Sunday, 29 August 2010

Entertaining Angels

I don’t know about you, but I’m struck by the instruction in the book of Hebrews

‘Don’t neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.’

And entertaining people also emerges as Jesus’ theme in our Gospel story today.

Jesus is having a Sabbath meal… at the home of a
Pharisee. His host is watching Jesus closely.
Jesus observes the other guests…
choosing places of honour at the

Notice Jesus is the guest of important
religious people this time … not the usual sinners and outcasts…
he seems to think its just fine… to give his host a little instruction… in social etiquette.

"When you are a guest…Jesus tells them…
don’t go
automatically to the top table… someone much more distinguished than you… may be invited. You could be embarrassed if you’re asked to shift…
if you’re humble in the first place there’s always a chance you could be invited to move up a notch…
in the
seating plan.

For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

And if you’re the one
giving a dinner party,
don’t just invite your friends or your family…
or your wealthy
so they can
repay you by inviting you back…but

invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind who can’t repay you…that’s the kind of hospitality that counts as far as God’s concerned. That’s how you’ll be blessed at the resurrection of the righteous. [pause]

What kind of host does Jesus want his followers to be…what kind of guest? Who’s included when the invitations are sent out?  Who gets to benefit from our hospitality and generosity?

Parties banquets and feasts… were some of Jesus’ favourite images… to describe what the kingdom of God is like on earth.
Everyone’s invited... no one is left out or forgotten
least likely are honoured as much as anyone else. The stranger and the different…the disabled and the poor…are included at the banquet table…right alongside all the self-styled VIP’s.

It seems to me… Jesus is hoping they’ll see…
that when God is the host…
hospitality is the focus…not the wealth or health or standing… of the guests.

As far as the house of God was concerned…in Jesus’ time the poor couldn’t afford to bring sacrifices to the Temple…and the crippled the lame and the blind…
were by definition…kept
out…as ritually unclean.

To the strict Pharisees…strangers…foreigners…gentiles and other pagans…were by
to be
avoided...not welcomed and entertained. [pause]

But Jesus tells his Pharisee host
hey fella…
next time… see that everyone’s included…
even those you
fear as unclean…and contaminated.

Luke calls Jesus advice here a parable…because Jesus’ is announcing the way it’s supposed to be in the kingdom of God. Jesus’ focus is on hospitality…
not how
sick or strange or bad people are.
focus is on welcome… not exclusion.

Throughout his
life…Jesus added people
to the guest list…even sinners and people infected with evil
spirits…Jesus didn’t cast the people out…
and he didn’t send them away. He
included them in…
to the circle of his healing and his

It’s the nasty stupid spirits Jesus cast out…
that drove people out of their minds… tore people out of their families and wrenched them away from community…
it was the divisive
spirits that Jesus cast out…
The religious authorities in first century Israel… especially the Pharisee party… were obsessed with religious purity…impurity was blamed for all the nations troubles…too many sinners… too many foreigners…
if only we could purge them
all from our midst…
then God would restore Israel to its rightful pleac as God’s privileged and chosen people.

Oh the prophets had warned them to be hospitable
to the widow the orphan and the stranger… but
their focus was on fear… of contamination.

And when our focus is on fear instead of hospitality …we can find ourselves looking for someone to blame…for our problems at home or in our community and even our church…its a favourite game we play isn’t it. We search for a scapegoat who can be ritually sent out into the dessert…
hopefully carrying all our
problems away…on its back

But no matter how many people we expel and eject and repel and reject…the problems seem to continue…

You’d think two millennia of hearing Jesus’ teaching on hospitality and inclusion would’ve had an impact
Christians at least… but in the middle-ages we were still burning so called heretics like Joan of Arc at the stake…and centuries later…drowning those suspected of witchcraft.

Even today it’s happening…
I was shocked this week…to learn of church leaders in Nigeria who claim illness and poverty in their communities are caused by witches…and not the greed and exploitation.
Preying on the fears of their people… these pastors make themselves look spiritually powerful and righteous
at the expense of the most vulnerable.
because it’s the children… in their church families …they’re branding as witches…

parents don’t question the pastor’s ability and authority to discern the presence of evil…and the children of course…are voiceless…and powerless to protest.

Today as they have since the dawn of humanity…
fear …ignorance and the abuse of power…go hand in hand.

Ministers in these churches say…
those children denounced as witches…must be cleansed through deliverance …or cast out of the family home. Some charge between $300 and $2,000 for their services.

Misguided deliverance rituals can be physically and emotionally violent
as the parents look on, praying their child will be cleansed. If the ritual fails, they know their children will have to be sent away, or killed. Many children are held in churches, often on chains, and deprived of food until they "confess" to being a witch.

Slide change
Five year old Godwin's story is typical. After his mother died, the church pastor told his family that "Godwin is responsible."
He was branded a witch and locked up with his mother's body every night for three weeks with little food or water.

Finally a neighbour contacted the "Children’s Rights & Rehabilitation Network" who rescued him. They run an orphanage for nearly two hundred children accused of witchcraft and cast out by their families…the orphanage provides safety and counselling food and medical care

Sounds a lot like what the children’s church should be providing don’t you think? [pause]

Ignorance poverty and fear drive the child witch phenomenon in Africa…just as ignorance oppression and fear propelled the religious authorities in Jesus time…
to expel the strange, the sick and the disabled…
from Sabbath worship in the Temple.
Religious leaders capitalize on the vulnerability of their parishioners today… just as Temple authorities in Jesus’ time demanded big fat fees for animals to sacrifice in penance for sin.

I know the branding of children as witches in Nigeria is extreme. But such thinking isn’t unknown here in our community. We often fear what we don’t understand… and we often label what we fear as evil.

This fear can drive us to reject and exclude people who are different…prevent us from ever trying to be their friend…or invite them in to share our table.

In our family and community and in our church…
it’s probably not the sick and the blind and the lame.
But most of us will have a group we fear or a person we blame …without whom we feel we’d all be better off.

Perhaps it’s the woman in our street who covers her head the traditional Muslim way…or the two fella’s in a civil union who live together in Meadowstone…
or the Polynesian guy that walks round the neighbourhood every morning…or the young man with the dreadlocks down at Kai Whakapai…or the little old lady who can no longer remember her name.

But Jesus taught us that if the kingdom of God is like a party…they would be invited… welcomed and given places of honour and treated to lavish hospitality…
no matter how sick or how strange…or how sinful.

Building relationships and offering hospitality…
to those judged unclean by the religious authorities…
was actually the real secret of the early church’s success.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves…is our church driven by a spirit of hospitality or of fear?

if it
is fear… as the author of Hebrew’s says…
if it’s
fear…then we may lose countless opportunities…
to entertain angels.

Jesus says…invite them in…give them a place of honour…feed them well…
and you may just
find the blessing your looking for.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Three funerals and a wedding

Pentecost 16 year C Sermon 
Blank intro slide
I love you Lord and I lift my voice…
Love…the tie that binds…Remember that old hymn?
Blessed be the tie that binds…our hearts in Christian love…

What a promise we have… in our God’s love…
beautifully expressed in the scroll of Isaiah

Isaiah slide 1
The sun will no more be your light by day, 
       nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the LORD will be your everlasting light,
       and your God will be your glory.
Your sun will never set again, 
       and your moon will wane no more;

Isaiah slide 2
 the LORD will be your everlasting light, 
and your days of sorrow will end.
Then will all your people be righteous 
       and they’ll possess the land forever.
They’re the shoot I’ve planted,
the work of my hands,
for the display of my splendour.

Title slide
I’ve called this talk three funerals and a wedding
because this week I
left behind one widow…my mother …holding her love for my father like a candle
learning to live in its light

and in the darkness of his absence…

Last Monday as soon as I returned to New Zealand
I was immersed in the lives of two more women…
freshly widowed
last week…as they and their families
grieved their separation from the husband
and father they knew and loved.
One was our dear Annie May.

One of the things I always say at funerals…
is that the pain of separation
is inevitable…
when we surrender ourselves to love.
The pain of separation simply can’t be avoided…
as long as we live and the ones we love die
or leave us.
So the cost of loving…is paid at both funerals and weddings.

Blank slide
But we’re comforted in our Christian faith
by the belief that God’s love is stronger than death …
God’s love for his children continues
after they die…
in that sense
God’s relationship with us is eternal…
and why we call it eternal life.

The ancient Hebrew people…
simply couldn’t conceive of an end to God’s love…
that’s why they often interpreted suffering as God’s punishment…NOT as God’s rejection of them.

But the understanding of God’s love
that Jesus revealed
us…is one of grace and forgiveness. We have to look elsewhere for the causes of our misfortunes.

And not only are we comforted in our Christian faith…
we continue to have hope…even in the face of death…
and separation from the people we love

this hope springs from the certainly that our relationship with God will not and can not end even in death.
Our hope allows us in lifeto wait for God’s help without giving up or giving in or going away.

Fully mature in our faith we would fear neither loneliness …nor our own death …for we know God is with us…
in us…loving us…even when everyone else we love is gone.

Even when we have to leave behind
the ones we love.

The Bible is all about relationships of love. First the permanent relationship between God and God’s creation especially humankind…and the Bible uses the metaphors of human relationships to describe this…it talks about God and God’s unfaithful but cherished wife …Israel …about God and God’s rebellious and ungrateful children…

and it's a story of relationships
that set to continue until
everyone and everything is reconciled to God

and God is all in all.

And of course the Bible is full of the stories of human relationships with each other and with creation…
husbands and wives…parents and children…farmers and their land…faithfulness and betrayal… passion and indifference…mercy and cruelty…

For us as Christians…Jesus life and death…were and are
the fullest expression of God’s love
which ever existed
in time and space…for in
Jesusthe fullness of God
was please to dwell.[i]

the apostle Paul tells us in the book of Romans that…
in turn… Jesus has made us..made our very beings
his dwelling place. So we confidently speak of this… relationship without end… eternal… everlasting  undying…

Even Jesus in his humanity…demonstrated that death is
the inevitable end for a fragile human body…

but when the Spirit of God raised Jesus to new life…
it was revealed…
that death does not have the last word.

And as the full revelation of God in time and space…
we can put our complete trust in Jesus’ teaching…especially his commandment to love one another as he has loved us.

When we take up his cross and become his disciples…
we commit ourselves as much as is humanly possible…
to extend the grace and forgiveness…the compassion and the mercy we’ve been shown… to every child of God.

As children of God’s new covenant…
with Christ dwelling in us…
we are to be a light to the world we are to sow love into the world.
Where there is injustice we are to seek justice
where there is cruelty we are to bring mercy…where there is division… we are to work for peace and reconciliation. Justice mercy compassion and peace are to be paramount in our relationships.

This is the point of the story in our Gospel reading set down for today in Luke

Luke slide
Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.
And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you’re set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. [pause]

But the leader of the synagogue…indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath…kept saying to the crowd,
"There are six days on which work ought to be done;
come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day."

But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites!
Don’t each of you on the Sabbath… untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?
And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham…
whom Satan bound for eighteen long years
shouldn’t she be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?"

When Jesus said this all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.

Blank slide
In this and many other stories Jesus shows us… loving just relationships in action…
he casts aside religious taboos…he dismantles the religious stumbling blocks of his time…in order to touch and to heal and restore.

Jesus relationship with the woman in the story…a total stranger…is more important than the legal requirements of the synagogue.

She deserves justice and wholeness…
she deserves to be served by Jesus…more than he needs to follow the rules.

Jesus’ servant relationship with her overrides all religious considerations. In this Jesus reveals the surprising nature of God’s love.

As Paul said in his letter to the Romans
Slide words
For I’am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God
that’s in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Blank slide
Tragedy struck Jesus in his human frailty
just as it strikes us…but because of him… we may look upon disaster with eyes that shine with hope as well as tears

Here beneath these mountains and beside these lakes…we gain the strength to love ourselves and others as he loved us…the strength that comes…
from the very love of God that dwells within us

so today as we give God our hearts once more in worship… may our faith be renewed and our hope restored… and sustained by the wonder of this love.

[i] [Colossians 1:19]