Sermons That Work

A Radical Hospitality, Proper 11 (C) – 2004

July 18, 2004

The Gospel of Jesus the Christ calls us into doing some radical living, if we are truly listening. The Gospel calls us right into the middle of life—true life that brings the Kingdom of God down to all of us, so that we all can celebrate God’s goodness and concern for us all.

Yes, statements like the one above come from reading, hearing, and making sincere attempts at living out today’s Gospel passage from Luke—the hospitality of Martha and Mary. In this passage of Scripture, we are called to be open to doing some very radical work in the world in a simple gesture of hospitality.

All of us have been invited into the homes of friends, and have entertained friends in our own homes. Think for a moment, if you will, of going to the house or the apartment of good friends who have truly made you welcome. They say to you, “Make yourself at home.” And they truly mean it. All of you gather around a table or a meal of fellowship, and laugh and talk. You share old times, talk about what’s going on in the world today, share joys, speak of disappointments—connect. When the experience is over, we leave those friends with a great sense of richness both for them and ourselves. You and they have heard and experienced much. And because of our sincere openness we have learned much about one another. We even have a bounce to our step because we were able to be real with one another, and because of that we can face the world. We have had a community-building encounter.

Then there are those friends who are quite fussy about all that has to be done. Every “doily” on the table must be just right. And while we may appreciate the care, how much nicer things would if they were to let go of their hang ups and just be real.

Jesus visits Martha and her sister Mary. We experience right away the two different kinds of host mentioned in the above examples: Martha who is doing her “role” and Mary who is caught up in the happenings—no doubt learning something new and experiencing true joy in the process. Martha even complains to Jesus. Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?

Poor Martha—both literally and figuratively! She is poorer having missed out on the conversation by being caught up in the business of task, of preparation.

Martha is not some kind of villain or awful person in this story. She is simply all of us in the many areas of our lives. Mary has chosen the better part. She has sat, listened, and heard just as we have done with our friends. She will never be the same again.

Busy-ness does not allow for us to be open and be well. It can be the fatal element in our lives that keeps us hung up so that we may well “miss the boat,” and miss the point of the preparation experience. There are times when the essentials of hospitality and thoughtfulness are all that matter.

We watch Sunday after Sunday as those who prepare the Holy Table for the Lord’s Supper “do their thing.” Even before the service, much has been done to make sure that all is done well. And why shouldn’t it be? It is the meal that will be hosted by the Lord himself.

Yet, we have all had the experience of being in churches where people are extremely rigid and nervous about all that goes on at the Holy Table. So much so, that we have to wonder if they are keeping in mind the true meaning of what happens there each time we come together as community to celebrate the meal together.

Just like the meal held at Martha’s house and the ones we attend at the houses of our friends, that Eucharistic meal is the ultimate opportunity to fortify ourselves. It is the genuine place. Our preparation and hospitality should be at it most sincere, but our hearts, minds, and spirits must be so open that the trappings don’t hang us up. Hospitality must reign in such a way that the stranger will know that he or she is welcome at the table. The stranger, along with everyone else, will know what it is to hear the whole story that we tell of Jesus at the Table.

We are called to make the door of our home—the church—wide open to all. We are to invite all: those with tattered finery; those older; those younger; those female; those male; those heterosexual; those lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender; those white, those brown, black, and red—and everything in between; those who are well physically and those who live with physical challenges. In the process, with all at the table, we will hear much and learn much. The Kingdom will come down many times over, and we will realize that we have chosen the better part, and because of our hospitality we will never be the same again. AMEN.

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Christopher Sikkema


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