2 Pentecost A—6/18/17
Ex. 19:2-18a; Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8; Matt. 9:35-10:8[9-23]
Pr. Scott Kramer
One of the highlights of this past week for me was a reunion with a friend I hadn’t seen in many years. Liz and I taught English in China together 30 years ago. She and her family are from Sacramento but I’d never met her husband so it was a joy to meet them and their 15 yr.-old son over dinner at our house.
Next month we will welcome other visitors; this time, friends from Hong Kong that we haven’t seen in at least 20 years. Again next month, my brother and his family will stay with us for about a week. It’s shaping up to be a full and rich summer!
When we speak of “hospitality” these are the kinds of examples that come to mind, at least for me. We welcome friends and family, sometimes locally, other times from out of town; sometimes for a meal, other times even providing overnight accommodations.
All of this is within the spirit of our Christian faith but all of this is only the most basic beginning of how our God instructs us to live. Disciples of Jesus extend hospitality not only to those we know and trust; we also risk extending hospitality to those we don’t know and understand.
The wide embrace of God’s love leads us to ponder countless opportunities we have to extend welcome even to the stranger every day. Yesterday my wife and I went out to see a movie and as I was parking the car a van pulled up and it was a Muslim family in traditional dress. The wife was driving and was covered head-to-toe in black; all I could see was her eyes. The husband was all in white, including his cap, with a long, full beard. “Can we park here?” they asked. “I don’t know,” I said. “I have a parking pass!” We all laughed, and they continued their search for a parking place.
Such a simple story seems hardly worth mentioning, except that we live in times when many people’s attitudes are driven not by Christian generosity of spirit but by ignorance, suspicion and fear. It is in such times that any small gesture of kindness toward people who are experiencing exclusion, threats and persecution is significant.
The life of Jesus Christ is the story of God’s hospitality toward humankind and all creation. It all began long before Jesus came on the scene, as we recall in today’s reading from Exodus: You have seen…how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.
You—I—we shall be God’s treasured possession! But God’s gracious welcome of a particular people is not for the sake of excluding other people. Instead, we learn from God’s example toward us how to practice that generosity of spirit toward all of God’s beloved people—everyone!
Today marks the beginning of the “long season of green.” Pentecost is the season in which we study and learn and discern in everyday, concrete terms what it looks like to follow Jesus.
Providing shelter has always been an important way of providing God’s welcome. Homeless men, women and children have found such shelter under our congregation’s roof over the years, and especially over the past year. Last week we welcomed a children’s choir from Uganda. They blessed us with their abundant gifts of music and dance; we provided meals and a place to sleep.
But Brian Garrison, our guest preacher last week, affirmed a deep truth: Hospitality, he said, is at the heart of Christian discipleship that goes beyond providing space. He introduced us to New Horizons, the ministry of ordinary people providing space in their home over six months for homeless youth. God’s welcome, he reminded us, is not just about providing space. It is about human relationship, which provides opportunity for the flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus Christ—God’s love–in our midst.
To risk human encounters with those who are different from us is not easy and many times we’d prefer to avoid it. We’d even rather settle for distractions. Our reading this morning from Matthew, for example, includes Jesus’ own teaching on hospitality: Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
Now, over the centuries Sodom and Gomorrah have been associated by Christian with immoral behavior, or as an excuse to condemn homosexuality. But many of us have learned over the years to take a closer look at the story and to see that it’s not really about sex or sexuality. The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah fundamentally was the failure of God’s people to provide hospitality, to treat strangers with contempt. This is why Jesus uses this story in his teaching on hospitality. It turns out that Christians have felt more comfortable talking about sex than looking in the mirror to discern the ways in which we have committed the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah: the sin of failing to provide God’s welcome to the stranger when we have opportunity.
Lutherans and others over the past years have begun to become less preoccupied with distractions and more focused on that which is most important: God’s gracious welcome. Another opportunity presents itself again next Sunday as hundreds of Christians join thousands of others in Seattle’s Pride Parade.
It was a joy to welcome an old friend into our home last week. I look forward to opportunities in the weeks ahead to further extend hospitality to families and friends, and to experience the hospitality of others. But I also remember that for Christians these are baby steps. The gospel of Jesus Christ calls me and you and our congregation to the deeper, riskier work of discerning how God is calling us…to welcome the stranger!