I want to thank Gloria for inviting me to share a few words with you this afternoon. The topic of your May Friendship Day is an important one. It’s also a very biblical idea. In the book of Hebrews, the author writes:
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Heb. 13:1-2).
Then there’s that word from the Gospel of Matthew, in which the Son of Man says to the ones welcomed into the realm of God:
Come you that are blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Mt. 25:34b-36).
These words from Scripture serve as an invitation to “swing wide open the doors of hospitality.” When asked when they had shared such hospitality with the Son of Man, he replied – “when you did it to the least of these.”
When we talk about true and radical hospitality, it involves opening our hearts to the other. It means becoming vulnerable to the other. It’s not about presentation or show. No, it’s a matter of investing our lives in the other, even if they can’t reciprocate. To be hospitable is to love our neighbor as we love our selves. This means more than being nice to one another. Or, as Lonni Collins Pratt and Fr. Daniel Holman put it in their book Radical Hospitality: Benedict's Way of Love: Benedict's Way of Love, 2nd Edition, (Paraclete, 2011).
Radical hospitality is not about being what one monk called “Minnesota nice” (referring to how really polite Minnesotans are); it is about transforming our hearts and our communities. It is about justice for every soul.
The kind of hospitality Jesus envisioned is seen in the story of Zacchaeus. Because he’s a tax collector, his neighbors despise him. Even though he might be wealthy, his only friends would have been other tax collectors, all of whom are seen as sinners.
I don’t know why Zacchaeus went to see Jesus that day, but he made every effort to see him. And Jesus saw him as well. Perhaps knowing the heart of Zacchaeus, Jesus invites himself to dinner. That might not seem like an act of hospitality, but in doing this Jesus gave Zacchaeus something he lacked – acceptance. And by welcoming Zacchaeus into his own circle, Jesus freed him to become a new person. Because Jesus extended a word of hospitality Zacchaeus’ life was changed forever. It’s unfortunate that the religious people in the crowd didn’t understand. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t understand God’s vision of hospitality, which involves swinging wide open the doors!
So, to whom should we sing wide the doors of hospitality? I appreciate the cover of your bulletin. There’s a person with some form of disability. There’s a young person. And there are three women standing together. One appears to be Jewish, one is African-American, and the third is Muslim. And we could continuing adding to this picture – Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Latino, Asian, and on and on. The door is open to all.
Yes, I do appreciate this vision of inclusion. It’s a vision that I’ve embraced as I’ve become more deeply involved in interfaith work. It’s a spirit that continues with me from last night, when I got to help lead the Troy-area Interfaith Group’s National Day of Prayer Observance. This was the ninth year that we’ve gathered to share prayers for our community, our nation, and our world. You may not know the story of the Troy-area Interfaith Group, but the impetus for it came when the planners of the local National Day of Prayer observance chose to exclude a Hindu participant. The event planners told the City Council that this was a Judeo-Christian event, and there was no room for a Hindu prayer. Fortunately a group of religious leaders joined together to offer an alternative observance, one that we continue to this day, as a sign of true hospitality.
So, how do we go about being hospitable? Lonni Collins Pratt and Fr. Dan Holman, offer this word of advice:
One of the peculiarities about really hospitable people is that they don’t go out looking for ways to be hospitable; they simply give it when there’s a chance to do so. It isn’t about results; it’s about changing the universe by becoming available to one person in one sliver of time.”
In your bulletin you’ll find a series of questions that invite us to consider what it means to be hospitable – as church, as Church Women United, and as individuals. As you consider these questions, consider also these words from the Rule of St. Benedict:
All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Rule 53:1).
Presentation given for the Church Women United May Friendship Day Service, hosted by the women of Central Woodward Christian Church, May 3, 2013.