RECOVERING CHRISTIAN HOSPITALITY

The text is Matthew 10:40-42.  Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on June 29, 2008, the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost.

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

Our gospel readings for the past 4 weeks have come from the chapter in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is getting the 12 Disciples ready for their first-ever missionary experience.  Do you remember some of his instructions to them that have seemed at odds with our usual ideas of ministry?

·         Travel light, take no extra clothes or food, depend upon the hospitality of folks you meet

·         If someone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet and leave

·         Be prepared to be arrested and persecuted

·         Do not be afraid

·         Don’t expect that my message will always bring peace, sometimes it will be divisive in families

 

Today, in just 3 concluding verses, Jesus talks about rewards.  Amazingly, he now aims his remarks not at the Disciples, but at those who will be on the receiving end of their ministry and message.  Please know that one of the ironies for us today is that sometimes we are the ministering disciples and sometimes we are the folks being ministered to.

 

A cup of cold water is a wonderful metaphor for Hospitality.  Jesus says, “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 this context. Jesus is saying that whoever shows hospitality to a follower of Jesus (followers of Jesus are called the little ones in this verse), they will receive the reward that is promised to those who are part of the kingdom of heaven. 

 

Hospitality has to do with being open to the needs of others, even when it inconveniences us.  Someone has said that the hearts of Americans today are harder than Pharaoh’s from decades of experience.  Experiences like road rage, identity theft, and an astonishing lack of hospitality in our everyday lives.  How have we insulated ourselves and promoted a lack of hospitality?  We live in gated communities, we register our phone numbers on the do not call list,  we use blocks  and filters on receiving e-mails.  We all do it.  I know Pastor Carol and I take lots of precautions, trying to be safe.  And then we encounter the words of Jesus about giving a cup of cold water, and elsewhere about being kind to strangers for they may be angels or even Jesus himself.

 

J. Burton Williams shares a story about Henri Nouwen:  Nouwen was going to a monastery for a retreat.  The monks observed vows of silence and the retreat was going to be meditative and prayerful.  Nouwen was delayed and was late in getting to the monastery on that miserable, rainy night.  He rang the bell well after bedtime and was met at the door b one of the brothers.  The brother warmly greeted him, took his wet coat, brought him to the kitchen and made him a cup of hot tea.  They chatted in the night hours and Nouwen began to relax and feel ready for the retreat.  But he knew this monk was supposed to observe silence, so he finally asked him, “Why are you willing to sit and talk with me?”  The monk replied, “Of all the duties of the Christian faith and the rules of my order, none is higher than hospitality.”

 

Hospitality – being open to strangers, seeing Jesus in people we meet, being the messenger of good news to persons we encounter, honoring those who bring us good news of the kingdom.  That is what today’s instructions from Jesus are all about.  Resurrection People, how are we doing in the arena of hospitality?  How are you doing personally? 

 

Recently we had a guest at worship with us here at Resurrection.  This gentleman gave me some feedback on his visit when we were together at a synod meeting.  He wasn’t sure what he would encounter since he had some unfortunate experiences at other nearby congregations who didn’t seem especially glad that he was there since he is black.  He told me that from the moment he entered our side door, he was warmly greeted by the official greeters and by numerous other people too.  He said he sat in a pew near the back.  When it came time for  the opening hymn, a woman next to him offered to show him where we were in the bulletin.  That impressed him.  It also amused him since he has been a Lutheran for over 50 years.  He also told me to tell you that he is very pleased with the genuine warm welcome he encountered here at Resurrection and told me to say thank you on his behalf.

 

Every Sunday we share Holy Communion as part of our worship service.  Communion is really the meal of the Gospel.  It is eating and drinking the good news of Jesus and it is for all people.  We teach our children in first communion instruction to call this the Welcoming Table.  Our liturgy of Holy Communion was originally called “the mass.”  The word mass means “mission.”  We eat and drink and then are sent out into the world to give ourselves for the life of the world.  So, hospitality is both receiving and giving.

 

Someone has pointed out that Jesus is more realistic about people than many church people today are.  Jesus says we have a responsibility to represent him, to share the good news, to help people.  He also says people we minister to have a responsibility to respond.  If they don’t, we are to move on to those who will respond.  Over the years, church leaders have agonized over how to reactivate church members who have become inactive.  Aren’t we to go after them and continue to do everything possible to get them back?  In light of Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve Disciples, what are our instructions?  Could Jesus’ instructions to us seem divisive and inhospitable? 

 

The famous anthropologist Margaret Meade was once asked this question, “What was the earliest sign of civilization in any given culture?”  The questioner expected the answer to be a clay pot or perhaps a fish hook or grinding stone.  Her answer was  “a healed femur.”  The femur, of course, is the leg bone above the knee.  Meade explained that no healed femurs are found where the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest, reigns.  A healed femur shows that someone cared.  Someone had to do that injured person’s hunting and gathering until the leg healed.  The evidence of compassion, she said, is the first sign of civilization.  I would contend that it is also the first sign of the work of Christ in the life of a Christian.

 

What are the rewards that Jesus is talking about?  He says that those who welcome you welcome me, and they will receive a prophet’s reward and they will receive the reward of the righteous.  The reward is participation in the kingdom of heaven.  It is knowing the overwhelming joy of being in a relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is feeling the assurance of eternal life.  It is being so convinced that we want to follow God that we will do anything to accomplish His will.  It is being counted as one of the saints – fully forgiven of our sins on account of the sacrifice and gift of Jesus. 

 

The disciple of Jesus wants this reward so badly for others – that we will endure all sorts of resistance, in order to make this available to the folks we encounter every day.  May God inspire our mission.  Amen!