The Oasis

Writings from the ministry team

for your refreshment

 

 

Sunday 28 August - Gratot

2016 Luke 14 and Hebrews 13

 

Mike and I moved here to France a little over 16 years ago.  We came for 6 months and now it seems, those 6 months are coming to an end! 

 

I am often asked what it was that made us stay so long.  Well, I can give all sorts of answers, like the cost of houses in the UK, the quieter roads here, and many many more.  But really it boiled down to the nice people that we met.  Our first house was on a roadside and, like most English that come here, we started a renovation work.  And every day someone would stop and have a chat.   Mike, luckily, spoke a little bit of French, but my language skills extended to Bonjour and Merci.  It didn’t stop our French neighbours from trying to communicate with us and to make us feel welcome; inviting us to their homes, their social events, telling us what was going on, helping in many ways.

 

In the excerpt from the letter to the Hebrews that we heard today, the writer urges us “not to neglect to show hospitality to strangers”.  And that is the true gift that was shown to us when we came.  The gift of hospitality.  In a very short time, we had met the mayor, had the rubbish collection system explained to us and even been sold tickets to a church fete.  We had help in every imaginable way.  This is true hospitality. This is the kind of care that Jesus is talking about and this is the kind of friendly welcome that we should always try to extend to visitors and newcomers alike.

 

I shall always be grateful for the kindness and warmth shown to us when we first came here, and for that reason I shall always love and admire our French hosts.

 

And that is what they are: our hosts.  We are guests in their country, their towns and their villages.  And how we respond to that hospitality is what makes for the special relationship that we have.  Usually we are treated well, but occasionally the beast of xenophobia raises its ugly head.

 

With this in mind, we can perhaps get the atmosphere that Jesus is creating in his parable today.

 

Jesus describes a banquet where he warns guests not to take the best seats, in case someone comes along and tells them not to sit there; those seats are reserved for someone more important.  Imagine the embarrassment.  I am English to the core, and could not conceive of anything more humiliating that being told I am not important enough to sit in the best place. 

 

But what joy if you are wise enough not to put yourself forward – if you sit quietly in an out of the way seat, and then, along comes your host saying:  “Hey what are you doing there?  Come and sit in the best place, have the best food, wine, conversation etc.”  So much nicer, I think. 

 

This kind of behaviour has become normal in polite society.  Wait for the invitation, wait for the right seat, be gracious and to know your right place.  If someone does push themselves forward in that way, they soon become unpopular!

 

Our passages today are not just about hospitality and food, though.  The passage from the end of the letter to the Hebrews gives a quick summary of living a life of faith.  Earlier in the letter, the writer summed up the faith of believers through history, now he gives a summary of practical points of faithful lives. (There are 5 teaching points and 3 theological points.)

 

Firstly, says the writer, keep on loving one another.  You might like to note that it is assumed that you love one another already.  Christian believers are often called a family and that is what we need to sustain.   Yes, as within all families, we will at times, squabble and disagree. But the important thing is not to let these things divide us.  We are a family and we need the loving support of one another to strengthen us.

 

 Next, we must not forget to show hospitality to strangers.   Again, there is the assumption that we already do this.  A timely reminder to keep doing it – and it is more than just food, drink and shelter.  This is the hospitality that stops us becoming a ‘holy huddle’.  It is not ‘good’ behaviour to become insular and inward looking.  Even if the world seems to be against us, we must keep the welcome mat in place.  I once read a poem by a senior air Force officer’s wife in which she describes, in a jokey manner, the stress of getting ready to entertain guests, but she ends the poem with “remember to smile as you open the door”.  Not bad advice, a friendly smile is a sign of welcome, of the hospitality that is being offered.

 

Verse 3, says to remember those in prison as if you were together with them.  Now that is a tough one.  Modern, British prisons, according to the popular press, are more like holiday camps, and the courts are expected to keep as many criminals out of prison because it costs so much to house them.  So what is our Christian response in 2016?  I think we need to identify with people imprisoned for their faith, especially in most of the Middle East.  Mike and I have a regular prayer cycle that includes, every Friday morning, prayers for “Prisoners, refugees and homeless people”.  It’s a big topic.  Just by reading the news it is easy to find some very specific items to focus prayer on.  Prayer is our greatest weapon in the war against Satan.

 

The writer then takes a sudden leap in verse 4 to instructions about marriage and sexual purity.  A short and simple reminder, but a part of life where passions are aroused in more ways than one.  If any of you have been involved in divorce, whether yourselves, family members or close friends – you will know the pain that breaking a marriage can cause.  We are fallen people, we strive for perfection and often fail – but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded sometimes of first principles.

 

The fourth instruction is not the oft-misquoted text from Timothy “The love of money is the root of all evil”. But it echoes that sentiment.  At the time of writing this letter, there were the haves and have-nots, just as there are today.  Yes, we do, as Christians, give to the poor and needy as much as we are able.  But this instruction is about more than that.  It is about being content with what you have.  Not being miserly or greedy, not hoarding for that rainy day that never comes.  Not worrying that you might not have enough for a new car, (or in my case, a new house).  Being content with what God has given to you. 

 

The fifth instruction is to remember your leaders.  Interesting that.  It does not say priests, bishops or any other clerical term.  It just says “leaders”.  Leadership in the church is not just the ordained or licensed ministers.  It is also comprised of the wardens and council – the ones you elected!  Remember them regularly in prayer, by name if you can.  This is not about authoritarian, dictatorial leadership – the sort that says “I’m in charge”.  This is about orderliness, discipline and respect.  The leaders of any church have a huge responsibility and it is that loving prayerful support of the whole church family that will uphold them in their service.  The writer tells you to “imitate their faith”.  This is not to make demi-gods of those that serve – but to be prepared to take a turn at leadership.  Just like Jesus – to serve is to lead and to lead is to serve. 

 

Our reading ends with some theological statements.  The first in verse 5 echoes the promise that God gave in Deuteronomy. It might be 1000 years or 3000 years since God gave that promise, but it still holds true.  “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you”.  It is that loving promise of support that enables us to say with confidence the words reminiscent of psalm 117 – “I will not be afraid.”

 

And so we gradually come to the end of this letter.  A letter that was written for Jewish believers; but it is a letter that can be read and understood and still speaks to us, today.  If we have studied the whole letter, we know who God is and what God has done on our behalf.  We know how to live – praising God, doing good, and caring for others.  A right relationship with God and with others will please our God and He will sustain us forever. Amen

 

LInda