Sermon 14th after Trinity 2016
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke14: 1, 7-14
I love the beginning of today’s Epistle, the letter to the Hebrews.
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
I love the thought that there may be angels in our midst, and so it’s a sad thought that we might miss out on meeting them, because we find it difficult to open ourselves up to strangers.
I think the media has much to do with this. If we think life is just what we read in the newspapers, then every stranger is to be looked on with suspicion. Yet it’s a fact that more abuse and murder is done by people who are not strangers to the victim.
Church is a place where we hope to meet strangers, we want strangers to join our congregations and become part of us, not strangers anymore, yet we are not always good at welcoming, we are not unfriendly but often shy or reserved. Yet strangers need to be welcomed if we want to build our churches, but they also need to be welcomed because they could be angels.
In the Rule of St Benedict, all are to welcome strangers as if they were Christ, because we do not know if it is indeed Christ we are welcoming.
First impressions are a strong indicator to us as to whether we should welcome or not.
A friend who is a priest was part of the interviewing process for a new vicar for their benefice. There were two candidates one was a normal looking chap with a beard and dressed as vicars normally do, and the other chap had long hair in a ponytail and quite unorthodox in his dress sense.
My friend and a couple of others spent half an hour with each candidate as the panel deliberated before giving their decision. At the end of the time my friend and the others fed back to the panel. In getting to know the unorthodox chap they warmed to him, enjoyed his sense of humour and his easy manner and decided that he was the best person for the post. The panel had other ideas and were quite shocked at what was being fed back.
The other person got the job. And my friend and colleagues couldn’t change the panels mind. But sadly they hadn’t got to know the side to him that the others did.
First impressions make us or break us depending on the impression given.
How many good people have we dismissed because of first impressions? How many angels have we not entertained?
Some of the people I like best did not give me a good impression and I bet many of you can look back and agree with that. Yet if we hadn’t taken time to get to know them we would’ve missed out on important friendships.
Jesus is not put off by first impressions, look at the people he spent time with. He mended broken people, he healed the sick, he didn’t condemn people because they did things wrong or they were different. He didn’t choose those who looked respectable, he chose his friends from humble, lowly people and sinners.
Jesus sees past first impressions and knows our hearts. Jesus said I will never leave you or forsake you, and so we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid, what can anyone do to me? Jesus takes time to know us. He loves us even if we are not angels. And this has always been God’s way. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Christ has been reconciling us to God from the beginning and will go on doing so.
Yet we are given warnings about things that get in the way of a relationship with God one of these is the love of money. In the scripture passage we are advised “keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have.”
Yet the passage is about much more than giving alms it is about being hospitable; we can quite easily give money to faceless people but to engage in a relationship with a stranger is difficult.
God does not forsake us and he doesn’t want us to forsake others.
If we treat people as if they could be angels, perhaps those who are far off might be encouraged to seek the God we seek. Amen