Parable of the Sheep and Goats
October 11, 2020
Rev. Fritz Nelson
For the last few weeks we’ve been working our way through Matthew 25:31-46, the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. I was hungry, Jesus tells the sheep, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.
This week we turn our attention to strangers and the ministry of hospitality.
Before we go to our scripture passage for the morning, a little bit of a song. From 1967 it’s The Doors with People are Strange.
When in your life have you felt as if you were a stranger? When has receiving a stranger brought blessing to your life? Think on that was we turn to today’s scripture. Reading from Genesis 18:1-12:
The other day I shared with a friend who has some connection to the Dutch Village Inn how welcome we felt when we stayed there. The Inn was a big part of why we decided to move here, I said. They gave us the gift of hospitality.
Some other moments of hospitality I’ve observed over the years:
- A coach, slowing down practice, so the new kid, who has never played, learns the game.
- A Vietnam Vet guarding the house of the Vietnamese refugees who have just moved next door so they can sleep safe from the community’s hostility.
- A waitress carrying the baby of new parents on her hip as she does her rounds so the parents can eat in peace.
Three strangers approach Abraham’s tent in the heat of the day. Running to greet them, he begs them to come into the shade and rest. He has water brought so they can wash and refresh. He has a feast of welcome prepared. As they leave they prophesy a blessing upon Abraham’s wife – the blessing of God’s promise.
I was a stranger, Jesus tells the sheep, and you welcomed me. Abraham, on that ancient day in the desert, welcomed the Lord into his tent. Hospitality remains the most basic of spiritual practices. The Lord comes in the form of a stranger. Jesus stands at the door and knocks. Only when we open the door will we receive divine blessing.
Zacchaeus accepts Jesus and his disciples – strangers in his town – into his house and receives salvation. The Samaritan woman welcomes Jesus at the well and then into her home, and her community experiences salvation. When Jesus sends his disciples into the surrounding villages only those who receive them in their homes will also receive the peace of Christ. To reject the stranger is to open yourself up to the wrath of God, to risk destruction like Sodom.
Sodom, the town Abraham’s guests visit after leaving his tent. Abraham’s nephew Lot lives in Sodom. Like Abraham, Lot welcomes the strangers at the gate, begs them to accept hospitality at his house, brings water for their feet and prepares a feast, all under the watchful eye of his neighbors. When it becomes apparent the strangers will be spending the night, Lot’s neighbors demand Lot produce his guests so they might be tortured and expelled. The strangers are in the wrong place, at the wrong time. They’re of the wrong race, tribe, family or religion. They’re handicapped, or gay or just different. They cannot be allowed to stay. As Lot’s neighbors try to force their way into Lot’s house, the angels strike them with blindness, evacuate Lot and his family, and destroy the town. To reject the stranger is to reject God. To reject the stranger is to lose the blessing God has in store.
I am the stranger, Jesus says. I stand at the door and knock. When we feel afraid or threatened we tend to close up. We raise the walls and shut the gates. We seek safety behind our mighty fortress, but like a besieged town our security will eventually be our death.
After church one Sunday an older member of the congregation approaches me. She’s very distressed. Her new neighbors are talking about her, making fun of her. What are they saying? I ask. I don’t know, she says. They’re not speaking English.
In her voice I hear her deep mourning for her former neighbor who’s just moved to a nursing home. I know she misses the conversations, the gossip, the eavesdropping. I tell her I doubt her neighbors are talking about her, she’s not that interesting. Have you gone over to say Hi? I ask. Why would I do that? she says. I’m an old lady.
I couldn’t help but wonder if, in her loneliness my friend had been praying for a new friend, someone to share a cup of coffee with, a kid willing to pull weeds or shovel a walk for a few dollars, a ride to the grocery store. I wondered if God, in his infinite mercy, had answered her prayer. I wondered if salvation had come near, but she had refused to open the door.
When have you been a stranger and received hospitality? Who are the strangers in your life, in our community? Who is seeking to bless us, strengthen us, support us, inspire us, challenge us, gift us with God’s kingdom, if we just open the door, invite them in, bring some water for their feet, prepare a feast, listen to their story and maybe even laugh.