Sermon for Proper 8, Year A July 2, 2017

Jeremiah 28:5-9                Psalm89: 1-4, 15-18

Romans 6:12-23                Matthew 10:40-42

“Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.'”  As I read the first verse of today’s Gospel, I thought of a verse from Hebrews that goes well with it, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

In our home, in addition to all the boxes needing to be unpacked, is a floor clothe that Cathy painted that refers to this verse in Hebrews to remind us the importance of hospitality as we open our front door.  She used the King James translation, which I think I like better: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

I confess, I am often forgetful and neglect to welcome others and the Christ who is within them.  It is easy to do, it is easy to be distracted and fail to show hospitality to strangers.  It is much, much easier to entertain our friends than it is to sit at a table with people we don’t know.  So, I think it is good to have a reminder of how we are to answer our front door.  Back door, too, but our friends are more likely to enter through our back door while strangers typically come to our front door.

If you have ever seen a Jewish man wearing a box on his forehead, that practice comes from one of two prayers taught to them from the Torah.  It is found in Deuteronomy and called the Shema.  The box contains this prayer which begins, “Hear, O Israel:  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  The people of Israel are taught to say it with their children, they are taught to say it when they are at home and when they are away.  The scripture tells them to “Bind them [the prayer, or these commandments] on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Now, this prayer, this commandment is to love God with all our heart, all of our soul, and all of our might – but when asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus quotes this as the first great commandment, then adds, “and the second is like unto it, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself.”  As I understand this teaching, loving God and loving our neighbor are inseparable.  And, since our neighbor, according to Jesus, is anyone in need, we are taught to welcome everyone.  And, when we do so, we do entertain angels unawares, at times.

In Romans, Paul talks about sin and righteousness.  He suggests that we have a choice to make, we can be slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness.  No one I know has ever expressed a desire to be a slave.  The term slave brings up images of injustices and cruelty.  To say that someone is a slave to his work, is to say that his work, or often more specify, his employer, controls his life.

On Tuesday, we will celebrate the 4th of July and our independence from British rule.  We celebrate because we do not want others controlling our lives, we value our freedom.  Yet, Paul makes a point that I’ve heard in a different context – everyone is answerable to someone.  Business owners, doctors, and lawyers are paid for the goods and services they provide to people who could take their business elsewhere.  To say, “I work for myself,” then, is a misnomer.  Our lives are connected, even if we do have the freedom to make choices.

When Paul says we can be a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness, he is saying that we can choose to live seeking to do only what we perceive as best for ourselves, or we can choose to live seeking to do what is best for everyone.  We can walk in the way of Jesus – making Christ our master; or we can choose to live a self-centered life – making sin our master.  We can choose to welcome the stranger, or we can choose to send the stranger away.

We celebrate Independence Day because our freedom as a nation means we can govern ourselves – not that we are free from all responsibilities.  In fact, our freedom makes us responsible for the outcome.  Paul talks about God’s grace freeing us from sin, then says, “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” So, by the grace of God, we now have the opportunity to start over and to live a righteous life, loving God with all our heart, all our soul, and with all our might – and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

I do believe the saying, with freedom comes great responsibility.  And, I do believe what I think Paul was writing, that with God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, comes even greater responsibility. We know what we need to do, we need to love God and our neighbor.  I also believe that true life is found when we follow these commandments.  So, let us welcome the stranger and welcome Christ and enjoy the peace that we find in and through him.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, help us to see your image in everyone we meet and to welcome the stranger.  Help us to share your love with others that we might truly know life.  We offer our prayer in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.