Saturday, July 25, 2009

Summer Sermon Series - Spiritual Disciplines

Hospitality as Faith in Action

These days there is an entire industry connected to hospitality. It is consists of food services, accommodations, recreation, and entertainment sectors – taking care of every need. However, it is a several billion dollar industry that mostly depends on the availability of leisure time and disposable income.

In Biblical time Hospitality was even more important. If you were in trouble and were welcomed into someone’s tent or invited to a meal, you were safe, the kind of safe that is like what we understand sanctuary to be. No one could touch you or harm you. Food and refreshments would be provided.

It was serious business to be offered a place out of the sun, out of harm’s way, and invited into the company of people who would care for you.

That is hospitality in Jesus’ day; a hospitality that has to do with foreign armies, and scorching suns, a hospitality that was a vital part of the lives of people. There were very clear beliefs and understandings of how one was to be hospitable to another.

In our own homes we have an understanding of hospitality. My father tells a great story of his aunt coming to the house when he was probably 10 and his parents were not yet back from the store. Dad knew he needed to be polite to his aunt, take her coat, invite her to sit and offer her a cup of tea. The unfortunate part of this story is my dad had no idea how to make tea. He knew he had to boil water and put in some tea leaves, but quantity was another thing all together. Apparently the tea was rather strong...but he was hospitable and his aunt was gracious.

I went to school with a person from Liberia, in Africa. When Leroy invited you for a meal you would eat first, and when you had all that you could possibly handle, he would eat what was left. It was the politeness of making sure the guest was comfortable first.

I am sure you all have your own traditions in your family, in your household.

But here is the thing, how does the physical and social practice of hospitality as a part of our culture translate to the spiritual realm? How is hospitality a spiritual practice?

Consider an expression that each of you probably has heard, which comes from one of the very oldest stories in the Bible. Abram and Sarai were camped out in the desert when three men approached the tent, Abram immediately gets up and gets Sarai to prepare a meal; a feast, for these strangers who wander close to the camp.

It is then that Abram and Sarai entertain angels unaware… and in doing so, are blessed by God.

So maybe the spiritual practice of hospitality has to do with honouring each person as if they were someone who was more important than you imagined?

And how about the famous scene from John’s gospel – a wonderful story of hospitality and fellowship, all based on the idea of 5000 unexpected guests showing up for supper. Well, maybe 10,000, for some reason they only counted adult males…

If that many people needed a picnic lunch and I was in charge, I would be like the disciples, a little panic stricken about what to do with all those people and how to feed them, let alone what to feed them…

The most important thing is, Jesus does not let this deter him from offering what hospitality he has… And in fact, allows a young boy who is willing to give up his lunch to teach them all a thing or two about trust and openness.

As the host, Jesus merely opens the space for others to participate in his generosity. He does not limit, or demand anything from anyone, but allows any who want to eat, to share in the meal.

Henri Nouwen, a spiritual writer points out that the German word for hospitality is Gastfreundschft which means friendship for the guest.... It means the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.

Another writer, Marjorie Thomson says it this way: “Because family is the place of our most intimate relationships, the meaning of true hospitality is best expressed by bringing those outside the circle of intimacy into its very center.”

And Joan Chittister – a famous Catholic writer says that “Hospitality is the act of the recklessly generous heart. “

In a very basic way, we are practicing hospitality when we welcome guests — including strangers and enemies — into our lives with graciousness.

How we treat others really does reveal how much of a connection we have to God. To see beyond the obvious and see the way God sees is not and easy thing to do – but when we do it we are showing that we believe the universe is basically a friendly place. We are also taking a very glass half full view of reality where we can see that even the little things can have a positive effect.

To welcome the stranger is to acknowledge them as a human being made in God's image; it is to treat her as one of equal worth with ourselves – in fact, no matter who they are, it is to accept that in interacting with them we can become better people ourselves, and learn from them.

Anyone ever see the movie Chocolat? It is a movie about a small town in France, and actually about how they celebrate Lent.

The church plays a central role in the community; it stands for tradition, for the way things have always been, and especially during the season of Lent, for self-restraint and sacrifice. At least that's the way the town's mayor sees it, and he's making sure the priest says as much from the pulpit.

Just five weeks on the job, Pere Henri is young and inexperienced, so he preaches sermons the mayor has edited about the dangers of temptation, the threat to morality posed by outsiders, and even the evils of chocolate.

Until Easter morning.

By then Pere Henri has seen enough to know that the life of this community is enhanced, not threatened, by diversity. He tells his surprised parishioners that he doesn't want to talk about Jesus' divinity this Easter. He is more interested in his humanity and what we can learn from his life on earth:
"We can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do. We measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include."

In other words, our ‘goodness’ is measured by our hospitality.

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