Welcoming Jesus

This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached today, the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time. For twenty weeks, my sermon themes will have to do with twenty Spiritual Gifts. Today’s gift is “Hospitality,” and the associated scripture passage was Luke 7:36–8:3.

Hospitality means welcoming people, going above and beyond to make them feel welcome, to make them feel comfortable, to make them feel loved. Hospitality was crucial in the time and place where Jesus lived. Good hospitality was an expected norm of society. There were things you just did for your guests. In today’s gospel reading, Simon the Pharisee did not do those things. He did not give Jesus water for his feet. He did not give him the kiss of welcome. He did not give him oil to wash his face. He did not do any of these things, and that meant that he was a bad host. And in this story, Jesus tells us why that is. Jesus teaches us where hospitality comes from.

He says that the reason we show hospitality to others is not because society tells us to. He says it’s because of gratitude. He says to Simon, do you see this woman? She is pouring not water but ointment on my feet. She is kissing me not once but many times. She is washing not only my face but my feet. She is showing me far more hospitality than you, and why is she doing that? Because her sins were many, and they were forgiven. And so she shows great love. She knew that Jesus forgave her sins, and in her gratitude she showered gifts upon him in an extraordinary way. She showed hospitality, she welcomed Jesus, she went above and beyond, because she was overcome with love and gratitude. Simon didn’t recognize his need for forgiveness. He didn’t recognize his need for anything. And he didn’t feel he owed Jesus anything, so he didn’t feel moved to welcome him in any particular way at all.

681px-Francken_Feast_in_the_house_of_Simon
“Feast in the House of Simon” by Frans Francken the Younger, 17th c.

What about us? Do we recognize what Jesus has done for us? The forgiveness? The grace? The unconditional love? The salvation? The meaning he provides for our lives? Do we recognize our ongoing need for these gifts, and do we recognize that he has indeed given them?

If we do, if we feel the gratitude that this woman felt, then how do we show it? After all, Jesus isn’t here in the flesh. We can’t pour ointment on his feet today. Or perhaps we can. Recall the story of the sheep and the goats, how Jesus told the sheep, “When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was in prison, you visited me.” And he told the goats, “You didn’t.” And the sheep and the goats both asked, “When was this? We never saw you!” Jesus told them, “Whenever you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” The least of these. The victims. The weak. The poor. The outcasts.

And recall our congregation’s purpose statement: We, the people of Prince of Peace Evangelical Lutheran Church, will actively seek and serve Christ in all people. Where is Christ today? We proclaim that we seek him in all people. And so we do encounter Jesus every day. We are given opportunities every day to show him hospitality. To welcome him, to go above and beyond.

But that’s really hard to remember, and hard to do. It’s really hard to see beyond whatever is on the surface of most people we encounter. It was hard for Simon the Pharisee when he saw that woman. He said: “If Jesus were a prophet, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner.” That’s all she was to him. A sinner. He did not see her as a full human being, but as one thing: a sinner. He could not see beyond that, to what was inside her. All he saw was the surface. He couldn’t see where Christ dwelt within her.

And Simon the Pharisee has a long line of followers on this. For centuries, scholars and other readers of this story have done the exact same thing to this woman. You know how? By telling us what her sin is. For centuries, everyone has known that this woman is a prostitute. It says so in the Bible, doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t. But commentaries and sermons and scholars have suggested that for centuries. She must have been a prostitute. You know why? Because she’s a woman, and she’s a sinner. What other sin could a woman commit? You know who wrote all these commentaries and sermons? Men. Men who couldn’t imagine that there was anything to a woman beyond her gender. Who couldn’t imagine that there was anything to a woman beyond sex. All they saw was the surface. And the problem wasn’t just that they treated this woman in the story that way. It was that they treated all women that way. Women were defined by their gender, not by anything else.

We still do this today. How many times have you heard that Hillary Clinton could be the first woman president? I don’t recall learning that George Washington was the first “man president.”

To all of you who are women: I am sorry. I am sorry for the way that men have demeaned you and sexualized you and kept you down. I am sorry for anything I have done that has contributed to that. You are more than your gender. You are a bearer of Christ’s light, and you deserve better than that. And as a forgiven child of God, I am trying to seek and serve the Christ who dwells in you.

I’m reminded of something the Reconciling in Christ core group has said. They’ve said that they hope that we do not remain a congregation that is tolerant of people who are LGBTQ. They hope that we grow into a congregation that is accepting of people who are LGBTQ. Acceptance means saying that even though your sexuality is different than mine, I believe that Christ dwells within you just as Christ dwells within me. Acceptance means that you are more than your sexuality. Acceptance means that you don’t have to hide who you are anymore, because who you are is a child of God. And as a forgiven child of God myself, I will seek and serve the Christ who is in you. I believe that hospitality looks like acceptance. That is why I am in favor of becoming Reconciling in Christ.

And this is actually good news to us all. It means that you don’t have to hide who you are. Whatever you are hiding today, hospitality means that you don’t have to hide it. That we will accept you exactly as you are, because behind all the guilt and worry, all the secrets, whatever they are, you are God’s child, and Christ dwells within you. And Christ forgives you for all that you have done wrong. All of it. Just as Christ has forgiven me.

We are striving to make that acceptance, that welcoming, that hospitality a culture here at Prince of Peace. And that comes much easier to some of us than to others. It comes easier to those who have the spiritual gift of Hospitality. Thank God for each of you who have that gift! The rest of us need to rely on you. We need to rely on you to notice when we as a congregation, or as individuals, fail at being welcoming. We need you to tell us gently yet firmly when we miss the boat. And we need to rely on you to take the lead in helping us always grow more welcoming, more hospitable, better at seeking Christ in all people. Better at showing our gratitude for all that Christ has done for us. Thank you for all you have done. Keep up the good work.

Amen.

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