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  • The Rev. Frank St. Amour, III

Sermon - 12 Pentecost

In the Name... The comedian W.C. Fields used to have a line about a certain contest. First prize was a week in Philadelphia. Second prize was two weeks. Imagine then, what he would have made of the opening line of today's scripture from Hebrews. "Let Philadelphia stand forever!" Yes. That's what it said - Let brotherly, or mutual, love continue. Of course, the word "philadelphia" is a compound from "philia" or "love" and "adelphos" or "brother" and the verb for "continue" - "maneto" - is the same root word from which we get the word "monument.” Our brotherly love, then, is to be something that everybody can look up to and feel good about. Like a monument, standing tall. Now, in Jesus' time, the Jews used the word "brother" in a very special way. They mentally merged their race, religion, and natural relationships so closely that they saw themselves as members of one family wherever, or whenever, they lived. They used "brother" to mean both a physical relative and a spiritual one, a fellow Jew. This was a strange concept in the Ancient World. A Greek from Athens might feel a bond to Athens, but he would never use "adelphos" to mean another Athenian. To the Greeks, "philadelphia" was all about family ties. You see, then, how radical this teaching was when the Christians applied it on a universal scale. Not just Greek families, not just the Jewish people, but everybody on earth is an "adelphos." And, it was something people had to struggle to understand. First the Jewish Christians didn't want to accept Gentiles as equals. And the rich had trouble accepting the poor. And the free-born had trouble accepting the slave-born. And every letter of the New Testament seems to have to address this in some way - the idea that Christians of all races, classes, conditions, sex, etc. are part of one family - equally important in God's eyes. And we're still trying to get it right. Which this brings us to another special word used in the reading - "philozenias" or "love of strangers.” "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers." Not only are we to love the brothers, but also the strangers. And that's a joke because, remember, for Christians, nobody is a stranger. We’re all part of God’s family. ­­ That said, though, we don’t all speak the same language or have the same customs or share the same lifestyle and it can be embarrassing when we encounter those members of the family. They might represent a branch we’d prefer not to know. It takes something extra to reach out and try to make them feel comfortable and included. That something extra is philozenia. Back in the 70’s, my parents and I used to attend a small church in downtown Washington, D.C. many miles from our house in suburban Chevy Chase. We never had more than about 30 at our service, and almost all, like us, upper-middle class folk from the suburbs. But street-people would often attend our coffee hour in the parish hall. Well, let me tell you, these mostly unwashed, and in some cases delusional, people were always seated and served by our church members as if they were VIP’s and the leftovers were given to them. Our Senior Warden's wife said that we might be entertaining angels unawares. And another thing we did was resettle a Vietnamese refugee family. This was the era of the “boat people.” We helped this family find a place to live and got them furniture. We showed them how to read a city map and take the buses. We arranged English lessons and job training. And we all learned how huge the cultural gulf was between Southeast Asia and Northwest D.C. We made a lot of mistakes along the way, but we had a lot of good laughs together and that family found a spiritual home as well as a physical one. The members of tiny St. Hilda of Whitby trekked into the inner city every Sunday because of our philadelphia and, as a result, the spirit of philozenia flowed from us. The tombstone of W.C. Fields is inscribed with the line, "I'd rather be in Philadelphia.” Well, that's quite a thought. In fact, it's not a bad one and we can all be there, right now, right here, in Kent County, Maryland, because the spirit of philia-adelphos knows no physical boundaries. And, if we practice it, that, and what flows from it, can be our monument. One which will stand forever. In the Name...

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