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Sermon given at 9.15 am at Isham, Trinity 14, 28.8.16

Readings:        OT/Epistle   Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Gospel  Luke 14: 1, 7-14

Has anyone heard of the Vicar of Stiffkey (Norfolk, near Blakeney) who died in 1937 after being attacked by a lion during a lion act at the Skegness Amusement Park?  He was defrocked in 1932 – not for being a lousy parish priest (which he was!) but because he upset Norfolk gentry by supporting farm labourers who suffered badly in agricultural depression of 20’s and were often thrown out of their cottages.  He also spent a lot of his time rescuing young girls who went to London and ended up in prostitution – and this offended people’s feelings, he was not behaving as a vicar should!  His was a very unfair trial.

“Keep on loving each other as brothers.  Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

In the TV programme, Seaside Parish there was once an episode where the male vicar dressed up as tramp and sat in church before service to see what reaction he got.  Then vicar revealed himself, washed & shaved, and preached on what it was like to be perceived as ‘different’!!

Church = Family of God.  A family does not choose its members – but is bound together by love and connectedness.

Church is not based on mutual attraction, it doesn’t choose its members either.  Church = people given to one another by God!

There must be love and a deep sense of connectedness.

In the 1st century ‘strangers’ would be people on the move.  What are today’s equivalent?  Migrants are an obvious group of people on the move, but not the only ones.  Has anyone moved into Isham recently?  Do you know anyone who has started a new job – there will shortly be children starting new schools, students starting at university or college or apprenticeships.  Lesley is about to start her training for Lay Pastoral Ministry.  I need to run an introductory course about Christianity for people who might like to consider confirmation – do you know anyone who might appreciate such a course?

“Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

The book of Hebrews is about God guiding and leading his people – from Old Covenant times (Moses, Law etc.) to 1st century (their today) where they’re beginning to live under the guidance and leading of Holy Spirit (New Covenant) to our times and beyond into the fulfilment and completion of all things.

Jesus is, and was, the eternal one.  His hands ‘flung stars into space’ as the Servant King sings.  When he appeared in the flesh it was just a fresh revelation of the God people had already met – a bit like meeting someone you’ve only known through letters, email, and an occasional phone call.

Jesus is the same today – we can’t put off welcoming or helping people until we’re think we’ve done this or that – he’s telling us to do it now!  The challenge of Jesus is for today, for this moment, this decision, this difficulty.

It’s important we keep the basic rules of God’s covenant law – faithfulness is vital!  Faithfulness to God means being faithful to the covenant law because it creates good family of God relationships.  Broken marriages create a lot of hurt.  Greed means taking more than your fair share = doing somebody else out of their share of material goods.  Unfaithfulness to covenant = unfaithfulness to God and his people, his family.

In our gospel reading Jesus isn’t just giving good social advice – but telling them a parable.  If we push ourselves forward in the sight of God we’re thinking we don’t need his grace, mercy and love – and we’re implying that others don’t deserve God’s generosity, so they shouldn’t have it.

But Jesus says we should sit at the table with the poor ourselves – not just feed them on a separate table!  We need to demonstrate and feel that sense of brotherly love and connectedness that is so essential to being part of God’s family.  At Greenbelt I heard about 7 churches in Derby joining together to provide a nightshelter from 1st December to 31st March (doing 1 night a week each) because austerity funding cuts had left the local council short of money to provide this – the people who came were SO appreciative because their hosts spent time chatting with them and provided them with cake as well as a hot meal!!  That really IS brotherly love and connectedness.

When we think about the world’s needs it’s very easy to be so dismayed that we end up doing nothing.  There are lots of small things we can do to help the strangers we encounter – eg. sit next to someone else in church, ask a newcomer round for cup of tea, chat to someone new in the workplace, ask a parent how their small child is getting on at school.

Jesus calls us to apply the covenant rules of brotherly love every day and in every situation until it becomes 2nd nature and displaces our selfish instincts!  Don’t ever think: it won’t matter just this once!

In addition to general hospitality some people find themselves being called to help strangers in specific work, sometimes work that needs training.  Eg. Vicar of Stiffkey – Karan and Lesley as Street Pastors.

It’s important that the rest of us support them – gifts, fundraising, but most importantly by asking how they’re getting on.  It’s equally important that we also think: what have I done this week to welcome a stranger?  Have I shared a cup of tea or a bit of conversation with someone other than my friends?

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