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The Hospitality of Faith

Acts 16:16-34
David A. Davis
June 2, 2019
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Early on in the Gospel of Luke, a synagogue leader named Jairus comes to Jesus, falls at his feet and begs him to come to his house and heal his twelve year old daughter who is dying. When Jesus and Jairus get to the house, they are told that the daughter had died. Jesus says, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.” Jesus goes into the house with only Peter, John, and James. He takes her by the hand and he calls out to the girl, “Child, get up!” As Luke tells it, her spirit returns and she gets up. Jesus tells them all to give her something to eat.

Only a few verses later in Luke, the crowds following Jesus find out he is near the city of Bethsaida. They all come to see him and Luke records that Jesus welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed any who needed it. At the end of the day the disciples come to Jesus and tell him to send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and towns and find a place to stay and get something to eat. Jesus says to the twelve “You give them something to eat”. And that’s when he fed thousands with five loaves and two fish with twelve baskets of leftovers.

The story of Mary and Martha is in Luke. Some will remember that back in Lent, I strongly suggested that Jesus didn’t rebuke Martha when she was preparing a meal for him. He was offering a word of encouragement. A promise. A plea. That amid her welcoming and serving him, that she would not lose sight, not be distracted, not forget, not lose sight of…him. It was not a rebuke of her kindness. Because also in Luke, Jesus has strong words for Simon the Pharisee who condemned the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.” 

In Luke, when Jesus calls Zacchaeus out of the tree and tells Zacchaeus that he is coming to his house today, Luke writes that “Zacchaeus hurried down and was happy to welcome Jesus.” It is in Luke that Jesus tells of the Samaritan who offered care to the man who had been beaten and robbed and left in a ditch to die. Luke says “he took care of him”. The father who calls for the greatest of feasts when his lost son comes home, Jesus tells that one in Luke. At the end of the first resurrection day in Luke, the Risen Jesus walks a long way with the two travelers who do not recognize him. They walk long enough and far enough for Jesus to tell them “all the things about himself in all the scriptures.” And even before they know it is him, at the end of the day and at the end of the long, hot, dusty walk, Luke tells that two “urged Jesus strongly, saying ‘stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’”

            And yes, on the night of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus gathers is disciples around the table to share in a meal. When Matthew and Mark tell of that table moment, Jesus gets right to the “one of you will be betray me tonight” part. Those are his first words at the table recorded by Matthew and Mark. But in Luke, before Jesus calls out the betrayal, before Jesus shares the bread and the cup, Jesus says to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” That is Jesus saying to the disciples, I so want to share this meal with you. I am so looking forward to having dinner with you.

The Gospel of Luke and the hospitality of faith. The scholarly tradition affirms that Luke is the writer of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. In arrangement of the canon of the New Testament, John’s gospel is tucked in between Luke and Acts. But an accepted short hand reference to the two, the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostle, is simply Luke-Acts.  So the reader who has soaked in Luke and the hospitality of faith all through the gospel is not surprised by Luke’s description in Acts of the Christian community after Pentecost. Luke’s snapshot of life for the people of the Way. “Day by day”, Luke writes, “as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”

            All of which, all of it, all the preparing and sharing of meals and serving one another and the welcome offered and the tending to hurts, it all brings us to a reading of the text offered for your hearing this morning; Paul, Silas and the baptism of the jailer and his whole household. Paul and Silas are heading to the place of prayer when they meet a young slave girl who is a fortune teller. In the language of scripture, “she had a spirit of divination”. The slave owners made money off of her by forcing her to tell others their future. Paul calls out her spirit for apparently no other reason than that she keeps following them around and shouting that they are proclaiming a way of salvation. Her shouting, her following, her presence is annoying to Paul so he calls out her spirit. Whatever and however our post-modern minds are to think about all of it, the point is that Paul took away income from her slave owners. Even in the bible, it’s always about the money. They are arrested, beaten and tossed in prison.

Late at night there in their cell, Paul and Silas are praying and singing. They are worshiping together loud enough for all the other prisoners to hear. Then comes an earthquake that rattles the prison doors open and makes the chains fall off. The jailer wakes up, assumes that all the prisoners are gone and draws his sword to kill himself rather than face the wrath of the authorities sure to come. “Do not harm yourself, we are all here”, Paul shouts. The jailer takes them outside, calls for some lights and asks “What must I do be saved?” Paul and Silas answer him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus,  and you will be saved, you and your household.” They then spent some time teaching and proclaiming the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in the house. He didn’t just take them outside, he took them to his house. And that same hour, right away, just after they were done sharing the gospel with him, “he took them and washed their wounds; then…. then the jailer and his entire family were baptized without delay.” Presumably with the same water the jailer fetched to wash their wounds. “The jailer brought them up into the house and set food before them; and his and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.”

            So much scripture worthy stuff to catch the eye, spark the imagination, and qualify the story of Paul, Silas, and the jailer’s conversion for a spot there on the memorable bible story shelf.  Conversion, baptism, violent earthquake, angry mob, slave girl crying out, hymns, prayers, spirit of divination, word of the Lord, flogging, midnight prison worship, doors flung open, chains falling off, sword drawn,  household baptism, rejoicing, believing in God, and a memory verse too! “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” But there is an essential piece, a Lucan touch, a not minor detail that should not be overshadowed by an earthquake, a prison break, and even a conversion. A piece Luke wouldn’t want the reader to miss.

“He took them and washed their wounds….He brought them up into the house and set food before them.”  A careful reader of Luke cannot just pass that by. When you read Luke you can’t miss the care, the servant-hood, the generosity, the most basic of human dignity, respect, and kindness. Before the jailer was even baptized he washed the wounds. In the aftermath of listening to Paul and Silas speak the word of the Lord, he washed their wounds. In the wake of a violent earthquake that shook the jailer to his very core, he washed their wounds and gave them something to eat. In what is clearly portrayed and understood as a divine liberation, not just the liberation of Paul and Silas from a prison cell but the jailer’s liberation unto salvation, he washed their wounds, took them up into his house, and set food before them. The jailer’s conversation to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, it comes with, it is synonymous with, it is intertwined with his caring, serving, and being kind. For Luke, the baptism of the jailer and his whole household cannot be separated from the hospitality of faith.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will love your neighbor as yourself.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”  I never understood the choice for and English translation “believe on” instead of “believe in”. It’s the same preposition in Greek: in/on. “Believe on” sounds strange and doesn’t make sense. But it does makes it more memorable. Many, many years ago I was meeting with a family to prepare for the funeral of a husband and father and grandfather. They weren’t members and I had never met them before. The first thing his widow said to me was that we was not a church going man but faith was important to him. Every Thanksgiving, he would say the same prayer before dinner, she said. And the whole family said together, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” During the conversation I asked the kind of questions I always ask. “Tell me what you remember about your father.” “What was he like?” “What do want to make sure is said about him?” And for the longest time, there was a long awkward silence. Question after question and nothing. Finally, his daughter said something like, “To be honest, Reverend, my father was just not a very nice man. He was always critical of my mom, he was mean to us, and he didn’t have anytime for his grandchildren. He didn’t have much good to say about anyone or anything.”

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and know that the gospel has everything to do with how you treat other people. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and for his sake, be kind, and loving, and welcoming, and serving. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and remember that, in fact, the little things make a difference. It’s not just the Gospel of Luke and the hospitality of faith. It’s the gospel and the hospitality of faith. It’s the teaching of Jesus and the hospitality of faith.

There is so much hatred, and bitterness, and bigotry, and nastiness, and yelling, and name calling. And while so many are so busy arguing with and at each other, another killer walks into an office and kills twelve people who are just trying to do their jobs and serve a local community. I’ve long since grown weary of standing before you after another mass shooting and trying to have something to say. And I sort of feel the same way about trying to find words about the mind blowing and heart wrenching rise of weaponizing hate and mean-spirited rhetoric. But I will never grow weary, never stop, never give up proclaiming to you that gospel of Jesus Christ is telling you to be kind, and loving and that we absolutely have to make a difference in the world and model for our children and our grandchildren the more excellent way. You and I, the body of Christ at Nassau Church and the hospitality of faith.

Believe on the Lord Jesus and live like it. Live like it makes a difference….for you.