Welcoming each other’s gifts

Sermon St Mary’s Marlborough, 1st September 
Eleventh Sunday after Trinity: Hebrews 13.1-8,15,16 & Luke 14.1, 7-14

trinityI have to admit and apologise that this week my mind has been not so much on preparing a sermon for Sunday, but I have been preoccupied with finalising the arrangements for the Get There! holiday club. Both of these problems, of course, could have been solved by better and more thorough planning, but equally, it was a good distraction from what is happening politically at the moment.

Looking at this morning’s readings, one could say that they present us with a practical rather than theoretical model of what it means to be Church, of what it means to be followers of Christ. It is a model very much based on hospitality, and not just welcoming those we know, but also those we don’t necessarily know very well.

When it comes to the Gospel reading, I think it is important to approach it in a practical rather than theoretical way. If we try to read the parable to literally, we end up looking for the lowest place, it thereby becoming the place of honour. An example of this is Church processions, in which the most senior person walks at the back. It doesn’t take long for people to seek the tail end of the procession.

Of course, that is not what Jesus is trying to say. The message is that we need to be willing to focus on the needs of other rather than what we need or want ourselves. As soon as we all start doing that, we realise that it doesn’t matter any longer where we sit or who is the most distinguished: true care and hospitality will help us achieve an equality that makes us flourish.

Equality is something that is also often misunderstood as everyone needing to be or to have the same. But this would be, in the image of the parable, everyone sitting in the same place, which is not ideal. An equality that makes us flourish, however, is finding a situation in which everyone’s needs are fulfilled, but maybe even more importantly, a situation in which everyone’s gifts and talents are honoured.

That is what has struck me about the holiday club, maybe particularly this year: everyone has something to offer. Some people were able to give a financial contribution, others made cakes or helped telling the story; yet others used their skills in making the artwork, sitting with children, or got soaking wet during the final water fight. And not only the adults had a lot to offer, but also the children themselves: the fun and laughter they shared, the sometimes perceptive comments they made, and of course, is there a better compliment than to hear a 7-year old say “the lemon-drizzle is my favourite!”.

Hospitality, sharing God’s abundance, is at the heart of our faith. Yes, alongside it, we do want to tell the story of Jesus, but by sharing what we have and who we are, in the words of the letter to the Hebrews we can entertain angels without knowing it. Although, I guess, we do know it, because hospitality, mutual love, is something that makes us feel good, we are blessed as we give.

So we see that the pattern of true giving and receiving goes far beyond an economic transaction, and also far beyond what it means to be distinguished or honoured. When we give as freely as we have received, and are in turn able to receive when others give, we see that we are all welcome at the same table, and that there is always enough for everyone. God’s hospitality, God’s generosity is greater than we can ever imagine, and it is that hospitality we share.

Perhaps not a bad way of looking at our relationships in Europe too?

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