Year C — The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17)

Commentary for September 1, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings
Click HERE for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast with the Rev. Robert Mitchell

Jeremiah 2:4-13
In the Lord’s lament, as recorded by Jeremiah, we have represented the antithesis of worship — a word that has as its root meaning, “something that is heavy, weighty — worthy.” So, if worshiping God is a weighty matter, the Lord wonders why God’s people have gone after worthless things (things that are “light, of no consequence, things that do not matter.”)

Of course, most vividly, God reminds us that those who pursue worthless things end up as worthless people. Ouch!

Psalm 81:1, 10-16
Speaking of weighty matters, God’s actions represented here are worthy of shouts of praise (something that most of us would probably consider a breach of the “worshipful atmosphere” in most of our congregations?)

God literally feeds our souls; “open your mouths wide,” the Lord says, “and I will fill you up!” And just take a look at what’s on the menu: finest of the wheat and honey from the rock. 

Sirach 10:12-18
Sirach provides a vivid counterpoint to the words from the Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Here, we learn that forsaking the Lord is “the beginning of human pride.” When our hearts withdraw from our Maker, we are headed down a very slippery slope, indeed.

Proverbs 25:6-7
As Dr. Chilton points out (in his own unique way) on today’s Lectionary Lab Live podcast, Jesus evidently had this quotation from Proverbs on his mind during the events recorded in Luke’s gospel (see below.)

Psalm 112
Note the actions of the wealthy and the righteous in this psalm; they are not always one and the same!

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
The preacher of Hebrews is winding down his lengthy sermon, and is giving his final exhortations. They are good points, and align quite nicely with the gospel story from Luke (see below.)

Luke 14:1, 7-14
It is the nature of God’s kingdom that many things that we expect — don’t happen. And, certainly, there are many times that we are surprised (often graciously so) by things that happen that we did not expect. Of course, not every surprise in God’s kingdom economy is pleasant, as the text today teaches us.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus challenges his host about the make-up of his guest list. The official Chilton paraphrase edition of what Jesus said goes like this “By inviting your friends and family and your neighbors who are in your social class, you have made sure that you have lost nothing, risked nothing, spent nothing, ultimately, sacrificed nothing, actually done nothing that qualifies you as a host in the spiritual sense of the word. You have invited only people who can afford to return the favor and invite you to their house and feed you there. This is a nice social event, its good fellowship, but it’s not real hospitality. “

Biblical hospitality is about taking a risk on behalf of the strangers and aliens in your midst. It is rooted in the Hebrew awareness that we are all, every one of us, strangers here on this earth.

The shema, which every Hebrew was enjoined to pray each morning, begins with these words:
A wandering Aramaen was my father,”  recalling how the first Hebrews, Abram and Sarai, were called out of Ur of the Chaldees, and were sent to wandering the earth, looking for the Promised Land. Abram and Sarai very much depended upon the hospitality they received as strangers in their travels, and kindness to strangers was built into the Hebrew faith from the beginning.

In our text for today, Jesus reminds his host that he gets no credit for hospitality for inviting those who are not strangers.  Notice the list of people whom Jesus tells us not to invite: friends, brothers, other relatives, neighbors. Why? Because these people are not, generally speaking, in need of hospitality.

Okay. So who are the strangers, the aliens in our midst, the wanderers upon the earth whom we are called upon to invite to our banquets and celebrations? According to Jesus they are the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. This is not a random, off the top of his head list. By reciting it, Jesus intentionally offended both his host and the other guests.

The poor, of course, is a reminder to invite those who cannot repay you. The rest of the list consists of those who are ritually unclean; they are persons who were not welcome at worship.

Leviticus 21:17-20, for example, says, in part:No one . . . who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or hand.”

These were people who were not allowed to worship, people whom you could not touch or associate with without becoming unclean yourself. And these are the people whom Jesus calls us to invite to the banquet.

Who are the poor, the crippled, the lame and blind among us? Who are the strangers in our midst in need of hospitality? Who has God placed in our path for us to pay attention to? Who are the “wandering Aramaens” looking for a Promised Land who have happened upon our door?

In order to answer that question, we have to realize a couple of things:

First;  we are all strangers here on this earth. As the old Gospel song had it, “This world is not my home.” We have all been called out of the safety and comfort of the familiar to launch out on a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey seeking a spiritual Promised Land. This journey will lead us to and fro as we search for our eternal home. Because we are all strangers, we are all in need of hospitality from time to time.

Second; Jesus the Christ is the true host, the perfect and loving welcomer of strangers, aliens and pilgrims upon the earth. We, the Church, exercise our hospitality in imitation of Christ, seeking to be Christ in the world.

It is not by accident that the most important thing we do in church, the central ritual action of our faith, is the remembrance, the re-creation, of a meal at which Jesus was the host. It is not by accident that the bread blessed at communion is also called the host. This word, and its many meanings, goes back to a Latin root word which means stranger. Various English words come from this word, all a result of how one treats the stranger: 

Hospice –  means a guest room. Hospital – a place for strangers who are sick. Host – a person who receives a stranger. Hostile – seeing the stranger as an enemy. Host – bread which one gives to a stranger. Hospitality – welcoming the stranger. All these meanings come into play as we come to communion, as we respond to the invitation,Come to the Banquet, all is now ready!”

We come as though we had just wandered off the street in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. We come as someone who stands in the door of the Upper Room, watching, and suddenly Jesus looks up from table and sees us and says,Come up higher, friend, you look hungry, have some bread, drink some wine.”

We come, leaving behind in the pew our power or position.We come and kneel and bow and hold out our hands, hands with which we have for so long tried so hard to hold on to control of our lives.  We come, and relax our grip and hold out our hands, like a child asking for candy,
willing to receive whatever God has to give us,

We come and God gives to us the bread of life,the host, the food given to strangers, the food which changes us from strangers into friends,indeed transforms us from pilgrims into hosts.

And we return to our pews as new people; and from our pews we are sent forth into the world to seek and save those who,like us, are seekers and strangers upon the earth.

Who are the strangers, the aliens, the lame, the blind, the poor?  They are us, and they are all those in the world who, like us,  stand in need of the love of Christ!

Amen and amen.

3 thoughts on “Year C — The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 17)

  1. Walkabout, seeing as how the old Bedenbaugh was singularly awesome, I am both flattered and somewhat in disagreement with you. I am be (almost) as eccentric, but I am sure I am nowhere near as smart. Thank you for the the compliment and I will try to live up to it as best I can. Delmer [For those of you who are wondering, the Rev. Dr. J. Benjamin, "Benny" Bedenbaugh was Professor of New Testament at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia SC from the mid-1950s until his death in the late 1993. He was brilliant and colorful and beloved by generations of students. He also taught me more about being a Christian than anyone else in my life.]

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