What is true hospitality? In the Middle East, good hospitality to guests is vitally important. The Bible passage this week outlines two types of hospitality at the home of Martha and Mary. Martha is busy rushing around, probably preparing a meal. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to him. Martha gets angry with her sister for not helping and yet Jesus says that Mary is doing the right thing. Why? Surely the church needs people who are active. The problem with Martha was not that she was active but, rather, that she was distracted, overly worried and told off her sister in front of the guests. In contrast, the hospitality practised by Mary was to show how important the guests were by sitting at their feet and listening to them. In the final analysis the best type of hospitality makes the guests feel important and welcomed rather than stressed and worried. That is why Jesus commends Mary for having chosen the best type of hospitality. Grace is more about receiving from an abundant God than rushing around in our own strength trying to do things for him. Of course, we need active people in the church, but our activity should not degenerate into a frenzied ‘busyness’ without listening to God. Also, we must always remember that in Jesus, our guest is also our host.
What does mission look like? One clue can be found in the Gospel reading for this week which is the story of Jesus sending out the seventy-two. Some translations of the Bible have seventy and, in some ways, this is more convenient because there were 70 elders chosen to help Moses, 70 members of the Sanhedrin and believed to be 70 (or 72) countries in the world at the time Luke was writing. The precise number matters less than the meaning of this passage. What does mission look like? At least three things stem from these words of Jesus. Firstly, travel light: “Don’t take money or a traveller’s bag or even an extra pair of sandals.” That is, don’t get obsessed with worldly possessions in mission – keep it real, authentic and simple. Secondly, don’t get distracted: “don’t stop to greet anyone on the road.” While social pleasantries are important, they are not as important as sharing the Gospel with those who need to hear it at that moment in time. Thirdly, don’t reject help: “Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve their pay.” It is tempting to think that mission is all about us doing it in our own strength. God sends people to help us and they feel privileged when we allow them to do that. Mission is vital and if people can contribute financially and in other ways then themselves are blessed by it too. Three facets of mission on which to reflect this week.
In the Gospel reading this week, three different people approach Jesus and enquire about the cost of discipleship. To the first one Jesus says, in effect, you must count the cost: “Foxes have dens to live in and birds have nests but I, the Son of Man, have no home of my own.” Following Jesus means that we must be prepared to give up all creature comforts. Those who demand a comfortable life have misunderstood the call. To the second Jesus says, in effect, don’t delay. The man thought that he would look after his father in his old age until he was dead and buried and then he would follow Jesus. Jesus says, no, don’t postpone the decision: “Let those who are spiritually dead care for their own dead.” The final enquirer wanted to say good-bye to his family first. To him Jesus says, you mustn’t look back: “Anyone who puts a hand to the plough and then looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.” Nobody can plough a straight furrow by looking backwards and nobody can be fully effective in hastening the kingdom of God if they are always dwelling in the past. Does all this sound challenging? The answer is yes, and the reason is because true discipleship is costly. It is costly in material ways as well as emotional ways. We know this to be true in our experience and the refreshing thing about Jesus is that he makes all of this abundantly clear in this part of the bible.
The Gospel reading this week is the story of the healing of the demon-possessed man, Legion. Three things strike me about this story. Firstly, is the incredible bravery of Jesus. Here was a man that everyone else was afraid to approach. Even when shackled with chains he was able to break them and run wild. Yet Jesus doesn’t hesitate in going straight up to him and rebuking the demons in him. Secondly, the response to the healing was that the whole region was disrupted. The local pig farming community was distraught and begged Jesus to leave them all alone. Finally, there is Jesus’ command to the healed man to go back to his family and tell them, and everyone, what God had done for him. There was no call to be an itinerant evangelist or foreign missionary but simply a witness in his local community. For all these reasons this story is as much a model for evangelism as it is a healing miracle. As evangelists and witnesses for Christ we are called to be brave in confronting evil; we are called to acknowledge that there will be disruption with the truth of the Gospel and, finally, we are called to mainly witness, not on the other side of the planet, but rather right where we are.
This week starts with Trinity Sunday when the church reflects more explicitly on God as Father, Son and Spirit. One God in three persons. The Gospel passage is the account of Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit – the one person of the Trinity that the disciples would have most difficulty in understanding. Jesus identified the Spirit as the Spirit that brings truth and reveals God to people. This revelation of truth has three facets. Firstly, we can only understand God’s ways in bite-sized chunks. In mathematics, before we teach partial fractions we need to teach simple algebra. In the same way much of the teaching in the Old Testament is simple and crude because that is all the people could understand at the time. Jesus says, “I have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now!” Secondly, truth is from God and truth is of God. God is both the explainer of truth and the source of all truth. Finally, truth is to reveal the significance of Jesus’ words and actions to us. To plumb the inexhaustible depth of love and grace found in them. The revelation of truth comes not from any book or any object or any created artefact. The revelation of truth comes from the person of Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate truth that the Holy Spirit reveals to us.
Is God moving in our nation in our time? The Bible passage this week records the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Two things strike me about this passage from the book of the Acts of the Apostles. Firstly, the Holy Spirit came to the believers when they were together. God not only comes in power to individuals but also to us corporately, the Church. In the New Testament the Greek word ‘you’ is mainly used in the plural. This is similar to ‘vous’ in French as opposed to ‘tu’. God’s relationship is not only with us as individuals but mainly with us as a church together. Secondly, the Holy Spirit is like a mighty wind. A strong wind will move things around and change the scenery. As a church we need to be prepared for God to shake us up sometimes. Yes, we celebrate the wisdom of the ages and the traditions of the past but sometimes God wants to over-turn all of this and start something new. Something that changes the whole landscape. Is God moving in our nation at this time? The biggest provider of youth work, food banks and non-State education in the United Kingdom is the church. Atheism is said to be declining. Yes, God is moving but there is so much more He wants to do through us if only we work together and are prepared to be shaken up.