Jeremiah 28:5-9 Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18 Romans 6:12-23 Matthew 10:40-42
There is an old Irish prayer, “O Lord, turn the hearts of our enemies. And if you can’t turn their hearts, then turn their ankles, so we can know them by their limp.” That is one approach to living a life in community. However, in the epistle, Paul is clearly setting forth the foundations of the Christian faith for the people in the Church at Rome. The first encouragement in this letter shows that baptism entails a new moral life. Everyone is under some dominion, either that of sin, or death, or the law, or that of grace. For Paul, there is no autonomous self. The term slaves of righteousness mark those who are under the dominion of God’s encompassing power.
If we are no longer under the law but under grace, are we now free to sin and disregard the Ten Commandments? Paul says “By no means.” When we are under the law, sin was our master – the law does not justify us or help us overcome sin. But now that we are bound to Christ, Christ is our Master, and he gives us power to do good instead of evil.
It is a matter of focus. I remember the story of the Bishop coming to see a family in the parish. The mother was so concerned about her five-year-old daughter saying something about the Bishop’s tremendous hook nose. She repeatedly reminded the daughter of her manners and what she could and couldn’t say. The Bishop arrived and all was going well. Her husband was doing a wonderful job of keeping the conversation going and her daughter had been an angel – all smiles and politeness. As she poured the coffee and passed the cup to the Bishop, she said, “Would you like cream and sugar in your nose?” Paul is reminding us to focus on the gift of grace given to us by God and not our potential for sin.
Today’s Gospel talks about hospitality. In just a few short verses of power and compassion, we are challenged to think more deeply about what it means to welcome one another. It is only after doing so that we discover the reward that comes from the deep hospitality found in God’s welcome of us. Jesus addresses this issue of hospitality in the most personal of terms. He describes the love that families hold for one another, the tenderness with which we care for parents and children. This tenderness and compassion
must be our model for loving, in Christ’s name, all who come into our lives. When we welcome the stranger, we welcome none other than the Christ.
Hospitality is full of humor and humanness. The simple, basic acts of kindness we perform in genuine welcome of one another are all that God asks of us – to look around to see who is in need and then to respond with love. I have been able to continue helping folks who come to the church because our Church family remembers the discretionary fund and continues to send in money. I am so grateful!
Christian faith advocates compassionate welcome that encourages us to trust, to be open, to share, to avoid manipulating others, and to live a way of life that is beyond our personal gain. We are also to be realistic about those things that distort and prevent us from compassion. The elements of our compassionate welcome are found in the contradictions of our lives when human relationships of closeness, warmth, depth, and durability can also be tinged with anger and alienation from each other. Those are the times, we love the other, but don’t want to spend any time with them.
Our will to achieve caring relationships is within our grasp, yet all too often, we fall short of creating and nurturing the genuine relationships that help us develop into the people God calls us to be. Pride, ego, apathy, self-doubt, keep us from connecting with each other except in self-centered ways. Therefore, we need God’s embrace in our lives to live in this paradox and fulfill our faith, living into a compassionate welcome with one another and extending genuine hospitality. In just four short verses, Jesus helps us steer away from distorting others and ourselves through unreasonable expectations and unjustified hopes. Jesus steers us toward love.
There is a parable about the difference between heaven and hell. In hell, people are seated at a banquet table overflowing with delicious food. But they have splints on their elbows and are unable to feed themselves. They sit through eternity experiencing a terrible hunger in the midst of abundance. In heaven, people are also seated at a table overflowing with delicious food. They too have splints on their elbows and can’t reach their mouths with their spoons. However, in heaven the people use their spoons to feed each other.
The ways and means by which people offer hospitality may vary from time to time and from culture to culture, but the nature of hospitality has not changed since our beginning. No matter what means we use, hospitality is always a work of the heart.
Compassionate welcome means approaching each other through God. This is how we recognize that genuine human relationships emerge from putting the grace-filled hospitality of God’s love at the center of our lives and at the center of all our relationships. God’s hospitality teaches us that close, loving, enduring relationships are to be valued along with distant, occasional, and abrasive ones – as difficult as that may be. This lively and sometimes maddening dynamic is the welcome Jesus speaks of in today’s gospel. If we live into this welcome with each other, we will find the rich rewards of discipleship found in God.
Joan Chittister says that “hospitality means that we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step toward dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.”
Hospitality, what Barbara Brown Taylor calls mindful availability, frequently involves some preparation. I have learned from my own experience that time spent in solitude brings me back to connecting with the spirit, an inner cleansing that I need to be able to make room inside. Solitude allows me to empty myself, so that there is gracious space within me to receive myself, then God and then to be able to welcome others. These Sundays after Pentecost we have been singing Spirit of the living God…..Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
We are asking God to melt us, mold us, fill us use us. What does that mean? What does that look like? When we are called to welcome others, we must first know who we are, and whose we are. Then we are able to open wide our hearts and our homes. Radical hospitality is an act of the recklessly generous heart – melt us, mold us, fill us, use us.
Jana Riess says that “hospitality is about what we all really want. It’s being welcomed at the table, with others who are genuinely glad we are there. Hospitality is about more than seeing to visitors’ nourishment and comfort, although that’s a hugely important start. It’s about welcoming the stranger so that the stranger is no longer strange. He or she becomes known as a person. When that happens, lives can be changed, friendships formed – even wars averted.”
We can contribute to the lives of others at a distance, that is safe now days. But the sort of hospitality that is mutual is usually handmade, something that happens in a deeply personal way between two people. At those times, we may come to know the true value and worth of our lives. The kind of hospitality that transforms us the most has our fingerprints all over it.
It is wonderful to be talking about hospitality as we prepare for the Fourth of July weekend. We, our families, our ancestors, all came from someplace else. Maybe we, they were welcomed with radical hospitality or maybe not. Looking at the Declaration of Independence, we see the importance of our life together and the freedom we share. We share a rich history, a hopeful future, gifts to be used in community and the love of God that binds it all together. Our work is to welcome, to offer an embrace when an embrace is invited, and to give a cup of cool water on a hot summer day. Our reward, Jesus says, is righteousness, fullness and fulfillment. Amen.