June 2, 2013 (Our “Miracle Sunday” Celebration as we launch a new outreach ministry)
Text: Luke 10:1-3, 17-20
It is a week of celebrations! On Tuesday evening, the Cornell High School class of 2013 gathered here in our sanctuary for their Baccalaureate service. The preacher for the evening was Father Andrew Fischer from the St. Margaret Mary Parish in Moon. During his message, he invited the students to share their career path. One young women from the class said she is preparing to be a hotel manager by majoring in “hospitality.”
It got me thinking: if the church had a major, hospitality would be it! There is something fundamentally Christian about welcoming others and making space for them. Isn’t that, at its very center, what God has done for us? God made space for us – physical space in the created world, and spiritual and emotional space within God’s own loving self. God made room for us to live and breathe and have our being.
You and I – we who try to follow the Way of God – we are called and instructed to make room for others. We’re called to hospitality – especially of the stranger, the poor, the sick, the rejected. The pages of the Bible are full of stories of hospitality: In Genesis, Abraham and Sarah prepare a meal for the strangers at their door, and find them to be messengers from God. In Exodus – and another 35 times throughout the Old Testament – there is the command to “love the stranger…”
In the Gospels, we find Zaccheaus, who is transformed by his encounter with Jesus, and eagerly welcomes Jesus into his home. In Romans, we’re told to welcome the stranger (Rom 12:13), welcome those weak in faith (Rom 14:1), and welcome each other (Rom 15:7). Hebrews reminds us, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2). And the list could go on.
When I think about Coraopolis United Methodist Church, I think of hospitality. You’ve learned the lesson of welcome well. Over the past eight weeks, we’ve had 14 different members of the congregation share their reasons for supporting this church with their gifts of talent and resources. Every single one of them mentioned, in one way or another, the welcome they received here and the warmth they felt from this congregation. Well done! I’m grateful for the way that you welcome others into our midst.
I think there’s another side of hospitality, too. There is the welcoming into this space, our space – but there is also a way of being with others in their space and on their terms that makes them feel welcome, accepted, and at home in their own skin.
This is the sort of hospitality we see in Jesus. God has already created a space where we are welcomed – in all of creation, that speaks of God’s handiwork. Then God offers the Temple, where God’s presence drew near to human beings. We are gathered in and welcomed us into God’s presence throughout the Scriptures.
But God’s hospitality goes a step further in the incarnation. When God becomes flesh, God comes to us, and welcomes and affirms us for who we are here in our world. Jesus willingly lays down all the comforts of home – his home – in order to walk the dusty streets of our home, where we feel most secure and at ease.
Jesus meets us here, on our home turf. That is perhaps the greatest expression of hospitality, because it means giving up comfort and control. Going away from the familiar comforts of home leaves us vulnerable – dependent. On our own turf, we are the ones in charge, the ones with the power. Others are welcome to come, even invited in – but we still make the decisions; we still set the rules. After all, it is our home.
But that is the core message of the Christian gospel: Jesus gave up all the comforts and security of home in order to come to us where we are. Jesus willingly became powerless – submitting even to death on the cross! – in order to meet us where we are and offer God’s love.
Now that is radical hospitality!
And that is the kind of hospitality Jesus asks of his disciples in Luke 10.
“Go on your way…carry no purse, no bag, no sandals…whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!” and if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person…remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide” (Lk 10:4-7).
What do you think the hardest part of that command would be for the disciples? Pack light? Go knock on a stranger’s door and ask for a room?
You know what I think it was? I think the hardest part of Jesus’ instructions was “eat and drink whatever they provide.”
If you have travelled internationally, perhaps you understand what I mean. A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to Vietnam. He was eating breakfast one morning, enjoying what he thought was “pork – p-o-r-k – with peppers.” The first few bites were delicious – until he moved a pepper with his fork and found a large eyeball staring up at him from his plate! Turns out he was not eating pork afterall, but prok – p-r-o-k – a kind of fish that is served whole, head and all. It was a lot harder to eat what was provided when it was staring back at him!
I’m going to turn the tables on my dad this morning…when I was a child, he was the one who would use family stories for sermon illustrations. This morning, I’m using one of his stories.
I remember the story my dad tells of visiting a crochety old recluse who lived up in the hollers in Kentucky. (Perhaps I should let him tell the story!) Dad had slowly built a relationship with this man and had found him an old school bus to live in up there in the mountains. One afternoon when Dad went to visit, the man offered him a cup of coffee. Now, you have to understand, my dad is very particular about his food. He doesn’t like things to touch on his plate. When we were babies, he wouldn’t sit anywhere within arms’ distance of our grubby hands at mealtime! So when this man offered him a cup of coffee, Dad glanced around at the filthy kitchen with greasy dishes stacked everywhere and said, “No, thanks, I’m just fine!” But the man insisted – almost demanded that dad take the coffee. Dad watched with horror as he picked up a cup full of old coffee grounds, dumped them into a bucket, gave the cup a cursory swirl in a second bucket full of water, and poured coffee into it. And – dad took it. He swallowed hard and he gulped down that coffee. He ate and drank what was provided to him.
That is a hard, uncomfortable kind of hospitality – but it is one that affirms the other person in the deepest kind of way. It receives what is offered with gratitude – and in doing so, provides acceptance of the one who offers.
Jesus doesn’t promise that this kind of hospitality is easy – in fact, he warns them that it won’t be! But he knows he has given them the skills to do well. He knows he’s prepared them to be “workers for the harvest.” He knows the time is right for them to go.
For every story of welcoming in in Scripture, it seems that there is an accompanying story of going out. The God of the Bible is a God who gathers in, and also goes out.
- God who created space for us also came to us in Jesus. Welcoming in and reaching out, both a part of the character of God.
- Abraham and Sarah prepared a meal at the door of their tents – but they also followed God’s call to, “Go to the place where I will show you.”
- The Israelites were commanded to “welcome the stranger in your midst” because they had once been the stranger, called by God out of a foreign land to go to the land that God would provide for them.
- The disciples’ were called first to “Come, follow me,” and then sent to “Go, and make disciples…”
In the book of Revelations, the author records a series of letters from to “the seven churches.” Each letter begins, “I know…” and identifies the particular character of that church. And then the letter from God continues with a command to take the next step in their life together.
If our church was on that list – if God was writing us a letter – I wonder if might say something like this:
“I know the hospitality you show, how welcoming and loving you are to those who come in. I know you love and care for each other like family. But I say this: don’t just wait for them to come; get out and go to them! Share life with them, learn from them, receive from them. Expand your family out into the community. Welcome, yes. And also, go!”