12th Sunday after Pentecost, September 01, 2019
– Hebrews 13:1-8, Luke 14:1, 7-14
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
One of the first things that greets you when you log onto our website are these words. “Welcome home! Good Shepherd Lutheran Church believes that God’s love is freely given to all regardless of race, ethnicity, age, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation or gender identity. No matter who you are, how you are spiritually, or where you are on life’s journey, we welcome and embrace you in the name and love of Christ.”
Christ was keenly aware of the Jewish law of hospitality, which instructs that you welcome and treat strangers as if they were citizens of your own land and love them as you love yourself (Leviticus 19:34). This is a lesson that would certainly enhance America’s immigration policy. The anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews goes further in saying that by welcoming strangers “some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (13:1)
Now I hold a rather comprehensive view concerning angels believing they apply to anyone with the capacity of conveying the likeness and love of God, which includes everyone here. So, believe me when I sincerely welcome you to this house of God and, as a rule, invite you to sit wherever you like.
Still, I can’t help but notice that many of you have favorite spots, and I take some comfort in expecting to find you in those places when I look upon the congregation.
I myself remember visiting a church in St. Louis and sitting in a pew near the front when a couple of elderly women sat on either side of me as one mentioned I was occupying her space. Nonetheless, she encouraged me to remain seated as she introduced herself and her best friend of many years; and we engaged in a wonderful conversation about their friendship, the neighborhood in which the church was located and the church itself before the service began.
Clearly, they embodied the law of hospitality as they welcomed me, the stranger, into their house of God.
However, this law was most strongly apparent in preparations for important suppers or banquets. On such occasions the hosts are especially mindful of table settings, the placing of utensils and napkins, who sits where and with whom that person sits. Such details might make all the difference between a joyous and horrible dining experience.
So, Jesus, when he noticed people prematurely choosing seats unassigned to them at an important supper, cautioned them not to sit in places of honor lest the host places them in the embarrassing situation of having to relinquish that seat in favor of someone else more deserving. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
Like the hosts who invite honored guests to an important banquet, we here at Good Shepherd are mindful of the table setting at the Lord’s supper, and who is invited to this table. And while many churches suggest that only Christians be allowed to receive the bread and wine, unless otherwise instructed, I am reminded of a history where my parents and relatives, because of their race, were not allowed a place at dining room tables or restaurant counters, and will therefore invite all who hunger and thirst for righteousness to be filled at this Lord’s table in this house of God.
“I am the bread of life,” said Jesus. “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me will never thirst…And anyone who comes to me I will never turn away.” (John 6:35, 37) That invitation was extended to friends and foe alike; to family as well as strangers. For Christ noticed no divisions in the souls of those who craved the manna of God. We, therefore, welcome all to this table recognizing that, by so doing, we may be entertaining angels without knowing it. Amen.