Matthew 10:40 - 42
The Rev. Melanie McCarley
The Gospel theme for this morning is hospitality. Jesus says: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” And he ends with “and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
In the first century the Jewish and Christian faiths were dependent on hospitality for their existence. Knowledge of the Jewish faith was perpetuated and shared by traveling pairs of Jewish teachers. These itinerant teachers were dependent on the hospitality of those who welcomed them into their homes. In exchange for food and lodging they would share their wisdom with the family, their relatives and their friends. Indeed, the Bible is filled with stories of the importance of hospitality, from Abraham, who extended his welcome to three heavenly strangers and, in turn, received a promise from God to Jesus, who was often invited into people’s homes to share his wisdom over a meal.
In short, we know that hospitality is important, in fact, the Bible goes so far as to warn us that some have entertained angels unawares. But, here’s the thing, it’s not always easy. In the movie Sister Act, its star, Whoopi Goldberg, a raucous nightclub singer and mistress in Reno, witnesses a murder. As a result, her own life is in danger. For protection, the police decide she should live in a convent, a most unlikely hideout. She is taken to St. Katherine’s Convent in San Francisco and directed to the Mother Superior’s study. Before the Mother Superior enters, a monsignor informs her of Whoopi’s predicament. The Mother Superior agrees to accept Whoopi as a member of the convent, until she opens the door and sees her. There sits Whoopi, sporting a gold lame coat, a purple-sequined outfit, and a profusion of jewelry. The Mother Superior gasps and shuts the door. The monsignor reminds her, in not-so-gentle tones, “You have taken a vow of hospitality to all in need.” With a straight face, the Mother Superior replies, “I lied.”
Let’s face it, hospitality can be hard. For, to be hospitable in the way that Jesus intends the word, means that we must be open to being changed by the people we welcome. In other words, true hospitality is never a one-way transaction. I expect that we’ve all been in places that, on the surface, are beautifully appointed and graced with every amenity, in which we haven’t really felt welcomed. The difference isn’t about whether the floors are free from dust bunnies and the bed linens are pressed, it’s whether we feel embraced by our hosts—or not. In other words, do they care that we are there, or are they simply “doing their duty”. Are they open to accept friendship, or are we simply a prop in their efforts to put on a fine show?
Here's another way to consider hospitality. What if God receives us in much the same manner that we have received those whom God has sent to us? What would that look like to us? What would it feel like?
To be truly hospitable means that we must be open to listening—to hearing from people—even those whose viewpoints differ from our own. Ultimately, we must be open to being changed. Really, what would some of the conversations in our country look like if folks would stop making sarcastic posts on social media and concentrate, instead, upon listening: asking probing questions to those with whom they do not see eye to eye? What would an authentic conversation sound like between a person committed to the Black Lives Matter movement and an individual appalled at the pulling down of statues of figures they believe to be honorable. What if both of these people spoke calmly with one another about the true concerns of their heart? Could they even do it?
Can we? What would a conversation like that even look like? What would it take if they were to speak solely from their experiences and honestly answer the question as to what it is that they are most afraid? And if they did—what do you think might change?
Now, back to that cup of cold water—isn’t it refreshing! It’s so much better than a half-filled glass of tepid refreshment. That cup of cold water--it’s not a half-hearted welcome, it’s an embrace. If we are to see hospitality as Jesus recommends, we might begin by seeing it as a form of worship. Recall, if you will, that Jesus says: “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous…” To extend hospitality to others is a way of embracing Christ.
Let’s face it, it’s challenging for us to get out and interact with others safely; but here’s a suggestion. Take some time this summer to read something from a person with whom you don’t see eye-to-eye. Or, from a person whose experience you cannot relate—or until now, have known nothing about. We might be cooped up in our homes—but there’s no reason why we cannot work to expand our hearts and our minds to seeing our world from a different point of view. Indeed, Jesus might use this time as an opportunity to expand our awareness—and, not least, our hearts as well.
Rather than seeing this as a time in which we are limited—perhaps we should take it all as an effort to expand, in heart and mind and to see Jesus in the faces of all that we meet. In Jesus’ name