Monday, June 27, 2011

Abundant Hospitality - June 26th 2011

Spend a little time with Matthew’s gospel, and this is what you will find Jesus telling his disciples as they are about to embark on their first evangelistic rally... Proclaim the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons, take no payment, no gold or silver, and don’t put any change in your pockets. Don’t carry a bag or take any extra clothing or shoes. Work for what you eat.

That’s what Jesus told his disciples. That’s all. That’s all.

And that seems like enough. But he’s not through. After giving them their marching orders, he tells them what they can expect for their troubles...

“I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves,” he says ominously, “so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves... Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his children, and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name...”

It doesn’t sound much like the gospel, does it? Sounds more like the Civil War.

“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword...

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Wow, that’s all just in chapter ten – just in chapter ten – of Matthew’s gospel. One chapter. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult portions of scripture that we will find anywhere.

So what is Jesus saying? What is Matthew telling us by putting these words of Jesus together? They are saying it’s a fearful world out there, especially for the one who dares carry Jesus’ name as an I.D.

So it is with rejoicing – and not a little bit of relief – that we finally get through all these terrible warnings and dire messages, and find a hopeful word when Jesus says, “... whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – amen I tell you – none of these will lose their reward.”

Like the allusion itself, after hearing all the terrible things that can happen to one who dares follow Jesus, these words are like a cup of cold water to a dry and parched throat. After telling his disciples what they must do – which seems downright impossible to us – Jesus tells them the consequences of it all will be harsh. But then he says it is enough – it is quite enough – simply to be offered a cup of cold water in his name. Just a cup of water.

So, we offer a collective sigh of relief and think that this lets us off the hook.

Besides, a cup of cold water... why, that’s easy. Piece o’ cake.

Except, Craig Kocher, a Chaplain at a university, reminds us of something all too real. “In a world as broken and fragmented as ours,” he says, “a simple act of kindness, a welcome to a stranger, a little genuine hospitality can be downright dangerous.” And that’s especially true here in Los Angeles.

“In a world where people are attacked in their own homes,” he says, “answering the doorbell becomes an act of faithfulness. Offering directions to a lost traveler provokes second thoughts. Holding another’s hand involves body contact. Visiting the hospital or retirement home means an encounter with the sick, the dying, and the lonely... Mumbling hello to a stranger on a crowded street may seem odd. A little airplane flight to visit...friends can be nerve-racking; a bomb may be aboard... In this kind of world, a world of walls and barriers, violence and loneliness, Christian hospitality becomes a prophetic act.”

This is not an easy world for many of us, if for no other reason than we have memories of a simpler and more pleasant time with which to compare it. Many of us grew up in a safer, different world. At least, that’s the way we remember it.

Robert Browning, not the poet but a pastor in Georgia, puts it well and says it for a lot us who are here this morning... “I grew up in a time,” he says, “when houses had screen doors that let light, air, pollen and noise filter throughout each room. Company never surprised us because we could hear their car coming up the gravel driveway. Spring rains did not sneak up on us either, because we could smell them before they arrived.”

I, at one point, lived in a small town that was only accessible by a long drive down a two lane road about an hour and a half outside Detroit. We did not lock our doors, we knew all our neighbors, as kids we would play tackle foot ball in a muddy field without a care, and stranger danger was never a concern that was a problem for the city.

Do you remember what that was like?

Now, we have air-conditioning and blaring TVs that blot out all the outside noises while we have transformed our homes into cocoons of safety and retreat, Dead-bolts and security alarms, lights that come on automatically when there is a motion nearby. For some, the only way you can get into your neighborhood is to have an access code that guards the gate. We are more comfortable, it seems, to live this way, but underneath it all is an underlying sense of unease, that lurking just outside the walls of our homes is danger. So we do all we can to protect ourselves from that which would jeopardize our well-being. We don’t live in that open, screen-door world any more.

Truth be told, however, neither did Jesus.

The context for what Jesus says here is conflict. The world he describes sounds more like Nazi Germany, when neighbors spied on neighbors and turned them in if their loyalty was not orthodox to the existing regime. Jesus has warned his disciples that even family members would turn against one another because of one’s allegiance to him.

Jesus says plainly that following him can lead to struggle, not smooth sailing. It can create more havoc than it does peace of mind. He is sending out his messengers, and wherever they go they will run the risk of creating the same kind of situation he himself has found everywhere he has gone. In some places he was accepted, received with warm hospitality. In others, he was met with anything but that. He also understood why. For someone to offer Jesus and his disciples hospitality – even just a cup of cold water – that in itself could be considered an act of treason.

It was a difficult world in which Jesus lived, a world in which hospitality had a dangerous edge to it. To us, the word “hospitality” implies coffee and Terry’s pie before service, a polite reception in the other room with cake and coffee. To Jesus, it meant far more than that. It meant acceptance, even to those who, in his society and in his day, were deemed to be unacceptable. This is why he put his arms around lepers, ate with tax collectors and sinners, forgave adulterers, and broke Sabbath laws. Hospitality was not only important to Jesus; it was at the very heart of being like God. And it didn’t make any difference to him where such hospitality took place, or to whom, or on what day.

Hospitality can have a hard edge even today. I suppose it depends on where you are and whether you’re willing to put yourself in difficult places.

The power of hospitality is no better illustrated in our Lord’s teachings than in these three verses. The key words are welcomes and gives. The culture of the Middle East is seasoned with generous hospitality. People who visit Jerusalem today always comment on the warm hospitality extended by shopkeepers.

To have the honor of showing hospitality is rooted in his culture. Here, Jesus summons his disciples to be men and women who welcome others as if they were welcoming him. We Christians are called to be people who live with open arms, open minds, and open acceptance. To take this idea further, Jesus identifies giving a cup of cool water “to one of these little ones” (Matthew 10:42) as the ultimate expression of hospitality. Tempted though we are to show deference to the powerful and wealthy, Jesus calls us to express the same level of concern to “little ones”—the marginalized, voiceless, abused, and forgotten. Especially those beyond these walls.

Elizabeth Newman writes in Untamed Hospitality that “The Faithful practice of hospitality must begin (and also end) with what our society will tend to regard as of little consequence. Waiting for the earthshaking event or the cultural or even ecclesial revolution can paralyze us. We are rather, as the gospel reminds us, called to be faithful in the small things. Hospitality is a practice and discipline that asks us to do what in the world’s eyes might seem inconsequential but from the perspective of the gospel is a manifestation of God’s kingdom.”

Simply greeting someone at the door, introducing yourself, and inquiring of their journey to our church. This small building and community quickly becomes comfortable and home. Being sure our doors are large enough for wheel chairs to come through, providing listening devices, and interpreters are just small ways that we make known God’s hospitality.

If you think about it we are not really giving anything special or unique when we offer hospitality to all we encounter. We are simply mirroring the generous Hospitality that God has offered to all, That God has offered to us! A welcoming place of community where God’s love is expressed acknowledged and shared every day. Not just Sundays but everyday that you are out engaging people the hospitality we extend here should be extended out there!

Hospitality has nothing to do with show and ostentation; but that it has everything to do with the way in which the guest is welcomed and made to feel comfortable and at home. I wonder, if given a choice amongst many spiritual gifts, which of us would choose the gift of hospitality. Would we not rather in responding to the needs of our friends request the gift of healing; or in responding to the needs of our country request the gift of prophecy; or in responding to the needs of a community request the gift of pastoral care.
And yet...... and yet the cardinal virtue, the cardinal spiritual gift, in the biblical record is the gift of hospitality. The bible is the story of the welcoming table.

We catch a sight of this in the gospel reading when the twelve are sent out in the expectation that they will receive hospitality. So they are not to take money or baggage, but they are to be entirely dependent on the hospitality of unknown hosts. Those who show them hospitality will be given the gift of peace; and those who refuse hospitality will be accounted as worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. We know that the sin of Sodom had nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with in-hospitability.

Sodomy is the sin of locking the door, barring the windows, turning the pantry into a safe, and looking at the stranger with cold and fearful eyes through lovely lace curtains.

Hospitality is the ways in which God’s people do more for the stranger than they might do for their dearest friends. For God often comes to us in the guise of the stranger. Bob has the habit of keeping change around just in case a stranger asks for help for you never know when that stranger just may be Christ. Remember it is written On the last day, Jesus will say to those on His right hand, "Come, enter the Kingdom. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was sick and you visited me." Then Jesus will turn to those on His left hand and say, "Depart from me because I was hungry and you did not feed me, I was thirsty and you did not give me to drink, I was sick and you did not visit me." These will ask Him, "When did we see You hungry, or thirsty or sick and did not come to Your help?" And Jesus will answer them, "Whatever you neglected to do unto one of these least of these, you neglected to do unto me!"

Even in the Old Testament we know the story of hospitality and the rewards of a simple welcome. Abraham is an old man of 99 and lives in the desert with his wife. One day he sees strangers in the distance he runs out to greet them offers them shade, water, and food. And in return he is granted a son. He was entertaining angels unawares.

As I truly believe that each and every one is created in the image of God then I must treat each and every one with the hospitality I would give to God. Imagine if the whole world were to practice this way, what kind of world this would be. Hospitality is not so much about extraordinary deeds as it is about allowing God to invade our very ordinary lives. There is holy significance in the ordinary small gesture.

We have heard it time and again from people who visit this community. They are touched by the number of people who come up and say hello and introduce themselves. This simple, small gesture of Hospitality becomes a grand gesture to the stranger who is feeling nervous, timid and perhaps alone as they arrive here for the first time. If that small gesture can make such a difference here, in this place . . . what effect would it have out there in the everyday place?

I hope and pray that as the spiritual communities grow and learn of Gods abundant Hospitality that they all, we all may become reflections of God’s Abundant Hospitality out in the world. Then perhaps, just perhaps I won’t have to lock my door any more. Perhaps I actually may walk down the street and hear Good afternoon. At least I know the world will be a better place if I choose to reflect God’s hospitality. Will you do the same? Can you meet that challenge that Christ has put before us today? I do hope so, I believe so and so In the name of Jesus Christ, I say welcome, good morning, have a cup of cool water and join us here at the table. Amen.

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