Welcoming the Stranger
Bethel is in for a real treat in 2022 with a strong emphasis on gospel readings from the Gospel of Luke. Known as “Year C” in the Revised Common Lectionary, Luke’s time in the spotlight begins with a deep dive into the radical beauty of the Bible’s message on hospitality. Hospitality in the Bible is not what you might learn about from Miss Manners or Martha Stewart. It is not what you would read about in Good Housekeeping or Better Homes and Gardens. Hospitality in the Bible is a transformational experience where a stranger becomes a friend. Hospitality begins with the first chapter of the Bible when God creates the world and places Adam and Eve in the garden as God’s guests. As the owner of the garden, God makes a place for them, welcomes them, and provides for them.
Our world today seems more bent on hostility than hospitality. What author, Henri Nouwen, wrote in 1975 is even more true in our day: “Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggressive people anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to suddenly appear, intrude, and do harm.” Life in our society has become hyper-partisan and filled with rancor.
God offers a different way. It is a way where enemies become friends. This happens in the Bible through the experience of hospitality where the “other,” the “stranger” no longer stands before us as an unknown threat to be vanquished. Instead, the stranger stands before us as a mysterious guest bearing gifts of beauty and value. Join us for worship, in person or online, for four messages that promise to reduce your stress, lighten your worry, and enlarge your heart.
The Strangeness of Jesus
On the same day, two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village called Emmaus. It was about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. While they were talking, Jesus approached them and began walking with them. Although they saw him, they didn’t recognize him. He asked them, “What are you discussing?”
They stopped and looked very sad. One of them, Cleopas, replied, “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has happened recently?” “What happened?” he asked.
They said to him, “We were discussing what happened to Jesus from Nazareth. He was a powerful prophet in what he did and said in the sight of God and all the people. Our chief priests and rulers had him condemned to death and crucified. We were hoping that he was the one who would free Israel. What’s more, this is now the third day since everything happened. Some of the women from our group startled us. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They told us that they had seen angels who said that he’s alive. Some of our men went to the tomb and found it empty, as the women had said, but they didn’t see him.” Then Jesus said to them, “How foolish you are! You’re so slow to believe everything the prophets said! Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then he began with Moses’ Teachings and the Prophets to explain to them what was said about him throughout the Scriptures.
When they came near the village where they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. They urged him, “Stay with us! It’s getting late, and the day is almost over.” So he went to stay with them. While he was at the table with them, he took bread and blessed it. He broke the bread and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. But he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t we excited when he talked with us on the road and opened up the meaning of the Scriptures for us?” That same hour they went back to Jerusalem. They found the eleven apostles and those who were with them gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has really come back to life and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two disciples told what had happened on the road and how they had recognized Jesus when he broke the bread.
February 27, 2022
Pastor Mike Brown
Welcoming Jesus’ Words on Gender and Sexuality
When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went to the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he cured them there.
Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?” He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.”
His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”
February 20, 2022
Pastor Mike Brown
Expanding Your Circle of Love
After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.” He told them this parable: “No one tears a piece out of a new garment to patch an old one. Otherwise, they will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’”
February 13, 2022
Pastor Mike Brown
Welcoming the Stranger
When he [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s welcome [favor].”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.