God’s Spacious Hospitality

Please note that for this sermon, we handed out individually-packaged bread and honey to each individual.

Luke 14:1-14

Jesus tells us in the Scripture today: Don’t sit in the place of honor. Otherwise the host might come to you and say, ‘Make room for this person,’ and you would have to move.

Make room.

The word hospitality literally means “love of the stranger” and as I read the Scripture about hospitality this week, I found myself pondering the question: “How does God call us to love strangers?”

By making room, by moving down from the high end of the table, by perhaps not being the first to speak, by inviting the poor, the sick and the blind to the feast.

Make room. Listen. Love the stranger

As I thought about Jesus’ words this week, it struck me that this passage wasn’t one about speaking but rather one about listening and creating space for the stranger.

How do we create space for the stranger in our midst?

As I pondered that question, I read a story about Paul Ford. Ford says others describe him as weirdly polite because he likes to read etiquette manuals for fun. He has the ability to go to a party and speak to anyone about anything, to ask questions and turn the conversation relentlessly toward the speaker. He shares the party trick of always saying, “That sounds hard” when people tell what they do for work because almost everyone thinks what they do is hard. One time, at a social gathering, Ford met a woman whose job was to help celebrities wear jewelry. He could tell that she was disappointed to be paired with him, a rumpled giant in an off brand t-shirt. Yet, when he said her job sounded difficult, she talked to him for thirty minutes about sapphires and Jessica Simpson. He didn’t reveal a single detail about himself including his name. When someone pulled him back to the gathering, the jewelery coordinator smiled, grabbed his hand and said, “I like you!” His words, questions and attention had created space for him to connect with the stranger in his midst.
Ford discovered, for him, that politeness buys time. It leaves doors opens. Ford says that he is now friends with many people, who if he had trusted his first impression, he would have never talked to again. Ford says that sometimes he gets a call or an email from someone five years after that last contact and thinks, “Oh right, I hated that person.” But they would have never known. Ford thinks, “Let see if I still hate them.” Very often he doesn’t. Or that he hated them for a dumb reason. Or they were having a bad day. Or he was having a bad day.

Make room. Listen. Love the stranger.

Ford writes: People silently struggle from all kinds of terrible things. They suffer from depression, ambition, substance abuse, and pretension. They suffer from family tragedy, Ivy-League educations, and self-loathing. They suffer from failing marriages, physical pain, and publishing. The good thing about politeness is that you can treat these people exactly the same. And then wait to see what happens. You don’t have to have an opinion. You don’t need to make a judgment.”

Make room. Listen. Love the stranger.

Ford says that this practice fills him with love and empathy. As he looks at the other person, he is filled with joy. He discovers that he really does want to know about the process of hanging jewelery from celebrities. He discovers that indeed, he does love the stranger.

Make room. Listen. Love the stranger.

The more I thought about the Scripture this week, the more I thought, God is calling me to speak less and listen more — to make room and to love the stranger.

So instead of a full sermon this week, I’m giving homework. You are the sermon. I am going to give you bread and honey, the food that God provided for the Israelites, and I invite you to go out and invite someone to share that bread and honey with you. Eat with a stranger or someone who is different than you. While you eat with them, pay attention and ask questions and move down some figurative seats so that you are not so quick to share your own stories. Listen instead to theirs. Give without any expectation of return. And see what happens.

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