Or, The Importance of a Chocolate Chip Cookie
This is my manuscript for my sermon for our Joint Worship Service at Longwood Park. Approximately 80 people were in attendance. The lessons for my message are: Genesis 18:1-5; Hebrews 13:1-2; Leviticus 19:17-18, 33-34; Luke 14:12-14 and Matthew 25:31-46, and follow pictures at the end of my message.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I flew into Wausau airport on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 24th, 2011 and was picked up by Russ Dean in preparation of meeting the call committee of Our Savior’s and Emmanuel for a dinner meeting later that night. Apparently, that meeting went well, or not too terrible, because they later voted to recommend calling me. The next day, Chuck Peterson took me back to the airport in Wausau, and after a few delays and flying through a thunderstorm I landed in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in the early hours of Thursday morning, and drove back to Gettysburg.
By 6:30 p.m. that day, May 26th, 2011, I was sobbing uncontrollably in a Burger King in Toledo.
After a few hours of sleep on the 26th, I loaded up my car, and drove from Gettysburg to Saginaw. My mother was having another heart procedure, and I needed to get back for that. As I was starting to hit rush hour Toledo traffic, I noticed that the Blazer was starting to be difficult to steer. It was as if the power steering had lost power. I got off of the expressway and tried to find a place to get off the road safely. I happened to find a tire store, and managed to fight to get the car parked.
I went in to ask the people if they could help me, and described what was wrong. They said it sounded like the rack and pinion system had failed. I didn’t think that could be because I just had it replaced not a month earlier. But they said they would look at it, but on Tuesday. Their technicians were already gone for the Memorial Day weekend.
So, to recap:
I called my friend Monica to beg her to come and pick me up, and I called a neighbor in Gettysburg who had my spare key to reassure me of the stuff I left behind.
Then I began to cry. In my defense, I was under just a little bit of stress.
I must have been a sight. A wet guy with 3 pieces of mismatched luggage, sobbing at the back of a Burger King.
The word in Greek that we translate as hospitality (philo xenia) is a combined word meaning love, brotherly love, for foreigners or strangers. The passages I selected as our readings all reflect on different aspects of hospitality.
Abraham was visited by three strangers, whom he took to be messengers from God (they were) and offered them hospitality. As was the culture of his time and place, he offered them water, both to drink and to wash their feet. He said he would bring them bread if they wanted, and they said that would be good.
What happened next is that he told Sarah, his wife, to make loaves of bread, because none was ready. He had a servant slaughter a calf, then brought his guests water, milk, and because he must have been from Wisconsin, he also brought cheese curds.
It was at this time that his guests told him that he would soon have a child with Sarah, and through the child, the promised blessings from God of land and a great nation would come.
These are the visitors referenced in the letter to the Hebrews, that some visitors may be angels, or messengers of God, unknown to us.
We are familiar with one of the passages from Leviticus. It is from where Jesus drew his reference to the commandment that is like the Greatest Commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
But we are less familiar with the similar language, just 16 verses later, “You shall love the alien as yourself.” The command to love the alien or foreigner in our midst comes with an explanation, “for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
You know what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land. You know what it was to be mistreated. You know how it felt to be treated kindly. Because of that sensitivity, treat the stranger well.
The Gospel passages should be familiar. We heard this from Luke earlier this year, that we shouldn’t invite people to our homes so we can be paid back, but instead should invite those who cannot pay us back, those to whom an invitation to a home would be an honor, “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” Take care of those whom society has pushed to the margins.
The passage that I read is the last public teaching that Matthew records in his Gospel. On the steps of the Temple, Jesus tells a parable of the work that God expects of the faithful. What often goes unnoticed is that the sheep didn’t even realize what they did. “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
I think the explanation from Leviticus is key. The Israelites, and us, are to treat the resident alien, the foreigner, the stranger, kindly because they knew what it felt like to be the alien, the foreigner, the stranger. If you have been in that situation, where you are dependent upon the kindness of strangers, or felt their coldness, it changes you.
Hospitality, brotherly love for the stranger or the one who is different, is simple kindness, but extended beyond our comfortable boundaries. I’ve heard of the kindness of people here in taking care of their neighbors, helping with chores, rebuilding destroyed barns and buildings, taking casseroles and desserts to families in need or in a time of crisis. Those are things that are easy to do.
But what if the person isn’t a neighbor? What if they aren’t one of you? What if they are new to the community? What if they look different, sound different, act different?
We can look at what Jesus did, even though he didn’t have a home to invite people into. But he invited himself into other’s homes, and not to those who could repay him, but those who had nothing to offer; the poor, the sinners, the tax collectors and the women of disrepute. He made his home among the sick and the outcast. He welcomed children. He broke with tradition to make the place where he was welcoming to all.
Nowhere is that more true than at the table. On the night before Jesus went to the cross, he shared his last meal with the disciples who would abandon him, with the one who would deny him and with the one who would betray him. And to all of them he said that the bread was his body, given for them, and that the wine was his blood, shed for them AND FOR ALL for the forgiveness of sin.
The simplest part of hospitality is the most challenging part of hospitality. It is acknowledging the humanity of another person, and dwelling with them, often in their pain and sorrow. Think of that lump in your throat you have before you greet someone at a funeral who just lost a loved one. Think of that unease before you enter a hospital room. Think of the fear of approaching a wet, crying man at the back of a restaurant.
Part of hospitality is listening to the story, often of pain and sorrow and struggle and abandonment and isolation and rejection, and not having anything to say, except, “I’m sorry.” and “Can I help?” One of the books I recently read proposed that the second most powerful three-word sentence is “Can I help?” The first being, “I love you.”
It is being prepared to act, because you never know when the opportunity will present itself. It means being willing to take what you had planned for the day, and setting it aside. It means picking up the phone when you think of it. It means getting up to talk to the person who you think may need an ear and shoulder of support. It means bending down to talk to a child. It is being willing to stop a hundred different times each day. It can be for someone you’ve never met before, or to someone you spend your life with.
It is sharing God’s love, as Christ told his disciples, to love one another as I have loved you. It is truly seeing someone, truly hearing their story, sharing their pain, lightening their burden, and helping how you can.
It means coming over to a stranger, and in broken English, saying, “Mister, are you ok?” It means listening when he said he’s having a bad day, then smiling, saying, “God loves you.” and giving him one of your grandkid’s chocolate chip cookies.
Hospitality, brotherly love for the stranger or the one who is different, can be expressed in the Creative force of the universe being born into, literally, the shit of our existence, having a feeding trough for His first bed. Hospitality can be doing your work, then doing someone else’s because they are suffering. Hospitality can be giving of the blessings you have been given. Hospitality can be helping someone in need. Hospitality can be a chocolate chip cookie.
Hospitality is how people will know that we follow the one who gave all he had for us. Amen.
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
Leviticus 19:17-18, 33-34
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
He (Jesus) 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.”
(Jesus said,) “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Pastor These are the Words of God, the words of life.
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
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