15th Sunday after Pentecost—Lectionary 22C—September 1, 2013
Preached at Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Two score and ten years ago, a pastor stood in front of hundreds of thousands of people and gave one of the most famous speeches…well really one of the most famous sermons ever.
Although Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke that day from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial instead of from a pulpit, he showed his passion for God’s gospel message of equality, justice, and freedom.
Although MLK referred to secular documents, such as the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of Independence, and the United States Constitution, he also invoked the biblical images of God’s justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream for all of God’s children. He spoke of every valley being exalted while every hill and mountain be made low, and the rough places are made plain and the crooked paths made straight. He echoed the prophets of old, saying that it is then and only then that “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
It is in this hope, this faith that MLK believes we are all “able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, [and] to stand up for freedom together”
Although he never uses the word, the way he balances standing together and struggling together, sounds a whole lot like hospitality to me. Hospitality is not about agreeing on everything or doing everything in exactly the same way, but it is about respecting differences, literally “loving the strange.” In Greek the word used in today’s reading from Hebrews translated hospitality is philoxenia, which is the opposite of xenophobia, which is fear of the foreigner/stranger.
What does it mean to love the strange?
Jesus offers one example of how to love the strange. How to embrace counter-cultural habits. How to invite, welcome, feed, and honor the least likely. For as history confirms time and time again, distinctions between groups of people, although inevitable and sometimes helpful in ordering society, commonly lead to the break down of true community—the kind of community that God yearns to have with us and for us to have with one another. When we neglect to love the strange, we miss out on all the beloved community has to offer; we miss seeing the kingdom of God.
Hebrews offers a couple of other suggestions of how to live a life that leaves room to love the stranger. Remember those who are in prisons of all kinds: federal, state, local, and the prisons of addiction, loneliness, illness, disability, language barriers, etc. In honoring marriages and not letting money exclusively drive out lives, relationships are more likely to thrive—and what a better environment—than a happy one—in which to incorporate others?
Mutual love does not mean that we ignore differences that exist, but that we include that difference into our community. As MLK put it “our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our soul”—that is loving the strange in our family, friends, neighbors, and strangers alike—“as well as a quantitative change in our lives”—those actions described in the rules for holding banquets, dealing with money, and following leaders.
Hospitality is not just an act we do; it is a way of being, a change of heart. Hospitality, both the act and the open mindset, is not something we must achieve in order to earn salvation or God’s favor, but it is a practice, a perspective, a way of life in which we are reminded of the openness of God’s grace and the wideness of God’s love. We are called to love the strange in others, because God first loves the strange in us.
So instead of using a 6’x8’ area, the average size of a prison cell in America to imprison ourselves and society through division, let us use it as God does, a table with an open invitation, where all are honored, beloved, and cared for. All are welcome at the Banquet of God, so bring the strange in you and the strange in your neighbor to be fed by God’s grace. Amen.