Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hospitality As Community

Here's a rough manuscript of a sermon I gave on Matthew 10: 40-42 @ Community Lutheran Church in Enfield, NH on 6/26:

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’  Jesus’ message to the disciples in our gospel lesson today is a message we hear over and over again.  We hear how we’re supposed to do better: how we’re supposed to better welcome the stranger, clothe the poor and feed the hungry.  This message is so important that we conclude our worship services with the words ‘Go in peace and serve the Lord!”  Simply put, serving our neighbor and practicing hospitality is central to who we are as Christians.  Writing on today’s gospel lesson one Lutheran theologian states, “What would happen if we stopped expecting people to come on their own initiative through our church doors and instead took seriously our calling to bring the gospel to them?”

She’s right of course.  Practicing hospitality is central to who we are, and despite our best efforts, its something we can always do more of.  Our lesson from Roman’s today agrees with this notion… Paul is explains that just because we’re saved by God’s grace that doesn’t mean we can just sit back and relax, doing whatever we want… BY NO MEANS he exclaims.  Rather, because we’re saved by God’s grace, out of love for God we are to recognize the face of Christ in our neighbors, going out to serve them and welcoming them into our community.

You’ve heard this all before though… and sometimes it can be a hard sort of message to hear.  When we’re busy getting through school, supporting our families or simply working through what life throws at us, hearing that we need to do more to welcome our neighbor can be a difficult message to swallow.  There’s good news though friends… what I’ve spoken of so far is only half of what Jesus is telling us in the gospel lesson today.  Hospitality, especially Christian hospitality, isn’t just something we do for another person… it’s a relationship.  Sometimes we’re like the disciples in this gospel lesson, but more often than not we’re like the little ones… desperately in need of a cup of cold water.  While we are commanded to better the lives of others and serve them as Christ its important to recognize how others may be doing God’s work in our own lives as well.  So often in a bid to stay in control, save face or maintain a safe distance from others we end up refusing the very help and comfort that we pray for.

I’m not saying we should just get lazy and expect others to do our work for us… self-reliance is a great quality on one level and something folks from New Hampshire are of course admirably known for. Rather, I’m speaking of the little things.  I touched on one good example of such things in the children’s moment this morning… I can remember almost every day when I would come home from school my mother would ask me how my day was.  At best I’d begrudgingly mutter, “Good.” back to my mom before running off to turn on MTV or to chat it up on the Internet... sometimes I’d simply ignore her.  She was practicing true hospitality though… she genuinely wanted to know how I was doing and instead of spending quality time talking with my mom I pushed her away… almost every day I missed an opportunity to experience community, to share in a sacred moment.

It doesn’t change when we grow up either… church coffee hours are a great example of this.  Who here in the congregation today has sort of been having a bad day, or maybe even had a bad week?  I know I’ve had a pretty rough one… I’m downright exhausted.  In the midst of having some baked goods, planning for a committee meeting or trying to get our kids out the door, how often at coffee hour do we genuinely tell our friends and neighbors that we’ve had a rough week when they ask us how we’re doing?  Sometimes of course people are in fact just saying hello when they ask us how we’re doing, but often they genuinely mean it… how often do we shrug off such hospitality… how often do we miss invitations to sacred moments where God’s love can be experienced in true community?

The really good news in the midst of all this is that despite our tendency to push each other
way, there are still moments when God’s saving love shines through and is experienced as we serve each other in community… at a place named Community Lutheran Church it makes sense that such moments seem to happen pretty regularly.  I was up here to help out with the Easter Vigil service and a few days later after returning to seminary I took part in a conference with a well over a hundred pastors.  The question, “When’s the last time you experienced God’s love?” came up for discussion and after a brief silence I sprung up and told the whole room about a little church I was at in New Hampshire where almost everyone in the congregation seemed to take some sort of role in the Easter Vigil service.  Whether serving as an acolyte, singing in the choir, or helping plan for Easter breakfast the next morning everyone was contributing and appreciating each other’s contributions, and I for one was very touched by the experience.

I think it’s often in moments like those, when people are serving in community, committing acts of genuine hospitality and accepting the hospitable actions of others, that we most profoundly experience the good news of God’s saving love for us.  It’s in those moments when love can conquer our fears and when we can step outside of our anxieties and loneliness, feeling the embrace of God’s love.

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