Sermon, Welcome.

Welcome

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 25, 2019

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Heb.13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

 

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. It was a watershed moment in our nation’s history. Who can forget such powerful, inspiring words?

 

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

 

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…

 

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character…

 

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

 

Martin Luther King did not grab such high-minded ideals out of thin air. He got them from none other than Jesus, who held similar high-minded ideals which happen to be on display in our gospel reading for today.

 

Jesus accepts a dinner invitation from one of the religious leaders. While he is being closely watched, he is doing some watching, too. As a result, he notices how the guests elbow their way to the best seats. Clearly, this is an opportunity for a teaching moment, so Jesus, as they say, “takes them to church,” using a parable. The parable he shares is designed to do what most of his parables are designed to do—invite his hearers to reflect on their values, and to turn those same values, upside down.

 

Jesus has a dream. It is a dream in which everyone is welcome to the table of grace. No one comes with her nose in the air ready to fight for the best seat. No doubt, Jesus’ vision goes against the beliefs of the people gathered around because what he is calling for is radical hospitality. There are no insiders and outsiders—no us and them! The reading from Hebrews continues with this theme, counseling believers to show hospitality to strangers for we might, in fact, be entertaining angels without knowing it.

 

Followers of Jesus are called to be in community and community is created when we act in loving service toward everyone. This is no place to trample our way to the best seats. Instead we work to make space for everyone—more than that—we welcome others without even thinking about our place in line. Yes, radical hospitality!

 

What might it look like if we held each person in such high regard? The following story offers a glimpse:

 

Once upon a time there was an abbot of a monastery who was very good friends with the rabbi of a local synagogue. It was in Europe and times were hard… The abbot found his community dwindling and the faith life of his monks shallow and lifeless. Life in the monastery was dying. He went to his friend and wept. His friend, the rabbi, comforted him and told him, “There is something you need to know, my brother. We have long known in the Jewish community that the Messiah is one of you.”

 

“What?” exclaimed the abbot, “The Messiah is one of us? How can that be?”

 

But the rabbi insisted that it was so, and the abbot went back to his monastery wondering and praying, comforted and excited.

 

Once back at the monastery, walking down the halls and in the courtyard, he would pass a monk and wonder if he was the one. Sitting in chapel, praying, he would hear a voice and look intently at a face and wonder if he was the one, and he began to treat all of his brothers with respect, with kindness and awe, with reverence. Soon it became quite noticeable.

 

One of the brothers came to him and asked him what had happened to him. After some coaxing, he told him what the rabbi had said. Soon the other monk was looking at his brothers differently and wondering. The word spread through the monastery quickly: The Messiah is one of us.

 

Soon the whole monastery was full of life, worship, kindness, and grace. The prayer life was rich and passionate, devoted, and the psalms and liturgy and services were alive and vibrant. Soon the surrounding villagers were coming to the services and listening and watching intently, and there were many who wished to join the community.

 

After their novitiate, when they took their vows, they were told the mystery, the truth that their life was based upon, the source of their strength and life together. The Messiah is one of us. The monastery grew and expanded into house after house, and all the monks grew in wisdom, age, and grace before the others and in the eyes of God. And they say still, if you stumble across this place, where there is life and hope and kindness and graciousness, that the secret is the same: The Messiah is one of us.[i]

 

If we truly see the Christ that dwells within each one of us, we will long to win the world over, we will welcome every passerby, and we will share the love of Jesus through acts of kindness, mercy, generosity, and love.

 

Today we come to the Lord’s Table to be nourished and equipped for service. There is no fence built around the Table to keep the “unsavory” out. The Presbyterian Book of Order informs us that none are to be excluded because of race, sex, age, economic status, social class, handicapping condition, difference of culture or language, or any barrier created by human injustice. We come to the Table to seek reconciliation. We come to the Table to be united with the Church in every place and time. Here we join with all the faithful in heaven and on earth offering thanksgiving to the Triune God. Here we renew our vows of baptism and commit ourselves afresh to love and serve God, one another, and our neighbors in the world.[ii]

 

It is with service in mind that we, here at First Presbyterian Church, continue our tradition of marking the Labor Day holiday with a Blessing of the Hands. During this time, we reflect on the work to which God has called each of us to do—work that will make Jesus’ dream a reality. Jesus left his heavenly home and entered the world to show us how to live. Boldly and with great enthusiasm, may our hands follow his example of showing love, kindness, and hospitality to rich and poor, male and female, slave and free, friend and stranger. Who knows! We might be entertaining angels!

[i] Megan McKenna in Mary, quoted in Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, 492.

[ii] Book of Order: The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2011-13, 96.