The Hospitable Way
Indianapolis First Friends
Pastor Bob Henry
November 18, 2018
Luke 14:12-24 (NRSV)
12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 Then Jesus[a] said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you,[b] none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”
Today, we conclude our 11-part “Slow Movement” series by looking at the topic of Hospitality. We have looked at everything from stability to wholeness and abundance, to gratitude just last week and now today – hospitality – another appropriate topic as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday.
Most people think hospitality has a lot to do with being welcoming, helping people feel welcomed and have a sense of belonging or, you could say, it is allowing others to become a full participant of whatever is happening.
Or if you are a Hoosier (which most of us are), hospitality is all about being polite – or what we have labeled “Hoosier Hospitality.” Yet sadly, The Marchex Institute ranked Indiana the 3rd rudest state in the nation after examining more than 600,000 phone calls from the past 12 months made by customers to businesses in 30 industries like cable and satellite companies, auto dealerships, pest control centers, etc. The firm looked for the frequency of curse words and which states said “please” and “thank you” the most. We ranked 3rd behind Wisconsin and Massachusetts.
In our world today, hospitality might mean welcoming and being polite, but it has also become about being at ease with people and sensing an amount of safety - yet that was not always the case in our Abrahamic religious history. Hospitality looked a bit different in the ancient Near East than in America, today.
And this was mainly due to hospitality being offered to complete strangers.
Marjorie J. Thompson in her book “Soul Feast” (which I consider a primer for experiencing the Spiritual Life in a Christian context) says this about hospitality in ancient times,
“People who appeared from the unknown might bear gifts or might be enemies. Because travel was a dangerous venture, codes of hospitality were strict. If a sworn enemy showed up at your doorsteps asking for food and shelter, you were bound to supply his request, along with protection and safe passage as long as he was on your land. All sorts of people had to travel at times through “enemy territory” which meant the hospitality to strangers was a matter of mutual survival. It was a kind of social covenant, an implied commitment to transcend human differences in order to meet common human needs.”
Wow! I think it is time for us to reinstate this “social covenant” in our day and age. It makes me wonder how the early Abrahamic faiths would have viewed the “Caravan” heading to the US Border or the continued creation of New Jim Crow laws to oppress minorities.
Thompson continues, she says:
“Hospitality was a hallmark of virtue for ancient Jews and Christians. But in scripture, hospitality reflects a larger reality than human survival codes. It mysteriously links us to God as well as to one another…Hospitality in biblical times was understood to be a way of meeting and receiving holy presence.”
If we as Quakers truly embrace the theology of “That of God in everyone we meet,” then each encounter with our neighbor is an opportunity to meet and receive holy presence.
Just look around you in this room – you are in a room filled with opportunities to experience holy presence.
Or think about this coming week, you will be having dinner around tables with family and friends who are opportunities to experience holy presence.
That is if we are able to see with “hospitable eyes.”
I remember just before coming to First Friends, I had the opportunity for a silent retreat at the Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon. On my last day there, I had spent some time in the library and was on my way out and decided to grab a quick drink of water out of the drinking fountain. Just above the fountain was a beautiful sign made with colorful mosaic tiles. On it was written the Rule of St. Benedict #53 – Receive all as Christ.
Receive all as Christ.
Receive all as a holy presence.
Receive all as if we believed that there was that of God in them.
Jean Vanier, philosopher, theologian, humanitarian and founder of the La’Arch Community wrote about hospitality in “Befriending a Stranger” saying,
“In the midst of all the violence and corruption of the world God invites us today to create new places of belonging, places of sharing, of peace and of kindness, places where no-one needs to defend himself or herself; places where each one is loved and accepted with one’s own fragility, abilities, and disabilities. This is my vision for our churches: that they become places of belonging, places of sharing.”
When we start to receive people differently and see with hospitable eyes that of God in them, then we are evoked to create new places of belonging and sharing.
I believe one of the biggest problems with churches and Quaker meetings today, is that they too often have stopped creating new opportunities for belonging and sharing. They continue to do the same thing over and over hoping for different results (some label that insanity!) I love all the ways we have been creating opportunities here at First Friends to help people find a place to belong and share.
· Connection Dinners for new attenders in members homes.
· Threshing Together gatherings at community eateries.
· Weenie Roasts and Sing-alongs on the porch of our Meetinghouse.
· Community Soups in our Fellowship Hall.
· Bread Making and Baking in our Meeting’s Kitchen.
· Road Trips with Seasoned Friends
· Grief Gatherings for those grieving.
· Eco Films at various churches.
· Yoga in our parlor
· Unprogrammed Worship on Mondays and Wednesdays.
· Small Groups at coffee shops, homes, and at the Meetinghouse.
And that is only a few of the great ways we are creating opportunities for belonging and sharing.
Slowing down and spending time with people for the purpose of developing community, friendships, and deeper relationships is essential to hospitality.
Marjorie Thompson went a little further, she says this about the essence of hospitality.
“Hospitality means receiving the other, from the heart, into my own dwelling place. It entails providing for the need, comfort, and delight of the other with the openness, respect, freedom, tenderness, and joy that love itself embodies.”
Folks, Hospitality is an expression of love. Or maybe I should say, it is an expression of unselfish love.
In our scripture text for this morning, before Jesus shared his parable, he decided to say a couple things to his host.
He says in v. 12, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.
In other words, you don’t give in order to get something in return.
Why not? Because when you behave in this way, it means that you are looking for a selfish gain in some way.
Instead Jesus tells the man in vv. 13-14, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”
In Israel, the crippled, the lame and the blind were obviously the poor of the society. These were the people who, because of their physical disabilities, could not work, and therefore they could not earn a salary. Most of them depended on charity to survive.
Why should you invite them? Precisely because they can’t repay you. This is the exact opposite of the worldly way of thinking – you scratch my back and I will scratch yours.
Nobody gives in this way, in a spirit of unselfish love. But this is how we are to respond, this is the true essence and nature of hospitality – it is a concrete expression of our unselfish love for our neighbor.
Also, I categorize this type of hospitality as a justice issue or part of Christ’s social gospel, because hospitality to strangers often is considered “doing justice.”
Interestingly the biblical meaning of justice is simply conveyed as “right relationships” with one another.
So showing kindness to the nomad or vagrant, or offering support to the widow or orphan, taking in the homeless or poor, and offering hospitality to strangers (even enemies) – these were all expressions of just relationships with one’s neighbor in scripture.
Take a moment to really think about this…who are the nomads, vagrants, widows, orphans, homeless, poor, and strangers in our neighborhoods? Who are the people who cannot repay us? Who are the people who are neglected by the mainstream of culture? Where do they live and spend their time? Why are they neglected?
We often look at the extremes and point outside our own four walls, but the reality is too often the strangers are also in our midst. Just maybe the stranger is
· someone who feels alone,
· someone who has no friends, no one to talk to.
· someone who gives and gives but is never recognized by others for using their gifts.
· someone struggling to keep their marriage together and afraid to admit they are struggling.
· someone suffering from depression or melancholia.
· someone who is ashamed by what they have done or what has been done to them.
· Someone who is addicted to pride or power or prestige.
· Someone who is scared or wishes they could be stronger.
The reality is each of us in this Meetinghouse all have at one time been or maybe currently are strangers.
· We all want to be welcomed.
· We all want to belong.
· We all want to be full participants.
· We all want to be needed.
· We all want to be delighted.
· We all want to be loved.
· We all want to be in right relationships
· We all want to be seen and known.
This is why it is so important that when we practice hospitality it, as John Fenner at Parker Palmer’s Center for Courage and Renewal claims, is an “appreciation of otherness.” He says,
“Appreciating the value of otherness, for me, goes beyond tolerance – beyond “you’re welcome as long as you play by our rules.” Appreciating the value of otherness entails a level of engagement, inquiry, dialogue, and interaction in which all members can freely share their gifts, learn from each other, and ultimately grow spiritually together. This is hard work and takes time and practice. It takes a willingness to be stretched and to sit with discomfort. It takes a belief that there is “that of God in everyone.”
So whether at Meeting for Worship, around the table this Thanksgiving Holiday, at your work meeting, with your yoga class, or wherever you are called to be hospitable this week, remember to have hospitable eyes, receive all as Christ, help people to feel that they belong and are appreciated, and remember that we are all strangers seeking to be known.
Prayer of Hospitality by Liz Dyer
Give us eyes to see the deepest needs of people.
Give us hearts full of love for our neighbors as well as for the strangers we meet.
Help us understand what it means to love others as we love ourselves.
Teach us to care in a way that strengthens those who are sick.
Fill us with generosity so we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give drink to the thirsty.
Let us be a healing balm to those who are weak and lonely and weary by offering our kindness to them.
May we remember to listen, to smile, to offer a helping hand each time the opportunity presents itself.
Give us hearts of courage that we will be brave enough to risk loving our enemy.
Inspire us to go out of our way to include those in the margins.
Help us to be welcoming and inclusive to all who come to our door.
Let us be God’s hospitality in the world.