Sermon Archives

Sunday, June 12, 2016
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 6, Year C)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
On Christian Welcome and Hospitality

What are the marks, the characteristics, of the Christian Community and the Christian Life?

  • Justice
  • Forgiveness
  • Love
  • Mercy
  • Discipline
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Unity
  • Prayer
  • Serving
  • Sacrificial

In the course of the coming months as we move through ordinary time together, each of these marks will be placed before us as we hear and watch Jesus demonstrate mercy, call for forgiveness, model goodness, and teach us to pray.

Today’s reading from Luke, however, presents a characteristic of the Christian life and community that we often overlook:  Welcome.

Among the oldest stories of our tradition are stories of welcome given – who among us can forget the story of Abraham and Sarah at the oaks of Mamre, welcoming three strangers to their table?  What kinder words could be spoken to one walking in the heat of the wilderness, but those:  “Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread”

Others will remember the story of Joseph welcoming his father Jacob and brothers – those same brothers who once considered killing him only to sell him into slavery – Joseph welcoming Jacob and his brothers before Pharaoh.  What more remarkable welcome is there to offer than to welcome the very ones who had sold you off years ago?

And what of Boaz, watching protectively over Ruth as she follows behind his harvesters gleaning what they fail to pick?  What more life-giving words could be offered than his assurance of safety and sustenance to a destitute young woman?

These stories and countless others like them, remind us that welcome and its corollary, hospitality, are among the most ancient expressions and expectations of the Judeo-Christian faith.

Some among us will recall the once common Episcopal Church signs – “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”.  Over three thousand years have passed since those first strangers greeted Abraham, and yet we still recall the value and gift of welcome and hospitality as a community of faith!

But such an essential expression of our faith and our community, demands reflection now and again, and today’s lesson from Luke provides just the occasion. 

We must ask ourselves, what is Christian welcome?  What are the signs of Christian hospitality?

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be quick to note the many good things we do week in and week out, day in and day out even – every Sunday we open the great doors for all to see, we station ushers to pass out leaflets with the entire service printed out, we serve lemonade in the rose garden or coffee in the undercroft, we shake hands at the peace with those near to us.  Every Wednesday we offer a wonderful dinner available for all who come!  And every day, we provide warm coffee and cool water in the reception area for anyone, young and old, who ventures into our midst.  And let me assure you, no one is ever turned away! 

And as good as each of these practices is, we mustn’t confuse any of the things we do to be welcoming and hospitable, with actually being a community of welcome and hospitality.  In fact, if we dig into this morning lesson, we will quickly see that the Pharisee, in fact, has done all the same things!

The Pharisee at the center of the story has opened his house and welcomed in the guests.  Guests of all sorts are present – Pharisees like himself are there; Jesus and his disciples are there as well.  There is even a woman who is known within the community to be a prostitute most likely, but certainly a sinner of some repute.  Not only is she not turned away, nothing rude or in-hospitable is said to her! 

He has done all the right things – he has opened the door, he has set the table, and no one is sent away, even a sinner of known repute.

On the surface of things, he might even proudly say, “All are welcome.”

And yet, we know that is far from true.  For welcome is more than opening a door or serving a meal even.  Welcome, Christian Welcome at least, goes to the heart itself.  It is an expression of genuine openness to another, and couldn’t be more different than what is offered this day at the pharisee’s home.  He has hosted a party, that is true, but perhaps nothing more.

Against this backdrop, we see Jesus model another form of welcome and hospitality.  Jesus’ welcome is of the woman herself – he provides her no food or drink, no table, no rest from service – and yet, his is the genuine welcome!  In this brief exchange, Jesus becomes the host extending authentic welcome and hospitality to a woman overflowing with appreciation.  He does it not with anything more than his own love and appreciation.  You see, Jesus sees her, he receives her – not as the community wants her to be, not when she begins to reflect the values and way of the community that surrounds her, but just as she is.  In this brief exchange, Jesus receives the genuine gift she provides, honoring her.  Here in this encounter a whole world is turned upside down:

  • she who has spends each night selling herself to others out of desperation
  • she who the community scorns and turns away from in the light of day only to use at night
  • she who appears to have nothing
  • becomes the giver.

Here in this room, for just a few minutes, as Jesus becomes publically vulnerable, putting off pretense and prejudice, image and status, to receive her care – to receive her! – here in this room, a prostitute who spends her day as an object becomes a whole being, a woman, again, who has a gift to give, a gift worthy even for God.

Welcome and hospitality are at the heart of our tradition and our call – to bring God and people together, but they are far more than the things we do.  They are the heart we give, and the heart we receive. 

May our welcome and our hospitality, reflect the welcome and hospitality of Jesus himself – who welcomes first and always.