8th after Pentecost
July 30th – Rev’d Heather Westbrook – “Hospitality” …
Today we hear Jesus teaching on hospitality. What does the word hospitality mean to you? Maybe what comes to mind is a person who prepares a meal and invites people over for supper. Maybe you feel that this teaching doesn’t apply to you because entertaining is not a big part of your life, that would be me. It is however a wonderful gift. I have a friend who has been blessed with it.
Having acknowledged that, the kind of hospitality that Jesus is referring to actually applies to every one of us. He says we practice it by offering a cup of cold water to others. The cup of cold water he is referring to is one that involves giving love and acceptance to one another, enabling us to meet the essential need of one another. To do so involves accepting one another’s shortcomings, being non-judgmental and It would follow that this teaching applies to everyone we are with – family, friends, as well as the stranger who crosses our path. It’s a tall order.
I recently read the following: “Hospitality has a way of breaking through our insularity” (Kathleen Norris). Isn’t that a great word, because it is our insularity that prevents us from really being with one another. We now live in a world where insularity is becoming more and more the norm. Our focus on the individual, our focus on technological devices, plays a huge part in this too. We can be with another person in a room and be buried in a device. To what extent are we with them? Where is the mutual space being shared? Without stepping into that mutual space and being there, we are not actually with the other person at all.
There’s a term I learned when my children were small. If you place an infant down beside another infant to play, up to a certain age they may be playing side by side but they are not actually playing together. The term is parallel play. It would seem that through the onset of devices, on some level society is regressing socially into infancy. We certainly miss a lot, investing more and more time in virtual space and less and less time sharing mutual space with the persons we are actually with. The wisdom tradition of our indigenous neighbors has always warned about this technological fork in the road.
The question that we need to address as parents and grandparents is how do we communicate our wisdom so that we can temper the insular direction that society has taken particularly since the new technologies. We can certainly communicate our wisdom through the way we live our lives.
Commenting on one of the many references to hospitality in the Gospel, author Henri Nowan comments on this. He wrote that in the parable of the Prodigal Son we see the hospitality of the father who welcomes his sons’ home. Nouwan then poses the question what will happen next and he responds that those children will grow up to become like their father. Their likeness will be manifest in the compassion they show to others, welcoming others in the way they experienced their father welcome them, the way our Heavenly Father welcomes us.
The Old Testament speaks much about hospitality. A few weeks ago we read the story of Isaac’s servant who was sent out to find his master a wife. One of the 3 directives was that the woman must manifest hospitality. The call to welcome the other is anchored in the Torah. It is believed to be a measure of faithfulness, central to the character of God. In being an agent of God’s hospitality we are making Christ’s presence known. It’s part of growing into spiritual maturity.
Really welcoming another means paying attention and listening. It can be said that there’s a sense in which the words love and listening are interchangeable. When we are brought into relationship with one another by the bond that hospitality creates, we create a space in which to really listen to one other. The ability to really listen is the essential gift that our lay pastoral visitors have to offer. You may want to prayerfully consider becoming a lay pastoral visitor this fall. Through their training lay pastoral visitors are introduced to a more in depth kind of listening. Within the mutual space they create through hospitality, they learn to take a step back to make room for the other to open up and share. This withdrawal is a kind of concentration, a disciplined listening. A model for this withdrawal can be found in Jewish mystical doctrine.
Which states: “God as omnipresent and omnipotent was everywhere. He filled the universe with his Being. How then could the creation come about? God had to create by withdrawal;” within the relationship. On the human level, withdrawal of myself to listen, within mutual space, enables the other to come into being.
When we practice hospitality we set aside the tendency to judge others, we set aside our issues about how someone may be different, have a different perspective on life, hold different values and priorities. We invest in being with another wherever the person may be on their journey. Investing in a place where we can value one another, until with time all the uneven ground on which we stand becomes level. True hospitality is the great leveler. Thus we are ushered into a mutual space in which we realize that each one of us is a beloved child of God, loved equally by God.
Consider the following statement: God, in great longing for wholeness, constantly invites us to dismantle all that is exclusive. We cannot be whole until we come to embrace all God has made and to share all that God has given. We diminish God until we break down our walls. (Edwiwa Gateley)
Through Welcoming Arms this parish is involved in offering a weekly meal. The Welcome Table where we say everyone is welcome. I like to think that we communicate more than just the hospitality of a weekly meal. I like to think that it is a place where God will not be diminished because when there are hearts that are open and hospitable there’s a place for God to come and dwell and speak through those hearts to those that are present at the meal.
St Paul wrote in Hebrews: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Jesus says that extending kindness to others, especially those who are among our society’s most vulnerable, is to welcome Him and thereby to welcome the Divine (Mark 9:37). Remembering that the most vulnerable include both the stranger and those we know well: the difficult relative, the estranged family member, the troubled friend
In fact we may find that the persons closest to us are the most difficult to welcome. It can be easy by comparison to welcome a stranger, a newcomer into our community, but ultimately that is what we are called to do.
We are about to pause for a moment of silence. Let us consider whose gracious presence has spoken to us in our life and communicated Gods love to us when we were vulnerable. Who was it in our life that had space in their heart to welcome us in when we were dealing with a wilderness of difficulty, when we were experiencing loss, when we felt apart in this world? That welcome we felt -is the blessing that hospitality brings.