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.