St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Amarillo, TX

"On Hospitality" - Sermon for Fourth Sunday After Pentecost - Year C

Some people love to travel.  


I am not one of those people.  I always dread traveling.  I dread it  because (a) I am a home-body and (b) don't like to have to depend on anyone else.  Traveling requires me to have to rely on other people's hospitality.  And that can be scary.


Between mid-May and mid-June this year, I only slept in my own bed 4 nonconsecutive nights.  It was a long time to have to rely on the hospitality of strangers.


One thing that I'm bad at with traveling is I always end up packing waaaay too much stuff because of trying to anticipate the "what ifs" of traveling.  I try to anticipate what kind of hospitality I'll be offered.  


For instance, when I stayed in Boston for two nights, I stayed in a windowless, underground hotel room with no shampoo or conditioner, and a faulty fire alarm that went off periodically and required everyone to evacuate onto the street.


I also stayed in a couple nice mid-level hotels.  These are kinds of places that really make an effort to attract the dollars of business travelers.  They try to anticipate your every need and provide for you.  They have fluffy towels, an 1800 watt hairdryer, they have reading lamps, special plugs to charge your cell phone, a workout room with complimentary disposable headphones -- good stuff.   Stuff that helps you temporarily forget that you'd rather be at home.  


On my 12th consecutive day of traveling, carrying what felt like 100 pounds of dirty clothes in my duffel bag, I nearly burst into tears of joy when the clerk at the hotel desk in New Orleans told me that there were washers and dryers in a room on the 5th floor -- next to the pool.  


I don't think I'm even exaggerating when I tell you that Heaven is like sitting by the pool sipping a cold beer while you wait for your freshly washed clothes to dry.  


Hospitality can make the difference between a relaxing trip and an exhausting, homesick grind.  



As important as hospitality can be for people in our time when we travel, it was a necessary practice in the ancient world.1  There weren't hotels.   Inns were scarce, and they often weren't in the kinds of places that God-fearing people would want to stay.  For people to even survive their travels, they had to put their lives in the hands of people that they did not know, trusting that those people would take care of them.  


Hospitality is important to the writers of the Bible.  Time and time again, the people who show hospitality are the heroes of the story, and the people who fail to show hospitality are the villians.  


  • Good example of hospitality:  Abraham is camped out by the oaks of Mamre in the heat of the day, when 3 strangers come knocking.  Abraham feeds and cares for these strangers. Turns out the strangers were God, and Abraham gets a blessing -- a long desired son.  
  • Bad example:   The city of Sodom is visited by some angels disguised as regular travelers.  Abraham's nephew Lot takes the angels in for the night.  The men of Sodom are not hospitable.  In fact, they dislike strangers so much that as a deterrent to future strangers, they  nearly bang Lot's door down demanding to sexually assault his mysterious guests.  The city of Sodom is destroyed by fire.  Though this story is often contorted into a condemnation of homosexuality, the prophet Ezekiel states the problem quite clearly:  (16:49) "This was the sin of your sister Sodom:  she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy."


Hospitality is encouraged throughout both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament:

for instance,

  • Leviticus (19:33-34) says   “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt."
  • In Hebrews (13:2) we hear  "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it."



It would seem that hospitality is important to God.  


So maybe that's why, in our Gospel story today, Jesus sends out 70 of his followers in pairs and expressly forbids them from over-packing.  He says "See I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.  Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals . . ."


Jesus adds "Whatever house you enter, first say 'peace to this house'.  Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide."


Let's just take a moment to imagine . . . It's a hot, dusty day in the ancient near east.  You're walking home from work, when two men without any belongings or shoes approach you looking for a place to stay.  


 I think most of us would wish we'd taken the long way home and avoided them.  


But what an incredible gift they are offering their hosts.  We learn later in this passage that the people that take in these 70 disciples would have witnessed miracles -- healings, exorcisms.    They would've seen first hand a fresh in-breaking of the kingdom of God.


I feel like we hear the phrase "kingdom of God" a lot, so let me talk a little about this kingdom.  


The kingdom of God isn't just a place that we go to in the blessed afterlife.  The kingdom of God is what it looks like when things are "on earth, as they are in heaven."  It's something that is happening now, but also a place where we will be swept up into in the future.  


Archbishop Desmond Tutu says that the kingdom of God is "God's dream for the world."2 The kingdom of God is a place where the things that normally separate us are rendered unimportant.  It's happening anywhere where the barriers that divide us crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease.   It's any time in which, any place where, all can live in justice and peace.3  It's the place where God is still creating still redeeming, and still, in God's time, putting the world right.4


When people ask Jesus about this kingdom, Jesus usually answers in parables.    "It's like a son that took half of his father's estate and squandered it, and he comes back destitute and expecting his father to hate him, but instead his father has been waiting and watching for him the whole time and runs to him and kisses him and throws him a giant party."  "It's like a woman who loses a very valuable coin, so she turns her whole house upside down, and when she finally finds it, she invites the whole neighborhood over to celebrate!"


Isn't it interesting that the way Jesus describes the kingdom of God makes it seem  particularly present in encounters that involve both vulnerability and hospitality?


Of course, in our Gospel today, when Jesus sends the 70 out, he warns them  that not everyone will welcome them, saying:  

"Whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go into its streets and say, 'even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.  Yet know this:  the kingdom of God has come near."  


And Jesus adds:  "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me."  


One thing that I tend to ponder when I study the Gospels is "What about the people who missed it?"  What about the people who rejected Jesus by turning away the 70?  Do you sense the tragedy here?  For the people that said no?  To think that the kingdom of God came so near to them.  So near to them that if they'd accepted the disciples into their house, they might have found themselves face to face with Jesus.  The very image of God enfleshed could have been sharing a table with them.  But it didn't happen.  Because they failed to show hospitality.  



Do you wander what you would've done?  


I do.  


I wonder if I would have welcomed these vulnerable strangers into my home.  (I don't know.  I don't know what I would have done.)


I wonder if the hungry, thirsty disciples would have found food and drink at St. Andrew's?  (I think maybe so, becasue I've seen welcoming the stranger happen week after week at Sunday breakfast.)


I wonder if Amarillo is the kind of town that would have welcomed these vagrant disciples?  (Maybe so:  we do have a track record of welcoming refugees.)


I wonder if these disciples, with nothing that our country finds important, nothing material to offer the American people . . .  I wonder if we would have deemed them a threat to our national security.  I wonder if they would have found themselves sitting on the south bank of the Rio Grande, wiping the mixture of red clay-mud off of their brown feet in protest?  (I really don't know.)  




What I do know is this:  God is the ultimate host. 


I believe that God's capacity for hospitality is limitless.  


Our limits, the limits WE put on hospitality, are nonexistent to God.  


I believe that God's hospitality is so pervasive, that probably even those folks who said "no thanks" to the 70 in our Gospel today got another chance.  



Just by the way:  It's not a coincidence that the number of the disciples in this story is 70.  In the Hebrew Scriptures, the number 70 means "all of the nations."  In this Gospel story, God is inviting all of the nations-- God is inviting all people -- into a new relationship with God and each other.  



And that includes us.  That includes all of our neighbors that we like.  That includes all of our neighbors that we don't like.  


God is the ultimate host.  


When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable or when we offer hospitality, we are participating in the building of the kingdom of God.

When we fail to let our guard down, when we build artificial walls between ourselves and others, when we *fail* to offer hospitality -- the kingdom has come near but we've missed it.  



The Good News is that even when we fall short, God's hospitality doesn't stop.   We are constantly being invited back into the kingdom.  


Our God is the God of 2nd, and 3rd, and 4th, and 5th, and 88th, and 1000th chances.  



Every day, multiple times per day, we are being invited to get a glimpse of the kingdom of God by giving and receiving hospitality.


Every day we are invited to come face to face with God's image:

When we welcome each other and when we welcome the stranger.


May God give us the hearts to do just that.  




1 = “Sodom” - Mercer Dictionary of the Bible

2 = God Has a Dream by Desmond Tutu

3 = "For Social Justice" - BCP p. 823

4 = Surprised by Hope by NT Wright




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