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This weeks sermon

Humility & Hospitality Hebrews 13:1-8; 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14

A man received a promotion to the position of Vice President of the company he worked for. The promotion went to his head, and for weeks on end he bragged to anyone and everyone that he was now VP. His bragging came to an abrupt halt when his wife, so embarrassed by his behaviour, said, "Listen Bob, it's not that big a deal. These days everyone's a vice president. Why they even have a vice prsident of peas down at the supermarket!"
Somewhat deflated, Bob rang the local supermaket to find out if this was true. "Can I speak to the Vice President of peas please?" he asked, to which the reply came: "of fresh or frozen?"

Humility and Hospitality
Today’s readings are about humility and hospitality. In the gospel reading Jesus was invited to a Pharisee’s house for dinner on the Sabbath. Luke tells us how Jesus’ responded to the situation in which he found himself. In the letter to the Hebrews the Christian community is given some basic rules for living which included guidance on true hospitality and encouragement to humility as ways of letting mutual love continue.

In the gospel reading there is a rather ominous phrase: “they were watching him closely”. Jesus was invited for a meal, but it was a sinister hospitality – he was only invited in order for his opponents to watch him closely. However the hosts were, as it were, hoisted on their own petard: whilst they tried watching Jesus so as to catch him out, he was observing them more closely than they realised. Luke tells us that Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honour and then went on to challenge their behaviour. He concluded: all who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Then he went boldly to his original host and, as it were, blew his cover. It is as if Jesus were saying: it is generous of you to entertain others with your hospitality, but if you want to be unmistakably generous, then invite those who have no way of returning your hospitality – in that way you will find yourself enjoying the hospitality of heaven.

True hospitality
Mother Teresa was once asked by an interviewer: "What's the biggest problem in the world today?" Without hesitating she replied, "The biggest problem in the world today is that we draw the circle of our family too small. We need to draw it larger every day." (Reported by Brett Blair January 2002.)

Personally I find these readings about humility and hospitality and letting mutual love continue extremely challenging. To pronounce much more on them gives me the feeling that I could easily fall into a trap I’ve laid for myself – I am all too aware of my own failings. So I would like to share a story which speaks like a parable – speaks for itself and leaves us thinking further.

An unusual birthday party
It was one of the most extraordinary birthday parties ever held. Not it wasn't in a plush ballroom of a grand hotel. No there weren't famous celebrities, nor anyone rich or powerful. It was held at 3am in a small seedy cafe in Honolulu, the guest of honour was a prostitute, the fellow guests were prostitutes, and the man who threw it was a Christian minister!
The idea came to Christian minister Tony Campolo very early one morning as he sat in the cafe and overheard a fellow diner lament the fact that not only was it her birthday tomorrow but that she'd never had a birthday party. She was a prostitute called Agnes and her friends showed her little sympathy.
Tony however thought it would be a great idea to surprise Agnes with a birthday party. Learning from the cafe owner that the girls came in every morning around 3.30am Tony agreed with him to set the place up for a party. Word somehow got out on the street, so that by 3.15 the next morning the place was packed with prostitutes, the cafe owner and his wife, and Tony.
When Agnes walked in she saw streamers, balloons, the cafe owner holding a birthday cake, and everyone screaming out "Happy Birthday!". Agnes was overwhelmed. The tears poured down her face as the crowd sang Happy Birthday.
It was a birthday party rarely seen in Honolulu - thrown by a Christian minister for a 39 year old prostitute who had never had anyone go out of their way to do something like this and who expected nothing in return. Indeed, so surprising was this turn of events that the cafe owner found it hard to believe there were churches that would do this sort of thing, but if there were then that's the sort of church he'd be prepared to join.
(Reported in Tony Campolo The Kingdom of God is a Party.)

In that seedy little bar Tony Campolo made God’s grace came to life, bringing love, generosity of spirit and warmth to Agnes though she had done nothing to earn it from them. Tony was a Christ figure in that seedy little cafe. The Gospels tell us that when Christ was on earth it was the Agnes' of this world that he surrounded himself with. It was his habit to eat with tax collectors and "sinners", extending to them the welcome of God. In this story we see the triumph of grace over being judgmental. Tony could see beyond Agnes' lack of respectability to the wounded, needy person she was.

May we learn true humility and practise true hospitality by God’s grace!

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith



Almighty God,
you search us and know us:
may we rely on you in strength
and rest on you in weakness,
now and in all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.