Saturday, July 3, 2010

Giving and Receiving Hospitality

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

When I was leaving for Egypt and Israel, I was challenged to pack the right amount of clothing and equipment. I knew I could wear jeans more than once, but I would need several shirts. I also needed my shampoo and hairbrush, and medicine. I’m a book-a-holic and I needed some books. We would need rain gear and layers for the unpredictable weather. We were limited to one suitcase and a carry-on. It would have been easy to take much more, much, much more.
We ate what was offered. At the hotels, there was usually a wide variety to choose from. In the morning, there were eggs, cheese, yogurt, pastry, fresh vegetables, some fruit, hummus and tahina to spread on pita. In the evening, there was chicken, beef, fish, vegetables, bread, hummus and tahina for the pita.
Lunch was often a choice between two menu items. At one place, we had the choice of falafel or chicken-parts stuffed into a pita. Since falafel is usually made with a lot of garlic, I chose the chicken. Turns out, chicken parts meant a lot of organ meats, and not a lot of white or dark meat. I ate what I could manage and left the rest. A lot of travelers grumbled and complained, and ate little.
Our hotels were OK. Some were more humble, some more fancy. They all provided us with a place to sleep, shower, change clothes, read. The staff were friendly, spoke English, and were good hosts.
Mike and I tried to be good guests. We learned a few words of Arabic and Hebrew, so we could say thank you to hotel and museum staff in their language. We learned about the wide range of viewpoints in the Middle East and the challenges to peace presented by those views.

I compare my journey with Jesus’ command to the 70 disciples he sent out to share the good news about the reign of God coming. They were to take nothing extra, only what they were wearing. They were to trust God to make sure they had enough to wear, enough to eat, new sandals if theirs wore out or broke, and a welcoming place to sleep and eat.
As they entered a village, they were to look for people who would offer hospitality to them for several days. They would sleep where there was room; eat what was offered. In return, they would heal the sick and share the peace of God with their hosts. Their mission trip would not always be easy. If they were not welcomed, they were to shake the dust from their sandals and move on to another village.
The disciples were forced to depend on the hospitality of the villagers they encountered. In the Middle East, hospitality to strangers is expected, so that part was easy. The usual guest accommodation was a sleeping mat on the floor, and whatever the hostess was serving to the rest of the family. She may have added a little more water and another onion to the soup, and made some extra pitas. She may have had time to mend a torn tunic, or to launder the one the guest wore. The host may have taken the guest to meet others in town, and had his sandals repaired.
The host families were very interested in the news the disciples shared, or at least impressed with the healing powers. They wanted to hear more about Jesus; they wanted to know more about the kingdom, the reign, of God. What did it mean that it was coming, or near?
When they returned to Jesus, the disciples told the stories of how they had had the power of God to heal the sick. Jesus was glad to hear their success stories, but warned them to not boast that they had God’s power, but that God knew them by name.
We could focus on many things in this gospel story, but I want to talk about hospitality. The people in the villages where the disciples went offered hospitality by welcoming them, giving them a place to stay, listening to them, and asking for healing. The disciples were sent out and offered Jesus’ hospitality of healing, and the good news of the reign of God coming into their midst.
It seems lately like there is a lack of hospitality in the world. There is a lot of complaining and finger-pointing. Everyone has an opinion about how something should be done, and it’s usually different from the way it is being done. Someone has to be blamed, someone has to be at fault, and it’s usually not us, it’s the other person.
Watch or read the news about the Middle East and there are always people pointing their fingers at the other guys. Israel did this, so Hamas retaliated. Syria did that, so Israel retaliated. Almost everyone thinks their opinion is the right one, and anyone who disagrees with them should get out of the way.
Spend ten minutes watching TV these days and you get commercials from the candidates pointing fingers at the other candidates, and how they are to blame for the state of affairs in Florida or the nation.
Unfortunately, politics – in the world and in our nation and locally – is not the only place where we see this anger and finger pointing happening. It happens in the schools, in the home, and in the church.
One of the goals for Hope this year is hospitality. We hope to be more intentional with our hospitality to guests who walk in our doors. We hope to be welcoming to them when they join our congregation, and open-minded about the views they have and the gifts they bring.
We hope to be more hospitable among ourselves, welcoming a variety of opinions and talents. It means remembering that there are many right ways to do the same thing. It doesn’t mean we always have to agree with each other, but it does mean sharing our concerns directly with the person who has hurt or disappointed us. … And it means telling someone they have done a good job when praise is appropriate.
At this time at Hope, it also means being aware that some people who used to do certain things are no longer here. Their departure makes us sad, and it’s good to recognize that. It also means there are plenty of opportunities for us to serve in new ways, as well as more often in familiar ways. If we are going to be good hosts, offering good hospitality, it means looking around and offering ourselves as servants in Jesus’ name.
I’ll name a few examples: we could use more ushers, greeters, acolytes, altar guild members, and choir members to enhance our worship hospitality and ministry. We say we want to grow the congregation with young families, but to do so, we need to provide education for them, and we need teachers and more funding. This is an essential aspect of Hope’s hospitality.
That could mean doing things we have never done before. Jesus took a bunch of lay persons – fishermen, tax collectors, other laborers, and women – and taught them how to share the good news of the coming reign of God. Chances are few of them were accustomed to public speaking, but Jesus sent them out to speak to those who would gather and listen to what they had to say. He took away their fear, and gave them divine power to heal, teach, and love others into following Jesus too.
I guess that’s what it comes down to. Hospitality is about love. Let us respond to the goal of being hospitable by greeting everyone who comes in our door with love, whether they are walking through the door for the first time, or the umpteenth time. Let us respond to the goal of being hospitable by treating everyone with love, as welcome guests and as members of the family. Indeed, we all are members of the same family, in Jesus Christ. Let us respond to the goal of being hospitable by serving, even if we have done it before, even if we are afraid we’ll mess up, even if we don’t think we have the time, even if we think we are not worthy of serving.
Please pray with me: Gracious God, you offer us the hospitality of your love and forgiveness, healing our hearts and our bodies. Help us to love, forgive, and heal as Jesus taught us. Amen