Sermon for Proper 16, Year B August 26, 2018

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18                     Psalm 34:15-22                                  Ephesians 6:10-20            John 6:56-69

When my brother and I were interviewed by the Guard, we were both asked, “What is your favorite scripture?”  It was not the first time I’d been asked this question, so I had an answer.  The first time I was asked, I started to say I didn’t have one.  But, before I gave that answer, I knew.  It is said as a part of the Rite I service just after what is referred to as the Collect for Purity.

Now we Episcopalians have names for every part of our service, but many, if not most, don’t know these names.  So, if you are wondering what is the Collect of Purity, it is the prayer I say in the beginning of the service – Rite I and Rite II: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.”  It is known as the Collect for Purity because of what comes next: “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name.”

I think it is a wonderful prayer to begin our worship and, as I said, the scripture that follows it in our Rite I liturgy is my favorite:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like until it: ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

This scripture is from Matthew and is Jesus’ response to a lawyer who is testing him.  A slightly different version of the same answer given to a scribe can be found in Mark.  Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and he then says, “on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

You may have noticed that loving God and loving our neighbors is a recurring theme in my sermons – no matter what the scriptures because this is one teaching I do take literally.  In my reading of the scriptures all the “law and the prophets” do hang on these two commandments – they are lens through which I read and interpret the scriptures and these two commands shape my beliefs.  If you have a favorite scripture, how might these two commandments influence your reading of it?

It was the reading from Joshua, that brought my favorite scriptures to mind because it contains a verse that I know to be one of Cathy’s favorites.  Joshua is speaking to the tribe of Israel, telling them what God has said:

Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve   the Lord.  Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Before I was remotely aware of the direction my life was headed, I remember Cathy quoting Joshua, saying, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

This was a passage that her Grandmother quoted often.  When we visited the National Cathedral, Cathy saw and purchased a refrigerator magnet from the gift shop.  It was a cross with this scripture engraved on it and it has been the refrigerator in whatever home we have lived in since that day.  This is an example of how faith and family connect, and how history and the present can be linked.

Like the two great commandments, there is another scripture among Cathy’s favorite scriptures that I connect with this passage.  At the front entrance in our home is a floor cloth, Cathy made inspired by a reading from Hebrews.  The scripture is, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  Much like the two great commandments, to be faithful to one is to be faithful to both.  I see welcoming the strangler as one way we serve the Lord.  Loving our neighbor is one of the ways we express our love of God.

For the faithful people of Israel, hospitality was a rule of life.  To deny anyone hospitality was tantamount to turning God away.  So, the angel Cathy painted on the floor cloth, with words from Hebrews, serves as reminder to us that God’s calls us to welcome the stranger. Welcoming the stranger is an act of service and a form of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Choosing to serve the Lord therefore, can be as simple as welcoming the stranger, not only into our homes, but into our church home.  When I first came to St. Paul’s, I heard from its members that you wanted to bring people back to church and you wanted more people to be a part of this church family.  When going through the search process, most churches seek someone who will come in from the outside and take charge. They want a priest who will not only lead their worship, but who will bring new people into the church – especially parents with young children.

One of the reasons I came to St. Paul’s was because I was told about its “can do” attitude.  People here will make happen what needs to happen, they love St. Paul’s and will support it.  I have found this to be true, that our members love this church and your contributions to our Special Building Fund have demonstrated a commitment to make it happen.  In just three weeks, we have raised about three quarters of what we need.  The last quarter may be the toughest – so if you have not already given or pledged, we can really use your help.  More importantly, perhaps is that, we need your help with something else.

We need your help with hospitality.  Hospitality is not simply hosting coffee hour after the service, it is about inviting others to come here and join us in the most sacred of all meals – our Eucharist.  If we are to be like Joshua, who said, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord,” then we need to remember that hospitality is key to serving the Lord.  We cannot entertain the stranger – or angels unawares, if we do not invite people to become a part of St. Paul’s.  My life is at St. Paul’s is focused on you, your life is in the community.

If we are to have more people involved in the life of St. Paul’s, we need you to invite them.  In the Narthex is a new brochure that provides some information about St. Paul’s, the Episcopal Church, and our worship.  Please take one and see if you think it could be helpful for you in inviting others to get involved.  I didn’t have a lot printed, but we can print more if you find it helpful

Remember, our favorite scriptures mean nothing unless we take them to heart.  So, be alert, be mindful of the people around you, and invite others to participate in our worship and fellowship activities.

Let us pray,

Heavenly Father, help us to follow the way of Joshua, that our households might serve you.  Keep us mindful of the opportunities before us, the opportunity to invite others into our lives and the life of St. Paul’s, that we might entertain and come to know angels who are among us.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.