New Testament Reading: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Gospel Reading: Luke 14:1, 7-14
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more and than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.
For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
My mother used to say, “Everyone is a good example of something … even if it is a good example of a bad example.” My father died when I was about four years old, so my mother was my main example for the early part of my life. Mom dropped out before high school, when her mother became too ill to handle all the duties of a household of nine children. And yet she was one of the most intelligent people I have ever known. It was her example of reading … devouring everything that she could … that got me hooked on books. Word games and puzzles were a big part of our lives. From her I also inherited a sardonic way at looking at life.
She was also a good example of a bad example in some ways also. She had a very negative attitude and tended to focus on and relish the bad news of the day. And … uh .. er … my first cigarettes were also stolen from her. She paid the price for the smokes by having to live with emphysema in later years.
She wasn’t my only example of how to live. My brother (seventeen years older) was a bully and abusive to his family. He was the bad example that I swore to not duplicate with my own family. Over the years many people have been good examples for me. I will be eternally grateful to a man named Ernie for being an excellent example of a Christian man. There are others of course. Some have passed over to their reward. Dick was an example of true humility to me. He was so obviously led by the Lord and yet he shied from taking any credit for what he did. Lester was a man who loved the Lord deeply and loved to talk about him. Elmer radiated such love that it was infectious. There are others here, still living, that I would embarrass if I mentioned their names that have been examples of devotion and service to me.
We need these good examples in our lives because the world is full of the other kind of example. We live in a world surrounded by examples of hate, lust, betrayal and greed. We are bombarded by enticements to live lives that are abhorrent to God and counter to the teachings of Christ and the saints of old. The airwaves and internet carry photos, videos and words that would make the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorra blush. This is the world that we live in and it is hard to escape its influence.
To combat the negative influences in life, there are those that follow a religious teaching that separates them from the secular world. And maybe for some that is the path they need to follow.
But I see in Christ the example of going boldly into that worldly world and taking the Kingdom of God with him. That idea was not widely accepted in his day … nor is it in ours. Mostly the righteous in that day and this abstain from associating with “That type of People”. However, Jesus would go where the need was greatest. In that day, he went to where the sick were and healed them. He went to where the outcasts were and invited them in. He went where the downtrodden were and gave them hope. He went where the sinners were and forgave them.
I can imagine him in our world today going into a pool hall, grabbing a queue, striking up a conversation with someone and then telling a parable that would reveal their life to them in way that they had never seen. He would be on Facebook and his comments would be conversation starters and thought starters that would lead others to discovering God for themselves. You see, he was IN the world in every sense of the term and yet wherever he went, the Kingdom of God was there also.
In today’s gospel reading Luke records that Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath. This is a contrast to the time that Jesus went to the house of Levi, a tax collector and had a meal with Levi and his tax collector friends and other sinners. This upset the Pharisees to no end and they asked his disciples why their master would do such a thing. Jesus heard this and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
It is amazing that one of the leaders of the Pharisees would even invite Jesus to his home. It could be that he was truly interested in what Jesus had to say (there were some who followed his teachings) or possibly this was seen as a chance to ‘ambush’ Jesus while surrounded by the religious leaders. If that was the plan, it was a tactical mistake on their part. Over and over in the gospels we see Jesus at conflict with the Pharisees. He berates them for leading the people of God astray by teaching custom and human precepts as if they were the Word of God. He accuses them of being so bound by the law that they were hindering the Spirit of God. He sees that they are counting out the tiniest seeds of spice and making sure that one tenth is dedicated to God. He points out that this is not the kind of giving that God wants. He sees them making public spectacles of themselves with their prayers and tells them that they should go into a secret closet and pray to God in secret. Here, in today’s gospel reading, he tells them, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” That is the kind of giving that God truly blesses. While he is at the banquet he gives an object lesson about how we should live our lives. Not seeking glory among and from men, but seeking to be about God’s work and being glorified by God.
In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul echoes that by saying, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.:
Do Good: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.
Share what you have: Perhaps you think that you don’t have enough to share, perhaps it is just a small lunch of fish and bread. You get the idea, share what you have and God can work a miracle with it. Our resources are limited but his are limitless. There is no limit to what can be accomplished when we give to God. He is the infinite multiplier.
` Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Help those less fortunate. If God has given you a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, share the excess; that is the reason it was given to you. Your cup will only hold so much don’t let the overflow go to waste.
Whoa! It is beginning to sound like a Stewardship moment.
But we are talking about sharing the love of God which is much more than giving of our wealth and possessions. Paul says, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Or in the words of Jesus, “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.”
Paul even says, “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” This teaching goes beyond simply visiting those in prison or putting a Band-Aid on the tortured. It means fully imagine yourself in their shoes. Now image, what is the one thing that you need most? That is what you need to provide for the imprisoned and tortured.
Next, Paul has some simple advice about marriage: “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” That is pretty blunt and straightforward. Marriage is a sacred vow made before and including God. Honor and protect the marriage in all ways. Think of those who have shown you what a Christian marriage is and how it operates in this degenerate world. I will warn you, don’t look for perfection, but look for a marriage that is built on a strong Christian faith. That is the kind of marriage that endures.
“Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”” The biggest secret here is to be less concerned about the accumulation of wealth and more interested in the way to best use what you have. By all means, be content with what we have … but let us not be lazy about it. The master always expects an increase on what he gave us. Remember the parable of the three slaves who were given talents by the master before he went on a journey. Two returned the talent with an increase and were called “good” and given responsibility over more. The one who returned only what the master had given was called “wicked” and stripped of what he had. “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” is the way John Wesley put it.
Paul writes that if we live our lives this way … if we follow the example that Christ has shown us … “We can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” That is another way of saying, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Do not misinterpret that to mean, “If God is for us everything will just wonderful from now on.” Not in this broken world. We will still face the trials and tribulations of life. However, God will not forsake us. He will be with us. We have a hope that goes beyond this world and this life. It is in these darker times that we truly need those good examples to follow.
Paul says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Look to your personal heroes for guidance. What did they do when times were tough? How did they get out of the pit, or through the fire or through the flood both real and symbolic? Look to Christ as the perfect example and do your best, with God’s help, to measure to that yardstick because, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
“Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.” God loves to hear our praises. I love it when my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren tell me that they love me. So does God! Let your love shine. And be an example of the Love of God to those around you.
Charles Wesley, who wrote this poem that became the hymn, “Jesus, Lord, We Look to Thee” and summed it up really well in a very few lines of verse. “Make us of one heart and mind, gentle, courteous, and kind, lowly, meek, in thought and word, altogether like our Lord. Let us for each other care, each the other’s burden bear, to thy church the pattern give, show how true believers live.”
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