theunfamiliarname

Homily for Ordinary Sunday 13C

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2010 at 11:54 am

Imagine you were creating a coat of arms.
You want to say something laudable,
pithy, inspirational by way of a motto.
Or a flag, like those in parts of the Muslim world
but with words from our holy Book emblazoned in the centre.

I reckon you could do a lot worse
than that phrase that began our Epistle this morning:
For freedom Christ has set us free.

A bit like Abraham: blessed that he might become a blessing
to all the nations of the world,
our freedom is a gift we get to share with others.

Paul says it explicitly:
For freedom Christ has set us free.
… only do not use your freedom  as an opportunity for self-indulgence,
but through love become slaves to one another.
For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment,
“You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
And you’ll remember that,
when someone asked him “who is my neighbour”
Jesus told a story about a Samaritan, a foreigner,
who comes to the aid of a Jewish traveller,
when even the Priests and Levites of his own faith, his own nation
passed him by.

We have another Gospel story this morning dealing with Jews and Samaritans.
So let’s just examine the basics:
Jesus and the disciples are heading for Jerusalem,
pilgrims to the most holy city in Judaism.
And his envoys go ahead to make arrangements on the way,
looking for basic hospitality, but are made unwelcome in a Samaritan village.
Samaritans were not on speaking terms with Jews,
especially Jews heading for Jerusalem.

And so the disciples respond in kind,
give as inhospitably as they get,
harking back to the story about Elijah and the prophets of Baal –
calling down fire from heaven – only even more bloodthirsty:
God, in that story, only burnt up the sacrificial animals,
but the disciples are quite keen to get God to roast the people right in front of them,
people who are different in race and faith:
“Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down and consume them?”

So what has actually happened here?
We’ve moved in two sentences flat from seeking hospitality
to asking for some sort of divinely-mandated genocide.

I like to imagine that as well as rebuking the disciples,
Jesus rolls his eyes and utters an “oi vei” or two for good measure.
These are the disciples. This is the Church-to-be.
Aren’t we better than that?

We gather each week around a table and break bread.
Our central shared act of worship is an act of hospitality,
a parable of welcome and grace.
And yet we look at our history,
we look at our willingness to welcome those who are different to us,
and there’s certainly room for improvement.
So if welcome is what we ought to be about,
this morning’s Gospel reading is an exercise
in the politics of exclusion and exclusivity.
It’s amazing how quickly a story that could and should have been about hospitality is reduced to hatred
and fear of people different to us.
As Christ’s followers, we should know better,
but perhaps we too need reminding.

If we have been forgiven,
are we able, truly, to forgive?

If we have some small experience of God’s grace,
how do we express it in our dealings with others?

If we are welcomed to this table,
how do we ourselves embody hospitality?

It seems to me that
until we become more like what we claim to encounter
in the God Jesus called Father,
we’ve got work to do.

Later this year we’ll have the opportunity to invite others –
friends, family, neighbours –
to join us for worship on Back to Church Sunday.

One of the gifts of that exercise,
regardless of how many might rediscover God and join our congregation,
is that we try and look at how we do hospitality.
How we welcome.
What we say – in words, and more often outside our words –
about who we are.

And how we make the grace and hospitality of God known.

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