Preached by Mrs Kate Bowers on 17th July 2016
Those of you who receive our weekly email may have noticed that it had the title – ‘Hospitality Sunday’. Hospitality Sunday does not appear in the church calendar! It just seems to sum up the readings we have heard this morning. Hospitality is a very important element of life in the Middle East. This is not surprising, given the hostile terrain of large stretches of waterless desert and hot sun. Such hospitality for us has become a victim of modern urban living. We only open our doors to our own family or people we know well. Our houses are constantly locked, even when we are at home. There are peepholes, cameras, alarms. Strangers can no longer be trusted. One wonders if this is a step forward in our so-called civilised, cultured, developed and sophisticated society?
On this Sunday when the focus of the readings is on hospitality it is a delight to welcome friends from Lahnstein. The relationship and friendships forged between our two towns are perhaps more important than ever at a time when Britain has decided to withdraw from the EU.
The story we heard for the first lesson was from the book of Genesis. It is a wonderful story which somehow feels as ancient as it is and has a mystical quality about it.
Abraham was a nomad living in a tent moving with his family, servants and livestock from place to place according to where grazing and water could be found.
So here is Abraham sitting at the entrance of his tent when God calls in or perhaps God and a couple of His mates? Some commentators suggest this is the trinity, other that it is God and two angels, but that is not the point of the story. The point is that God often comes into our lives unexpectedly, unannounced and sometimes unrecognised. How important it is then to be alert – watching out for God at work in our lives and in others.
When my family moved in to a vicarage in Enfield, North London, there was a small strip of paper with the words: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. Heb 13:1-8” sellotaped to the inside of the front door. That slip of paper stayed in place throughout our 15 years living there. Enfield was on a route taken by travellers –out of London for the summer months and back into London for the winter and those words served as a reminder to us that in as much as we welcomed the least of these we welcomed Christ.
Abraham offered hospitality to these strangers – the chance to rest under a tree, water to wash themselves and he orders Sarah to prepare food for them. This hospitality does not go unrewarded.
Abraham is told that Sarah will have a son! One day last week I had a meeting with a rep arranged and so I went to the School office to let the receptionist know where I would be – but I made the mistake of going in and saying, “I’m expecting……” The laughter this caused is the same reaction Sarah had on overhearing this promise – to her this was an impossibility!
When we welcome God in our lives He may well surprise us.
In our Gospel reading it is Jesus who is the guest. Not in this case an unexpected guest; Jesus seems to have been a frequent visitor at the home of Lazarus, Martha and Mary.
Many of us can feel a lot of sympathy for Martha slaving away in the kitchen while her sister just sits at Jesus’ feet. I imagine her banging pots and pans together – stirring with extra vigour, hoping that it will be noticed that she is doing all the work! Then when she complains Jesus’ response is not the one she was looking for!
Jesus does not condemn Martha for trying to be a good hostess – instead he draws attention to how worried and distracted she is. She has got things out of perspective and is so anxious about the catering arrangements that she has lost sight of why she is doing them in the first place.
Sometimes in we can become so busy doing things that we are in danger of losing sight of what is most important in life. Am I so busy doing many things that I do not have time for God? Has love faded or disappeared?
Mary was listening to Jesus; her hospitality was shown not in what she did but in her attentiveness to his words. “Doing” can be easier than listening. How do we listen to God? How can we hear His voice?
I think the first step is expecting Him to speak – take just one day this week and pay special attention to what God is saying to you. He may speak to you through people you meet, through something of beauty, through a voice inside your head, through something in the news, through our reading of Scripture, remembering that we may not recognise Him immediately.
In this time when as a church we are awaiting the arrival of our new Rector we would do well to attend to what God is saying to us, to what new things He is calling us, what transformations He is working in us as individuals and as a church community. God may well surprise us!