O God, you declare your almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity: mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace, that we, running the way of your commandments, may receive your gracious promises, and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
God of glory, the end of our searching, help us to lay aside all that prevents us from seeking your kingdom, and to give all that we have to gain the pearl beyond all price, through our Saviour Jesus Christ.
1 Alleluia. Blessed are those who fear the Lord
and have great delight in his commandments.
2 Their descendants will be mighty in the land,
a generation of the faithful that will be blest.
3 Wealth and riches will be in their house,
and their righteousness endures for ever.
4 Light shines in the darkness for the upright;
gracious and full of compassion are the righteous.
5 It goes well with those who are generous in lending
and order their affairs with justice,
6 For they will never be shaken;
the righteous will be held in everlasting remembrance.
7 They will not be afraid of any evil tidings;
their heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
8 Their heart is sustained and will not fear,
until they see the downfall of their foes.
9 They have given freely to the poor;
their righteousness stands fast for ever;
their head will be exalted with honour.
10 The wicked shall see it and be angry;
they shall gnash their teeth in despair;
the desire of the wicked shall perish.
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence,
‘The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can anyone do to me?’
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Hebrews 13:1–8, 15–16
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honour, he told them a parable. ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honour, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’
Luke 14:1, 7–14
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 11
We Anglicans have really understood this parable we read today, don’t we? After all, don’t we all sidle into the pews further back when we get to church? Don’t we all want to be far away from the front – out of the limelight? However, I wonder whether our motivation for these least of the places in this gathering of people is because of humility. Do we really hope that someone will say to us, “Friend, come up here. Come to the front and sit by my side here”? – No, I don’t think so.
Rather, I think we all like to sit back further because we don’t want to show how involved we are. We don’t want to show any enthusiasm, which sitting up close to the action of worship would reveal. I am just the same. If I were not dressed in these funny clothes, I would love to be at the back with everyone else. However, on the other hand, I am glad to be at the front, in spite of my frock.
I have always found this reading from Luke to be a very poignant lesson, for I am always just slipping in to a gathering, to the table nearest the door, or in the far corner of the room where people don’t necessarily want to be. After all, the buffet is over there where all the important people are. In one sense, I suppose I have always taken what Jesus says here to heart. After all, I have found that on these humbler tables there is always good conversation and no one is there to make their mark on the event. The host is the one who will have to choose between us all, all of his friends who have gathered together, as to who will sit where. – I suppose I want the host to call out to me, I want him to call me, “Friend!” in front of everyone else – but I also want my host to recognise all of his friends at table with him. I am happy to be singled out to be called Friend, but I need not move at all, because I know I am one friend among many friends. My host has called out to me, and the company has heard the acknowledgement. What more do I need?
So it should be whenever we gather with our friends. There is no preferred place at these gatherings, because we are all friends, we have all been invited and so we have to recognise that all of us are valued guest-friends in this gathering – I suppose I am saying no one is more important than any one else.
There is a hubris when “the guests choose the places of honour.” Jesus decried it when he was invited to the rabbi’s home. He castigated them all with that parable, didn’t he? He was telling them in no uncertain terms that we should be self-effacing. It is not up to us to raise our own value over others. Rather, he tells us,
When your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.
Others should value us and elevate us. Jesus is telling us that we will be honoured because of who we are, not whom we think we are. I think it goes with what the writer to the Hebrews is telling us as well.
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Paul says, love doesn’t puff up, doesn’t he? And when friends get together, no one is any better than any one else. We are all just friends gathered together. Our host has picked us all to be with him to share our mutual love for him and consequently our love for one another.
This love gives rise to hospitality, and hospitality is unbounded. In the eastern mediterranean area, hospitality is very important. In classical Greek, the word for strangers is “xenos” – and it has a very particular meaning, the xenos is a guest-friend. The stranger is protected by hospitality. It is a very different model of the stranger than the one we have today, don’t you think? But it is a notion I would like to revive, for it would help us so much.
When the stranger is offered hospitality, the gift of food and drink, a safe place to stay for a time, don’t we show some sort of mutual love? I would suggest that that mutual love will call out the best from the stranger, so that he or she will become a friend. Why – strangers may even be angels who visit us. Wouldn’t that be a surprise! Would we behave badly to angels if we knew they were sitting beside us? Or would we not give Jesus succour when he was in need? And you remember his saying about that, don’t you? When you offer the poor alms, you offer Jesus a gift. But we have heard that sermon before.
Here we have the notion of hospitality writ large before us in the letter to the Hebrews, written in the form of mutual love. This is exactly what Jesus is talking about when we are amongst our friends. Everyone is valued, and no one wishes to take precedence over anyone else. Someone does have to sit on the top table or in a special seat, but that is less because I think I deserve it, than it is because you think I deserve it.
The writer of the epistle suggests we should be content, doesn’t he? And so does Jesus. We should be content with who we are, where we are. We should be content to be the very best we can be. The party can in fact go on without me, can’t it? The host is the one who makes the party.
It is Jesus who has called this gathering today, not the priest nor the PCC. Jesus has valued us enough to call us out of the boring routine of the everyday to join together and acknowledge the value of everyone around us. That is what Jesus is talking about in his parable – and I think that the epistle also conveys this message.
So when we go to church, perhaps we should gravitate to the front because we are really all called to this great feast of faith – to enjoy each other’s company as mutual friends of Christ, whose mutual love conveys a hospitality to all which the world cannot offer.
I think we should be encouraging everyone else to join us up here. We are all friends here, and we all know how valuable we feel when we meet with one another around this holy table, where we experience the presence of something far greater than anything we can conceive of ourselves.
I suppose that is why we really just slip in at the back at church, isn’t it? That we know there is an amazing grace which calls us forward every day and we are humbled to be here with friends to give thanks.