On Hospitality

You can read today’s scripture by clicking here.

An aboriginal elder named Lilla Watson has worked toward reconciliation in her native Australia for decades helping to reclaim the culture of aborigines and working to restore their rights in the aftermath of British colonialism.  She offers one of the most beautiful quotes about our entangled lives as God’s creatures:LWatson2

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

 So often I hear hospitality used to describe something we offer to another for their benefit.  Being hospitable seems to be synonymous with being gracious and kind to someone who is in need – perhaps out of pity, perhaps out of a sense of duty.
“We have much, so let us share our good fortune with those who are less fortunate.”

And this is valid.  It has merit.  So many of us do have a lot to be thankful for and, therefore, a lot to give… even, sometimes, when we don’t have a lot to share.  And when we are generous, we are often rewarded with an equally gracious thank you and a warm feeling that we have just done good in the world, even if it’s a small thing.  And for those of us who have been on the receiving end of someone else’s generosity, it can sometimes be embarrassing, but mostly it’s just overwhelming to be offered kindness when we are most in need.  It can bring us to our knees.

But I think there is more to hospitality than this because hospitality is not simply about “giving.”  Hospitality is about bring in real relationship with another, which is a very different thing than simply being generous.  Hospitality isn’t about giving from our abundance so that others are cared for.  Or about offering a comfortable Martha Stewart-like space.

Hospitality is about the willingness to be changed by another’s presence, the belief that just as I have something to offer to another, that person has something to offer me.  Not as a transaction.  No.  But out of the belief in one another’s holiness.Vanier Hauerwas

Sometimes when I’m preparing a sermon, I walk around in my office in a form of prayer past the ridiculous number of books I have until my eyes land on something that, I hope, will give me insight into the passage.  Yesterday when I was praying, I picked up a book called Living Gently in a Violent World.  I sat down and opened it to a random page.  Surprisingly, today’s passage from Luke was right there.  That never happens so I took it as a sign that I was supposed to use it.

One of the book’s authors, Jean Vanier, is the founder of something called the L’Arche Community.  L’Arche started in France, the word meaning “arch” in English.  L’Arche communities in the United States “provide homes and workplaces where people with and without intellectual disabilities live and work together as peers; create inclusive communities of faith and friendship; and transform society through relationships that cross social boundaries.”

And in this book I picked up, Vanier claims that today’s Gospel is a foundational text for the L’Arche communities… because he believes this text gets to the essence of what it means to be in relationship to another – relationships that will transform society by transforming one another.

Luke’s Gospel is full of passages in which Jesus brings light to the shadows of our practices and institutions.  A few weeks ago, I offered a portrait of Jesus as a rabble rouser, someone who went to Jerusalem to teach, gather crowds, create disorder and agitation as a means of shining light onto the unjust systems of power that marginalize and divide.

And here, Jesus brings this Christ light again and shines it on the elitism of the Jewish hierarchy.

Jesus is in the house of one of the Pharisees (the sect of Judaism most insistent on ritual laws and sanctity) and they are watching him closely (so he’s already irritated them and they’re just looking for a reason to call him out) and it’s the Sabbath.

What is missing from this passage (verses 2-6) is that Jesus heals a man with dropsy on the Sabbath (in direct opposition to Jewish practice), challenging the Pharisees while doing so, to which they offer no reply, only silence.

And then Jesus shines light onto their table practices – practices of pride and superiority, of elitism and exclusivity – and offers a different understanding of what the Table is for:

“He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The Last Supper by Raoef Mamedov

The Last Supper by Raoef Mamedov

In other words, invite those who you look down upon, who would give you nothing in return, who you would rather not acknowledge… invite, not so that you might feel good about yourself or even because it’s the right thing to do, but invite because you expect to be transformed by their presence.Mamedov.png

Can you imagine?  Can you imagine a Table like that?  Can you imagine inviting the people who drive you crazy?  The people who are least like you? The ones with no social status, no table manners, no home?  Can you imagine inviting someone without the expectation of gratitude, without the desire for reciprocity?

From the homeless person who shows up in our garden, to the new family who joins us for

The Gentile Embrace by Johan Andersson

The Gentile Embrace by Johan Andersson

worship.  From the Interim Music Director who comes to help us for a time, to the person who speaks too harshly to the person who is always kind to the friend who has moved away.  From the parts of ourselves we most want others to know to the parts of ourselves we never want anyone else to find out about.


Last Supper by Bohdan Piasecki

From all the parts of God’s creation we enjoy and revel in most to the pieces of God’s creation we fear and would rather not acknowledge… the Table of Reconciliation insists that it all belongs.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

This is the essence of hospitality – about seeing the other person as holy, not disadvantaged.  About anticipating friendship instead of anticipating need.  About welcoming transformation rather than fearing change.

Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews today says:
“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”

Behind this instruction is the assurance that the boundaries we create between ourselves and the other are false boundaries – that when one person is in prison a part of us is in prison, when one person is being tortured, a part of us is being tortured.

And this mutual love comes through hospitality, the willingness to be changed by another to be responsible for one another.  These angels we entertain are those who bless us in some way with their presence when we open our hearts to be in relationship with them, to be changed by them.

So, when we see another who we deem as needy, who we have determined is somehow disadvantaged… the reason we offer hospitality is not, “there but for the grace of God go I”… the reason we offer hospitality is because, as Lilla Watson says, our liberation is bound up together.

This is what Jean Vanier and the L’Arche Communities across the world teach us – that mutuality is key in our care for one another because this is the essence of friendship.
And this is what it means to come to the Table together – that all of Creation is reconciled to one another in mutuality, that nothing and no one is left out.  Everything belongs.

Hospitality isn’t about being nice.  Hospitality is about being open to transformation.  It’s about choosing love despite the sometimes very real experience of fear, and offering that love as an opening to new life through a new relationship.

The Table of Reconciliation that Jesus offers us in the Gospel, indeed, this Table of Reconciliation where we gather every week, is a place where everyone and everything belongs.
All of our fears and hopes.  All of our homelessness and disease.
All of our faults and gifts.  All of our selves and all of our neighbors.
All.  All.  All.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

About Michelle Meech

I want to unfold. I do not want to remain folded up anywhere, because wherever I am still folded, I am untrue. -Rainer Maria Rilke
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