As many of you know, Anthony and I love to entertain. Having people over for a meal, some libations and conviviality is one of our great pleasures. And we love it all: the planning, the shopping, the cooking, the decorating, the pleasure of introducing new foods and tastes, the camaraderie and conversation and even the cleanup . . . well, he likes the clean up better than I do, but I help. For us, entertaining adds up to gracious hospitality.
We speak a lot about hospitality in Christianity. Hospitality is one of the ancient Christian disciplines, finding its origins in the mandates for hospitality to all people in middle-eastern Semitic cultures.
The parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew’s Gospel informs us that those people who will enter God’s reign are the ones who welcome every stranger as Christ himself. That alone is a pretty good incentive for us to practice hospitality to all who we encounter. Before the Vestry updated our parish mission statement last year, the previous mission stated that we at Christ Church offered everyone who entered our doors “radical hospitality.”
And I know that this congregation prides itself in offering hospitality through our warm welcome of the stranger, friendliness to all who enter our doors, our outreach programs, ministries and all our social events, from coffee hour to spaghetti dinners, pancake suppers to picnics.
We are a pretty hospitable group… Well, most of the time, anyway!
The issue with our approach to Christian hospitality though is that it is one-sided. As commonly understood, hospitality is something we believe we are called to offer someone else. It is not necessarily something we look to receive.
Jesus gives a completely different understanding of hospitality in the second part of today’s Gospel lesson from Mark.
“[Jesus] called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’”
According to his instructions to the disciples, Jesus indicates that discipleship demands dependence on hospitality (Mark 6:7-12), and this dependence in the doing of it, but rather in the receiving of it. They are to travel with the barest of essentials and to be dependent on the welcome and hospitality of the places they go to bring the Good News.
So, as Jesus’ 21st century disciples, who here is ready to be dependent on the hospitality of others? Not many. Like compliments, most of us are more comfortable offering someone hospitality rather than receiving it — think about it.
The reason for the discomfort is this: Needing hospitality requires us to be vulnerable and let go of our control over our lives. But that’s precisely why Jesus told the disciples to only take the bear minimum with them, compelling them to be dependent. This initial sending forth foray was to be boot camp for discipleship.
You see, relying on the hospitality of others is to engage in risk taking, because being reliant on the hospitality of another anticipates rejection — and who likes rejection? Jesus forewarned the disciples that they would not always get the red carpet treatment in every town and home they visited. Hoping to encounter true hospitality in the other is to become much too vulnerable for most of us. But to be a disciple of Jesus, it is absolutely necessary.
It’s another paradox of our faith: Being vulnerable and dependent on another’s hospitality is the soil that nurtures God’s love in our lives. When we are received and graciously welcomed by those who we are dependent on, we in turn become able to offer hospitality to those who need us to offer that same hospitality to them. And by recognizing our dependence on one another, we come to understand our ultimate total dependence on God.
On this Independence Day weekend, we should remember that the ethos of this kind of hospitality is deeply woven into our nation’s fabric.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free;
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless,
Tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Those words inscribed on the foundation of Lady Liberty, are an invitation to all those who are vulnerable in the world. It is a clarion call to accept and be reliant on the hospitality of this nation; regardless of who you are, what your circumstances are, or where you are from. Emma Lazarus’ eloquent words proclaim that despite the reasons you have been rejected by others, you will receive hospitality in America.
Regardless of your opinions about the SCOTUS rulings on healthcare and same-sex marriage last week, the decisions of the court have major implications for how our imagination works when it comes to hospitality. If we use the lens of the parable of the sheep and goats for one eye, and the lens of Lazarus’ words on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty for the other eye, we see that those two Supreme Court decisions offered hospitality to two groups of people who were vulnerable and totally reliant in receiving it from others.
Hospitality is not just having someone over for a nice meal or offering pleasantries. Hospitality is not just tolerating people. And as I have come to learn, there’s no such thing as “radical” hospitality. Adjectives don’t have any impact on the quality of our hospitality. At its heart, hospitality is simply radical unto itself. There is no other kind of hospitality. It’s either radical or it’s nothing. Like pregnancy, you either are or you aren’t hospitable.
So here’s a message to our political leaders, our religious leaders and churches and to business people. Keep this understanding of hospitality in mind when you engage in debate over immigration reform, same-sex marriage, civil rights, selling wedding cakes or photographic services to a couple, or who is and who is not welcome at the altar to receive the sacrament, among other topics. The bottom line is that if you welcome some and exclude others don’t pretend you are hospitable, or in fact a true follower of Jesus, or an American who holds the Statue of Liberty and her symbolic message as iconic. It’s not possible without falling into hypocrisy.
Two Sundays ago, Mother Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston flung open its doors just days after the tragic shooting of nine of their flock. Did you - could you even - imagine what it would be like to walk through those doors on that Sunday? To be totally dependent on the mercy and love of a congregation that had offered that same hospitality to someone just days before and had been betrayed in doing so?
That’s the authentic hospitality of our Christian faith. That’s what it really means to be - as Presiding Bishop-elect, Michael Curry calls it – a member of the Jesus movement. Are we ready to receive that kind of hospitality in our lives? Are we prepared for that kind of showing of mercy in the face of such a heinous act? Are we willing to be received with that kind of welcome, a welcome that is the ultimate expression of Christ’s love?
Jesus calls us to that level of discipleship. Jesus says nothing less will do. Jesus says that if you say yes, than you become an authentic follower of me and you will cast out all sorts of demons and heal all conditions of brokenness in the world.
Are you ready? Happy Dependence Day.