First Reading Genesis 18:1-10a
Psalm Psalm 15
Second Reading Colossians 1:15-28
Gospel Luke 10:38-42
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels unawares.” -Hebrews 13:2
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Almost three years ago, the Vestry of St. Paul’s gathered with their newly called priest to explore our purpose together. We were seeking guidance for our mutual life in this community and the kingdom. Purpose helps provide focus, informs our decisions, and guides our next faithful steps. The simple phrase chosen to guide our journey was ‘Gospel hospitality’. Hospitality can be defined as the friendly and generous reception of guests, visitors, and strangers. The goal of implementing of ‘gospel hospitality’ has been a faithful guide thus far.
Our consumer culture has other ideas about hospitality. When receiving hospitality, it seems we have become quite demanding. We measure hospitality by applying a tip appropriate to good or bad service, posting reviews of our experience, or simply telling our circle of influence, “Don’t go there, they don’t treat you well.”
A resident in a seaside hotel breakfast room called over the head waiter one morning and said, “ I want two boiled eggs, one of them so undercooked it’s runny, and the other so over cooked it’s about as easy to eat as rubber; also grilled bacon that has been left on a plate to get cold; burnt toast that crumbles away as soon as you touch it with a knife; butter straight from the deep freeze so that it’s impossible to spread; and a pot of very weak coffee, lukewarm.” The bewildered waiter said, “That’s a complicated order, sir. It might be a bit difficult.” The guest replied, “I don’t see why there’s a problem. That’s what you gave me yesterday.”
Society seems to have lost focus on hospitality when providing welcome. In this ‘keeping up with the Jones’es’ world, many of us scurry about to host the season’s best party, sure to be talked about for years. The details of planning and execution become so overwhelming, it is easy to forget about friendly and generous reception of people.
In the seemingly simple story of Jesus’ visit with Mary and Martha, we learn about hospitality as purpose, and the purpose of hospitality.
The prophet Jesus is on the move, and enters a village where a woman named Martha welcomes him into her home. Martha must see herself in the traditional disciple role as servant, and offers hospitality. For Martha, hospitality means everything must be just so. We should not see her as a neurotic hostess, fretting and fussing with little details. There really is much to do. Meanwhile, her good for nothing sister is just sitting there listening to Jesus. We might imagine this sibling rivalry goes back a long way, but the issue at hand is that Martha is working herself into a frenzy, and Mary seems to be doing nothing to offer hospitality to their guest. Martha acknowledges Jesus’ authority, perhaps as a guest, perhaps as a prophet, perhaps as a man in a male dominated society. “Lord, do you not care ...? Tell her then to help me!” Martha is asking Jesus to intervene in this domestic dispute. The worst thing to tell a frantic hostess in the middle of a dinner party is ‘calm down’. Trust me on this.
Jesus does not do as Martha requests, nor does he scold her, but shows compassion. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.” Jesus acknowledges that her feelings are real, but require a corrective focus. “There is need of only one thing.” Jesus is not suggesting Martha change the menu or simplify the elaborate table setting. All of these are actions of fine hospitality. In a statement even etiquette guru Emily Post would approve, Jesus narrows the focus like a laser. The one thing necessary for gospel hospitality is not the preparations and ministrations or any other domestic performance, but attention to the guest. Jesus transforms hospitality from providing service to receiving a gift ... acknowledging the presence of another person. Martha was so preoccupied with party preparation and the task list, she broke the cardinal rule of hospitality ... attention to the guest.
One thing is necessary at this dinner party and at the banquet of life to which we are invited ... focus on Jesus. Mary is not ‘doing nothing’ as Martha would suggest. She is sitting at Jesus’ feet, in the posture of a disciple, and listening to Jesus. Mary receives Jesus for who he is, a prophet who speaks the word of God. “Mary has chosen the better part.”
St. Paul’s continues to seek our purpose and receive affirmation from Christ that we are choosing the better part. Discernment of purpose takes time, study, prayer, listening, and shared experiences. We are still working on the details. Gospel hospitality continues to guide us to focus on God and other persons. We strive to be followers of Christ, to be the hands and feet
of Jesus, and do what Jesus would have us do. Sitting and listening is also discipleship. Without listening and seeking understanding, how will we know what to do? How can we be sure our well intended actions are God’s will, and not our own?
We are called to Gospel Hospitality. Our focus is on the guest of honor, our Savior. As we invite Jesus into our lives, Jesus invites us into God’s life. We are both invited and hosts, simultaneously servants and receiving gifts. Gospel hospitality challenges us, not only in what we do, but more on whom we focus. St. Paul’s participates in feeding our hungry and homeless brothers and sisters at Weekend Lunch, inviting children into our lives through Path To Shine and Freedom School, journeying with college students living in Canterbury House, helping to feed and educate children in Haiti, and loving and caring for our literal neighbors at St. Paul Apartments and Village. We do all these things and more. But Gospel Hospitality is ultimately not about the actions. It is about the people, the relationships, and the transformation and reconciliation to God and one another in Christ. Our hospitality is based in loving God and loving others. I wonder what new opportunities for hospitality will be set before us. If our focus is on Christ, sitting at Jesus’ feet to listen, and then boldly going into the world to act, we will be participating in Gospel Hospitality. Amen.