Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Entertaining Strangers—Entertaining Angels
Pentecost XIV/September 2, 2007
Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Altenburg, MO
Invocation: In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. Sometimes you know an angel when you see one. We recognize statues and pictures of angels by their wings, their halos, their white robes. During the Christmas program it's easy to tell who the angels are because of they way they look. It's the same way in much of the Bible. Many times, people saw these holy messengers of God and knew instantly who they were. Isaiah the prophet saw the seraphim, the angels who are constantly in the presence of God the Father, and immediately cried out, "Woe is me!" St. Mary, the Mother of our Lord, stood face to face with the angel Gabriel, as he told her of the birth of her Son, the Son of God. The Shepherds in the fields the first Christmas saw the sky fill with angels as the heavenly host sang at the birth of Christ. They all knew what they saw. They had no doubt that they had encountered angels, the holy messengers of God.
2. But it's not always like that. In Proverbs we read:
[Proverbs 25:2] It is the glory of God to conceal a matter.
When you're dealing with angels, sometimes that's the case. Sometimes, in his wisdom, God conceals the identity of angels among us. To us, they look like strangers. But just because we don't always recognize them, that doesn't mean there are no angels in our midst. Even though their true identity is concealed from us, God still calls on us to entertain them with hospitality. The writer of Hebrews tells us,
[Hebrews 13:2] Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
Our Lord Jesus Christ gives us a glimpse of who these angels might be in our gospel reading for today.
[St. Luke 14:12-14] When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors. If you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
While we probably would have no trouble believing that there are angels among those we love, it's difficult to consider that there are angels among the outcast in our world, among the lowest of the low; among those people we usually don't have any interaction with. But we must not forget to entertain these strangers, for by doing so, we just may entertain a holy messenger of God.
3. Perhaps though—I find this hard to believe--but perhaps you don't know of anyone who is poor, crippled, lame or blind. If that's the case, you're not off the hook. There are still other strangers deserving of your hospitality. Just look around you. How many people here today are in reality strangers to you? How many folks in our congregation do you know only by name, but know absolutely nothing else about them? Sure, you may say hello after church on your way to the car, or nod your head as you make eye contact on the way into church, but that's not exactly what God intends. Our epistle reading calls on us to get to know these people. To welcome them into our homes and into our lives. To share our meals with them and to expect nothing in return. By doing so, we just may entertain an angel sent from heaven.
4. Still, there are other strangers. The identity of these strangers is indeed concealed, because they're people we used to know very well. Folks we used to spend most of our free time with but now, for whatever reason have drifted apart. These people, too are deserving of our hospitality, of our welcome, and of our love. If it seems too much to open your arms and your heart to a complete stranger; if it's too great a struggle to make new friends among your fellow believers here; perhaps the best place to start is to entertain the strangers whom you know the best. That friend who stabbed you in the back, and so you've never spoken to her again. The confidant who suddenly turned on you for no apparent reason. The best friend who you now shun because you're holding a grudge for some perceived wrong. Who knows, one of these folks may be an angel sent to you, yes you, from God himself on high.
5. When we ignore these people, we sin. When we're content with the fact that our brothers and sisters in the faith remain strangers to us, we break the bond of fellowship that makes us one in the faith. When we ignore the true strangers of the world we break the bond of fellowship with our Lord Jesus Christ who calls us to welcome the stranger in our midst. Either way, we sin against God's holy word that tells us to entertain strangers. We sin against Christ and his command to welcome those we normally would not think of spending time with. And our sin grows and takes root deep within our souls when we willingly let old grudges live and refuse to entertain the stranger who used to be our friend. And without even knowing it, we sin against the angels of God sent for our protection and companionship, and in so doing we make ourselves strangers to God, destined to suffer his eternal wrath.
6. Today, God calls on us to repent of this sin. To lay it out before God and say, "I'm sorry," to that old friend who you haven't talked to in years. God calls on us to repent by welcoming and entertaining all the strangers in our midst. To open our arms and our hearts to them. Especially here, in this place Christ calls us to welcome everyone and make it known through our words and deeds that in God's house, everyone is welcome. God calls on us to repent because he has forgiveness for our sin. Forgiveness in the one who himself became a stranger, Jesus Christ. What? You didn't know Jesus was a stranger? Perhaps not to you or me, but for our sake Christ became a stranger to his Father. As he hung on the cross, remember what he said? "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Covered in our sin of ignoring those who we deem unworthy of our love; clothed with our wicked refusal to share our lives with those we don't know or don't like, Christ died on the cross, a stranger to his Heavenly Father; an unknown stranger to the world; and an angel that almost no one recognized.
7. In dying a stranger's death, Christ has destroyed everything that makes the stranger strange. He paid the price our poor treatment of strangers and angels deserves. By taking the lowest place and putting himself where no man would want to be, Christ earned his own exaltation. After his death, he did not remain a stranger to his Father. No, in his love and mercy, God the Father raised him up from the dead and restored their relationship to it's rightful honor, seating him at his right hand, at the head of the table of heaven. At his resurrection, God the Father said to him, "Friend, move on up." And up he went. Up into the heavens. Up beyond the clouds. Up into the eternal glory of God the Father Almighty.
8. That's God's promise for us today, too. And so we repent of our inhospitable ways, trusting that God will restore our relationship with him through the forgiveness of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. And not only does he make our heavenly relationship right again, he also creates new relationships here on earth. When we entertain strangers, the angels among them enlighten our hearts and our souls to the beauty of hospitality, even among those who we would normally never see. God also restores our broken relationships, healing old wounds and comforting hurts from long ago. He uses his angels to remind us that we are one with him, and one with each other. And by his grace he empowers us to do this good work of reaching out to the stranger, and reconciling with those friends who we've made into strangers.
9. So call that friend who you've ignored for too long. Open your door once again to the stranger in your life. Be willing to entertain even the strangest of strangers, for by so doing, some have entertained angels.
10. This is hard work. Work that can only be done by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and a faith worked by God. As the fruit of our faith, we recognize that our entertaining strangers, even angels does not earn us our forgiveness or righteousness. But because we have been forgiven, because we have been declared righteous by the Righteous Stranger, Jesus Christ, this work is pleasing to God our Father. As the people of God, with Spirit-worked faith, we are called to carry out this good work; trusting that Christ, who was once a stranger for our sake, has redeemed us and forgiven us our sin. Thus, but the grace of Christ, we are eager and willing, always ready to entertain the stranger in our own life. So we strive every day to answer Christ's call to entertain strangers. God expects no less. Yes, we repent when we fail trusting in God's mercy. And we take comfort that when we succeed, God is pleased with us, because he has already redeemed and restored us to our rightful place in his heavenly kingdom. As we humble ourselves in faith by opening our arms to strangers and angels, Christ's promise is ever in our ears. "You will be blessed. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." You will experience the welcome of heaven in the end, where no one is any longer a stranger. Where the angels of God intermingle with men. Where Christ our Lord will entertain us with life, love, and joy that knows no end. Amen.
Blessing: The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Keith R. Weise
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