthens. When we are weak, that is when He shows His never-ending mercy to us, His children. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about caring for our families or making cookies for after church, God will provide what is needed. Always. Why? Because that is who He is, and that is what He does.
Pastor Ness’ house was always a welcome one. It has served for me, for more than thirty years, as a picture of how God welcomes us into His Home. He sets you up at His Table. He clothes you with the robe of Christ’s Righteousness. He gives you the finest of food and wine here at His banquet, which is Christ’s Body and Blood. Come, be a part of the family of God here and now. You are home.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.