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Pentecost 15C Sermon
Hebrews 13: 1-16, Luke 14: 1-14

August 28, 2016

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

In our second lesson from Hebrews 13, one of the Greek words for love, “philos” is used as the root for three different words. In the very first line we are encouraged that mutual love continue. That word in Greek – Philadelphia – literally means, “brotherly love.” Not all Christians in the first century were related, but they were taught to live in what is sometimes called, “fictive kinship” – in other words, live and treat each other like you are family. So, keep loving each other like family – Philadelphia – live out a brotherly love for each other.

The second usage comes right after that one, and the Greek word, “philaxenia” is translated, “show hospitality to strangers.” Hospitality literally means, “lovefor the stranger.” It is not enough to love those who you know and are called to treat as family; you are encouraged to love the stranger because in doing so, you are showing love to angels without knowing it.

The final word with “philos” as the root is what is translated as, “love of money”: philarguros. But as the word appears in our text, it has an “a” in front of it, which makes it literally mean, “anti-love of money.” Live your lives with the anti-love of money, and be content with what you have. I will never leave you or forsake you. Live a love for your friends and neighbors as if they were your family, a love for the strangers, and without a love of money. Philadelphia, philaxenia, aphilarguros. This is something that the Christian church has been encouraging for centuries, and it is all very easy to say in the abstract, theoretical world of theology, but how does the rubber hit to road in our lives and in the life of the church?

It seems to me that the best example of the first mutual love is when we eat together as a church family. This will happen twice today, once when you all come forward with your hands open and I place a small piece of bread in your hands with the words, “The Body of Christ, given for you.” And then you will move and you will receive a small glass of wine with the words, “The Blood of Christ, shed for you.” We will all receive roughly the same amount of the same food – there are no divisions between genders, races or socio-economic status here. We are family. This is the banquet that is thrown and hosted by Jesus, and we are the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind who come forward for refreshment. And in response, we are called to do the same, hosting those who cannot repay just as we cannot repay God for the goodness of this meal. Then, the next great example is the Lutheran Church Potluck, where there are no places of honor, no one will be asked to move up or back, all are welcome no matter if they slaved over a stove for hours, merely went to the store and bought some chips, or just showed up and got in line to partake in the goodness of our congregation’s generosity. No one will be turned away, because we love one another as if we are family!

One of those things that we could call the epitome of philaxenia is the hunger walk/food drive yesterday. Those people who received the bag at their door a week ago and decided to place food items in it to be picked up yesterday, they do not know who will receive the food that they donate. None of us who walked or drove, picked up bags, carried signs, prepared meals or anything will know who will receive food for meals in the coming days at the CRC Food Pantry. But we share this love even for strangers because we know that we are called to do this, and that God uses us to feed and care for those who are hungry and hurting in our communities. We are to consider it a privilege to do things like this, because we are in the presence of angels when we show hospitality to those that we do not know, or may not even see.

Examples are plentiful for how a person can live out the, “anti-love of money.” For many it would entail making our lives simpler, eliminating the things that we have that we do not truly need. But it also has to do with us realizing that we have a certain obligation as a Christian family to not consider our money, material belongings or even our building and facilities as something to be worshiped or protected at all costs. I once heard a sermon by the founder of Group Publishing House, Mike Yacanelli, talking about the, “Jones Memorial Carpet.” Evidently, one church heknew of had a lounge which was practically guarded with an armed sentry – anyone who wanted to use it had to have special permission because the family of Mrs. Jones paid to have all new fancy furniture and beautiful white carpeting installed in her memory. One Friday night the youth of the church were having a lock-in, and the leader (who was new and didn’t have full knowledge of the history of the church) got into the Jones Memorial Lounge. They were sitting, standing, running around playing games, and then he started serving red punch to the teenagers. Well, you can guess what was the inevitable outcome – punch was spilled, and the next day when it was discovered, heads were going to roll.The pastor was called in by the property trustees to confront the new youth director. When they had presented the case, the pastor thought for a moment, looked at the youth director, then at his accusers, and said, “Let me get this straight: On a Friday night a bunch of teenagers were in this church building instead of running around in the streets, enjoying themselves in a Christian atmosphere with a positive role model, and some of them spilled red punch on the Jones Memorial Carpeting? Thanks be to God!” That pastor knew the value of the time that this youth director had with these young people was far greater than a carpet which had barely been walked on out of the fear of getting it dirty, and he knew that ministry and relationships are more important than keeping things spotless-clean. I know that the Kid’s Club doesn’t always leave things tidy here, and our building probably needs a little more maintenance attention, and I will keep on encouraging them to do their part … but I say, “thanks be to God,” that we are able to provide a safe place for young people to go after school and in the summer with positive role models.

We are encouraged to live out a kind of love that we share with those who are like family to us, with strangers, and in a way that doesn’t value money or possessions above relationships and outreach. Pair these with Jesus’ parable and teachings about banquets in today’s Gospel, and it is evident that we are called to live lives of faithful humility. As I shared with the young people, humility isn’t thinking less of oneself, but thinking of oneself less! God thinks the world of us, that is why we are entrusted with this ministry of thinking of others more. Friends, let us love the world just as God has loved us! Amen.