Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hospitality-Genesis 18:1-8

This morning's sermon is about one of the greatest virtues of a Christian - hospitality. I remember the last time an animal was slaughtered because I was a stranger who happened upon a home. Trasie and I were backpacking in a valley of the Andes Mountains in southern Chile. It was our 7th day on the trail. We were tired, rain was coming in. Against my better judgment, we packed up the tent and pushed on. An hour into the hike we were soaked to the bone. We had hoped to find shelter a few miles down the trail, but it turned out to be an unwelcoming place; so we had to turn up the mountain where the guidebook indicated there were a few homes near a mountain lake. Two more hours of hiking up a muddy horsetrodden trail; we slipped, cursed, and willed our way to the top where we were met by a beautiful clearing of a pristine lake and a home where a warm fire was sending smoke out of the chimney. As we approached the house, dogs announced our arrival, and before we were at the gate of the corral, a woman was opening it. Without a word, she whisked our shivered bones into a smoke house were a warm fire was curing meats. Trasie and I warmed ourselves there for a few hours, until finally, the woman beckoned us to come into the main house. There we were set around the wood burning stove which was the main feature of the home and served hot matte. Eventually, as it came close to supper time, the adult son left the conversation, and next thing we know, he was preparing a young sheep. Which we shared a few hours later gathered around the table. We were given a bed in the son's room, as he moved elsewhere, and we rested so well that night. We'll never forget that family, and often think to ourselves how wonderful it would be to go back to visit them. No doubt I could find this remote home. What's an experience you've had of hospitality? Find someone sitting nearby and share a story of when you have received a warm welcome. It doesn't have to entail an animal being slaughtered on your behalf. What are some of the common themes from the experiences? As Christians we are called to be hospitable. We have an extraordinary example of hospitality in this morning's story. Running Abraham. The herdsman, removed from populated areas, receives a visit. The scripture is a little vague - it says he was visited by the Lord, and then immediately suggests that three men or angels are visiting. Was it their visit that implied that the Lord was visiting Abraham, or was it the Lord who woke Abraham from his noonday slumber in his tent to let him're on! When he sees them coming, he gets up and runs to them..he doesn't know them but still he: -Bows before them, -calls them "lord" -fetches water for them - He runs to Sarah and instructs her to make some cakes - He runs to the herd and takes an animal and gives it to a young man to be slaughtered; - the men are served curds and milk, (corresponds to modern yogurt). And finally the calf, including the delicacy cow tongue dipped in mustard as one midrash explains ( B. Talmud Baba Metzia 86b ) "I'll have Grey Poupon. " He stands as they eat, ready to tend to their every need. Amazing! Jesus was a big fan of hospitality. When he was host of a meal, he washed his disciples feet. When he was guest, the Scripture seems to take note of when he was treated with proper hospitality, like when he went to Matthew's home, and when he wasn't, like when he was in Simon the Pharisee's home. He told many stories of banquets and wedding feasts in which there was an abundance of room and food and beverage -- "Welcome to the feast in the kingdom of God!". Jesus even said of hospitality, that when it comes to it, we're either like sheep or like goats. I was a stranger, he said, and you invited me in. I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me. In as much as you did it to the least of these, you did it unto me. As much as we may appreciate when we've been shown hospitality, and as much as we think it may be good thing for us to demonstrate in our own lives and in the church community, it's a challenge. However you choose to show hospitality in your own homes is something you must determine, but let's think about what it means to be hospitable as a church community...where it is more likely that we may find a stranger knocking upon the door. Is it more than just a friendly hello, how are you doing, during the passing of the peace? If so, how so? Is the church called to demonstrate radical hospitality - By radical: There are guests who are easy to show hospitality to. And then there are the not so easy guests. Radical hospitality doesn't Doesn't determine if some guests are easier than others. What does this mean for guests who may visit the church during the week seeking any number of needs? We live in such a needy world? How are we supposed to live up the the standard of Abraham? He just seemed to be so lonely, he had to beg those guests to stay. That's not really where we are. How do we fulfill the command of Jesus to welcome the stranger, when the number of strangers is more than anyone can handle, and their needs are so great? Like I said, it's a challenge. I struggle with really being gracious to strangers when they drop by. Back when I had time (no kids), it was not unusual for me to receive 2 or 3 guests a week at the church. I heated up many cans of soup and gave out any number of drinks of water, and had many interesting conversations... That hasn't happened in a long time... But I don't think being hospitable is prescriptive or a formula to fulfill when it comes to welcoming a stranger. Anyone of us can give out cans of soup until the cows come home, and may not show hospitality. As I've thought about this, I think that being hospitable, is a state of being.... similar to the way we've talked about prayer as a state of being, being hospitable can be a posture-- how we receive God and the world When it comes to God and the world, we may be open and receptive, or closed off and suspicious. The world is difficult, and God is unknown, so it wouldn't be surprising if most of us are pretty closed. Which is why prayer is a good place to begin to think about our own hospitality. When we pray, just by making the effort, we show an openness, a receptivity to God being part of our lives. When we pray, we acknowledge God's otherness - that we are Creature before the creator. We are the needy ones before the caregiver. Think about posture as you listen to what Henry Nouwen said of prayer: "To pray means to open your hands before God. It means slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together and accepting your existence with and increasing readiness, not as a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive. Above all, therefore, prayer is a way of life which allows you to find stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to God's promises, and find hope for yourself, your [neighbor] and the whole community in which you live. (With Open Hands - 154) Being led by God means that when a stranger along, we ask, "is God calling me to do be present with this person?" And that is a major aspect of hospitality as well. Presence. Quite often we may feel hospitality means being obligated to do or give...but perhaps at it's most basic level, it is simply a call to be present to, with, and for another person. It was funny, at a recent JV soccer game. The game had started, and as the sun was bearing down on the field, one of the boys noticed that we had two tents shielding us from the sun, while the guest team had none. He suggested, "Coach, should we give the other team one of our tents." I said, something like, whatever... And then as I thought about it I said, "that a good idea." The other boys got behind the one who suggested it, and as they were clearing things out of the way and preparing to move the tent down to the other team's bench, one of the boys who wears a Jesus bracelet said, "this is the Christian thing to do." The irony is that the boy who suggested to take the tent over there is Jewish. The other team never asked for shelter, the boy was present to their needs... Radical hospitality - Being present to others - This means seeing something more than just what is on the surface... We are who we are as much as we are what our potential to be is. Rachel Remen, talks about this in her book Kitchen Table Wisdom. p. 231: We are, in a certain way, defined as much by our potential as by its expression. There is a great difference between an acorn and a little bit of wood carved into a an acorn shape, a difference not always readily apparent to the naked eye. The difference is there even if an acorn never has the opportunity to plant itself and become an oak. Remembering its potential changes the way in which we think of an acorn and react to it. How we value it. If an acorn were conscious, knowing its potential would change the way that it might think and feel about itself. The Hindus use the greeting "Namaste" instead of our more noncommittal "Hello." The connotation of this is roughly, "Whatever your outer appearance, I see and greet the soul in you." There is a wisdom in such ways of relating. Sometimes we can best help other people by remembering that what we believe about them may be reflected back to them in our presence and may affect them in ways we do not fully understand. Perhaps a sense of possibility is communicated by our tone of voice, facial expression, or a certain choice of words. Holding and conveying a sense of possibility does not mean making demands or having expectations. It may mean having no expectations, but simply being open to whatever promise the situation may hold and remembering the inability of anyone to know the future. Abraham welcomed these guests, not knowing they were angels from God, who would reiterate the promise of a son for Abraham and Sarah. Seeing the potential in others in the Christian tradition, has often been said as seeing the face of Jesus in whomever we encounter. When we look for the face of Jesus in others, how does this change the way we interact with them? And maybe that's what we strive to do! With great expectation we pray that Jesus would come to pay us a visit on any given Sunday or any day of the week. Pray for it! Pray for the blessing of having Jesus in our midst! I came across a prayer from an old south African American church during the time of Slavey. Called Inasmuch as Ye Have Done It - Aunt Jane's Prayer [Prayer Tradition of Black People p 45], In thinking about hospitality, and welcoming the Stranger, I want us to close with this prayer "Dear Massa Jesus, we all uns beg [You] come make us a call dis yere day. We is nutting but poor Etiopian women and people don't think much 'bout us...but you is de one great Massa, greater dan Massa Linkum, you ain't shame to care for us African people. "Come to us, dear Massa Jesus. De sun, he hot, de road dat long and boggy and we ain't got no buggy for send and fetch You. But Massa, you 'member how you walked dat hard walk up Calvary.... We know you ain't weary for to come to we. "Come to we, dear Massa Jesus. We alluns ain't got no good cool water for give you when you thirsty. You know, Massa, de drought so long, and the well so low, ain't nutting but mud to drink. But we gwine to take de 'munion cup and fill it wid de tears of repentance, and love clean out of our heart. Dat all we hab to gib you, good Massa. "An' Massa Jesus, you say you gwine stand at de door and knock. But you ain't gwine stand at our door, Massa, and knock. We set de door plum open for you and watch up de road for see you. "Sisters," Turning to them, "what for you all ain't open de door so Massa know He welcome?" One woman rose quietly from her knees and set the church door wide open. "Come, Massa Jesus, come! We know you is near, we heart is all just tremble tremble, we so glad for hab you here. Dear Massa Jesus, whisper one word to we heart--one good word--we do listen--Massa--" And when we welcome others, we can expect a good word whispered to all of our hearts.