The Power of Hospitality
Over the last few Sundays, we have been following Abraham and Sarah’s saga. Abraham was known as “The friend of God,” “Father of the Faith” and, as his name implies, “Father of Nations.” But none of these names makes justice to one of his most significant gifts, hospitality. And thus, perhaps, another appropriate name for Abraham would be, “Father of Hospitality.”
The writer of Hebrews praises those “entertained angels unawares,” (Hebrews 13:2), accordingly referring to Abraham’s hospitality in receiving strangers who eventually would prove themselves to be messengers from God.
Let me suggest that the foundation of Abraham’s rapport with God, his steadfast faith, and his lasting legacy was the gift of hospitality. For to be friendly, one has to be hospitable to the Other, the One-That-Cannot-Be-Named. To develop trust, one has to be hospitable to ideas and experiences beyond one’s extent and, to start enduring generations, one has to be willing to deal with the challenges of the “What ifs” that only a welcoming spirit can handle. And all that, embodies the gift of hospitality.
For all its challenges, hospitality opens new doors to unexpected blessings and offers opportunities to grow in faith and in understanding. For, in fact, opening doors to a variety of individuals and new ideas, to different customs and to unknown traditions surely will open the doors of our souls and minds to the “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God,” (Romans 11:33).
Today’s Collect voices the desire for us to be built as “a holy temple.” So, what is a temple for? It is a house dedicated to worship the Divinity. In our tradition’s understanding, the church is not where God lives enshrined, but where God’s presence is made manifest through the gifts of Bread and Wine, in the praises, the worship, and here is the key, in the fellowship of God’s people.
One of the most unsettling Covid-19’s experience has been to stay away from church. Church is our spiritual home. Yes, it is the place where we learned to pray, to worship, and to know more about the life and ministry of Jesus, and where we learn how to follow in His steps.
But even if we arrive to church individually, once gathered, the blessings of spiritual fellowship are poured on us as a sweet balm of healing and joy. And, for sure, being away, we miss all of that.
Now, let me say that one of the richest rewards of staying away from church has been the re-discovery of worshiping God wherever we are, and the empowering experience of being church beyond handing a check on Sundays – In the service of God at the food pantry, phone-in support groups, housing for first-responders, caring for the homeless, and so much more.
Yet, being together in a welcoming place makes the difference. Only together we can grow into our understanding of being the Body of Christ and members of one another. When two or three are gathered together – in the fellowship of siblings – it is where Jesus feels welcomed to make his presence known.
As we are in the process of moving back to worship in church, let us use the experience to relish the hospitality that “The House of God” offers – or should offer.
For, let us reckon, there are some places that are stingy in the sharing of God’s presence. Some resent that visitors stand where they should kneel or kneel when they should be seated. Or because they have noisy children, or they are not “properly attired.” Or, sadly, because “they should go to their own church with their own people.”
In John 6:37 we hear Jesus saying, “anyone who comes to me I will never drive away,” and in today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me… And whoever gives a glass of water to the less deserving, surely will not miss rewards.” For, at the heart of God’s spirit is being welcoming and hospitable to his children and, indeed, to all and sundry.
It is interesting to note our Savior’s radical hospitality. “Anyone who comes…” Not only those who arrive at the proper time, or are properly dressed, or know the protocol, or has the same color of the skin. Jesus’ hospitality is so deep, enlivening and all-encompassing that He is able to welcome even me – and you – into His loving embrace.
Jesus’ hospitality is so radical because of His willingness to welcome us even though He does not need us to prop the budget, to have a token of multiculturalism, to assert the soundness of His doctrine, or to gloat about the number of followers. In other words, Jesus understands hospitality as another name for love.
Jesus’ hospitality beckons us to be welcoming not only to the physical presence of those who do not look, act, speak or vote like us. It is being hospitable to ideas, possibilities, and experiences. Both forms of hospitality bring along the chance of receiving unbeknownst angels. And both carry the assurance of the heavenly reward that it is growing into the plenitude of Christ.
As we move forward into this new season, let us place our trust in God’s mercy, His saving help, and His gracious dealings with us (Psalm 13:5), and let us prepare ourselves to welcome into our midst God’s visiting angels. In Jesus Christ’s Name. Amen.