Christian Hospitality Luke 16:19-31
Proper 21 Pent 16C September 25, 2022, St. John, New Orleans
There is a difference between good hospitality and, “southern hospitality.”
In my formative years I observed good hospitality
in the form of comfort food at large, family gatherings, of up to one hundred people, at times.
The matriarch and all the other women cooked a feast and gossiped in the kitchen,
while the men and children played games and drank refreshments.
When I got married, I learned about Southern Hospitality.
Family and tasty food abounded here as well,
but the matriarchs and other women were not in the kitchen but were mingling and making introductions.
The food was either prepared beforehand and served buffet style, or it was catered.
While the ways of my childhood placed the focus on food and casual interactions, the southern example used food to help make introductions.
Each introduction had a purpose.
And by the end of the event, you had met at least one new person that was interesting enough that you hoped you would cross paths again.
The hospitality of my childhood was mostly about keeping family ties strong. While the hospitality which I was introduced through Susan’s family was about branching out.
Both, I think, are important, but serve different purposes.
In fact, I should dare say that true hospitality can and should encompass both spheres of influence.
The concept of hospitality is prominent in our readings today, but they are not about being hospitable, per se.
Rather, these texts appear to show that the lack of hospitality reflects a deeper problem,
so that, rather than being a treatise on how God commands us to behave towards others,
it exemplifies how we treat others when we disregard God and his commands.
In other words, when we lose sight of God and put our trust in other things (usually ourselves),
we not only stay away from stray away from righteousness,
but we care little for the needs of those around us.
And this problem can sneak up on us, and before we know it, we too are the objects of God's scorn as in our Old Testament lesson and the Gospel.
We are the ones who ignore the pan handlers and the homeless.
We are the ones who ignore our neighbors’ obvious need to repair his home or assist in her family's health crisis.
We are the ones who scoff at a parent’s poor discipline skills at the mall,
instead of praying for them,
or volunteering to help other parents learn good parenting skills.
We are the ones who condemn a woman who has an abortion yet do nothing to support crisis pregnancy centers weird option ministries.
We know we could do more and may even want to do more, but we just put it off for another day.
Which brings us to the parable in our gospel.
If we are not careful, we too will end up in hell after it's too late.
but I as I said before, that can only happen when our focus is not on God, and, instead focus on ourselves
and when we look to God, we will see the reason for our eventual change. Love.
Because only the love of God found through his son Jesus can change any person
enough to give the kind of hospitality the Lord demands.
There is an old saying, “a man's home is his castle.”
And with this saying comes a logical sense that where we live is ours to defend, protect, and prosper.
We invite people into our home.
And we make improvements upon our property.
Yet, one of the founding principles of Old Testament teaching is that we are not owners, but stewards, of all we have been given.
We are not the permanent owners of anything except our own bad decisions.
We are not responsible for any good that comes to us.
In fact, in the New Testament, James says,
“every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of change period”
and while our days on this earth are numbered God has been here since he created it and will be until he destroys it.
God our heavenly father is the host, and we are his guest.
He is the one who invites and welcomes each of us here, even those who do not believe.
And to suggest that this life is ours to live as we deem fit,
is to deny God's lordship and ownership over us.
And, instead, we claim squatters’ rights; that possession is 9/10 of the law.
And because God will outlast us all, he can afford to let us continue in our false reality sense of reality.
He doesn't chase after you when you've done something wrong.
He doesn't compel you to repent.
Out of love for you, he hopes that you and I, out of our love for him,
will turn to him and confess our sins,
so that we will be restored in our relationship with him,
and to know that he will welcome us into his heavenly home whenever our days are done.
Many people seek happiness by chasing after righteousness by being good hosts in this world.
For some it's a cause like eliminating poverty and homelessness.
For others it's working to bring awareness and change in behaviors about a certain health or safety concern.
For others it's about making the right choices in life and to do enough good for others.
But in the end, they all fail.
There will always be the poor, hungry, and homeless.
The earth will always cry out in pain from mankind's impact upon it.
Individuals will always be mocked, discriminated against, or mistreated.
And everyone will be caught up in sin more often than not.
The truth of the matter is, we are not even fit stewards, let alone capable of being gracious hosts in this world.
So, then, how are we to be? What do we do with these texts?
We turn our eyes to God, and we will know the way.
In Jesus’ parable, Abraham says of the rich man brothers, “they have Moses and the prophets to guide them.”
because it's in the word of God where we meet our eternal host who promises to never let us be taken from his banquet feast.
The word is also sufficient for informing how we live in this world, whenever we live in it.
The text has not changed in thousands of years,
nor its interpretation,
when the text has been allowed to stand alone on its own authority.
And as different times delivered different challenges to his people,
the word of the Lord was able to expose the problem for its root cause in our own sinful nature,
and has always presented a solution found in the forgiving arms of Jesus.
But most importantly, the word affirms his love for us and his desire for us to dwell forever
in the safety of his Kingdom brought into our lives through the waters of baptism,
sustained in us by his Word, but especially through his Holy Communion,
And it is affirmed in and through us as his Body, the Church, when we conduct his ministry of hospitality on his behalf.
And now, the quintessential Lutheran question, “what does this mean?” What is Christ’s ministry of hospitality?
It means welcoming all into his presence so that they can be complete, comforted and fed.
And when their physical needs are met, we tend to their spiritual care as well.
How do we do this? I’ll first tell you by example of when we are not hospitable.
When we forget to be hospitable on Jesus’ behalf, we often fail to see barriers that keep the lost sheep at bay.
Some barriers are physical like stairs, lack of close parking, or accessible restrooms for the handicapped.
Other barriers are more conceptual and based upon perceptions that we unknowingly perpetuate.
Unwelcoming or unfriendliness is a perception that is hard to shake.
And others may assume something about who we are by our attire, or our outward appearance, if we give them nothing else to go by.
Let me turn this around to the positive, now, and describe what Christian Hospitality consists of.
First, fully commit yourself to following Jesus, so that when a person sees you, they know who you follow.
Secondly, be welcoming beyond simple wave or a handshake like you bumped into them at the grocery store.
Treat folks like they were at least front porch or living room friends,
if not dining room and kitchen friends.
Do you know what I mean by that?
These are friends who you who can see your messes while you are in the midst of cleaning them up
and, if they know you well enough, will offer to dry the dishes and put them away for you!
It requires time, fellowship, and sharing personal stories and experiences.
And, eventually, that sharing will even include your faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.
While each of us can do that as individual Christians to an extent, it's also beautiful when we do that together as the church.
When we can move beyond the surface level, basic, acquaintance status, to kitchen table friendship.
When our worship transforms from being our introduction to Jesus,
to a heartfelt conversation between God and his people
over a shared meal of his son's body and blood,
intended to not only bind us together, but to purify us to greater service to him and those around us.
It is beautiful when we can assist others through those various stages of relationship with God
so that they too grow closer to God
but can also learn how to introduce the next generation of followers of Jesus to his generous hospitality.
Perhaps the last thing we might consider is, “what does good Christian hospitality look like in a more concrete way?”
well, in a place like New Orleans, you know all about hospitality that people appreciate don't you?
Whether it's tasty food, or comfortable surroundings, or good music, one thing is constant;
you give it your best effort and you don't go cheap if it will ruin the effect of the event.
And, having grown up and lived my life in a denomination created by thrifty northern Europeans, I have to say,
the Lutheran Church in the United States has a history and reputation for being cheap and miserly with our hospitality.
Perhaps they could be described as having a minimalist design,
but most of our churches don't look like houses of God beyond having a cross in the chancel and some colored glass in the windows.
We aren't known for our soup kitchens and shelters like the Salvation Army.
We don't rush to catastrophes like the Baptist do with Samaritans purse or the Red Cross.
While we have very generous individuals who support many missions and ministries,
Congregations and Districts and Synod itself do little
in terms of placing an emphasis on welcoming others who are not already in our Lutheran family.
And, therefore, we are one of the congregations that is declining in numbers,
Even thought we have one of the most appealing, grace-based doctrine being taught today.
And so, I would say, good, Christian Hospitality requires effort in preparation and investment in execution.
We need to understand who we need to be inviting to the party, so to speak, so that we can make those important connections I witnessed at those Atlanta parties
And we need to do our best to be generous in our presentation, so that those we are welcoming actually feel welcome and worth the effort!
Which brings me back to the big family gatherings I mentioned to you at the beginning.
I, of course, was born into them and assumed everyone loved them as I did.
I looked forward to the Christmas and Easter celebrations and the birthday parties and the anniversary parties.
It wasn't till I was an adult and overheard my mother and her sister-in-law talking
about how tough it was to marry into the family
that I considered it could be anything other than what I had experienced.
The unofficial vetting process included meeting my great grandmother, the matriarch of the family.
She was a confident woman who spoke with a thick German accent that you often could not understand.
And after meeting her, you weren't sure if you were really part of the family yet or not.
As great as the externals of food and drink and conversation might have been,
one never heard or knew if you were accepted.
The outward signs were neutral to positive
but the words, “welcome to the family,” never came.
But in Christ, and his family, the Church, there is no doubt.
Marked by the sign of the cross in the waters of baptism, we are made part of his body and heirs to his Kingdom.
And when we share the supper at this altar, we know we go from here with God's blessing and power,
so that anyone we invite to return with us the next week will know his hospitality as we do.
May we always know the hospitality of Jesus Christ, his love, forgiveness, and mercy,
so that we may be ever welcoming to all who will be introduced to him in the future.
And it is in his name, the strong name of Jesus, I pray it.