Images of Hopsitality

Preached on 5 July 2015 at St. Luke’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Tacoma, WA
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, Year B

It’s Independence Day weekend. Yesterday, many of us celebrated the birth of our nation by getting together with family or friends, relaxing, sharing a meal perhaps maybe even watching a fireworks show.

We Americans treasure our freedom and our independence.  We try to raise our children to be independent, to stand on their own two feet.  We celebrate rugged individualism.  But if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not true.  We are dependent on one another and always have been.  From the pilgrims who survived because of the hospitality of the people who were already here to the pioneers who blazed trails across the plains and the mountains, to the countless people who work unseen but make our lives better, to the many small acts of kindness we give and receive every day.  It may be that in the past, we were better able to recognize our interdependence.  When a neighbor needed to raise a barn, everyone showed up.

God created us as social beings.  We need one another.  Our well-being is inextricably linked to the well-being of everyone else.  That’s why the practice of Hospitality is so important.  We see it all throughout the Bible – Old and New Testaments.

It’s a key theme in our gospel reading today.

Now when we think of hospitality, we usually think of the interaction between two roles – host and guest.  And we generally prefer the role of host, where we maintain control of the system.  But in the gospels, it’s not always so cut and dried.

Jesus is most often a guest.  But he is also simultaneously host and guest in many of the stories.  Or the lines between host and guest are blurred.

Today, we have two closely linked stories.
Jesus arrives in his hometown and goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath.  Jesus is a guest here. At first the people are astounded by the power of his deeds and the wisdom of his teaching.  Amazed exclamations of “Where does he get his wisdom” quickly shift, however, to “Who does he think he is?  He’s one of us!  A carpenter!”

He is rejected not because of his remarkable deeds, but because he is an unremarkable person.  He doesn’t fit their image of a wise rabbi or a prophet.  He’s too much like them.

It can be difficult to recognize grace when our vision is clouded by expectations – whether of someone like us or of someone different from us.  Sometimes, we know so little about the other that we reduce them to a single characteristic as if that one trait defines them, things like age or race or sexual orientation or where they were born or their accent or their political party.

I wonder if the people reject Jesus because he’s too much like them and they start comparing themselves to him.  It’s only human nature to compare ourselves to our peers and then judge ourselves.

We do it all the time from comparing report cards in school, to reading our friends Christmas newsletters telling of all the wonderful things they or their children or grandchildren have done all year; from reading other people’s Facebook posts to going to class reunions.  For that matter reading the newspaper or checking out the obituaries.  We compare and judge ourselves – “at least I’m not like that!” we may say to ourselves, or “What’s wrong with me?  I haven’t even fill-in-the-blank with whatever my friend has achieved.”  Maybe the people in our story are thinking “Jesus is no different from me, I grew up with him!  Should I be able to do what he is doing?”

And then, almost as if to make just that point, Mark goes on to tell of Jesus giving his authority to his disciples and sending them out to cast out demons, heal the sick, and proclaim the kingdom of God.  Unremarkable people – people like you and me – sent out to do remarkable deeds.  Discipleship is more than following and learning from another.  It is also accepting the role and authority of the one you follow.  It’s continuing the work of Jesus.

Jesus sends these unremarkable folks out with surprising instructions.  They are to be utterly dependent on the hospitality of others.  They may bring a staff, but no extra clothing, no food or money or even a bag.  They are to risk becoming very vulnerable.

Jesus sends them out as guests in this hospitality scenario.  They must learn to be humble and gracious guests.  Perhaps it is in their dependence on the Other that they can recognize God in the Other.

Perhaps it is because of their vulnerability that their message can be heard; the kingdom proclaimed, the grace received.

Perhaps through their vulnerability they will come to understand that ultimately, they are always utterly dependent on the hospitality of God.

What if we were to value and celebrate our interdependence as much as we do our independence?

I wonder, what if we were to shift our mindset to see ourselves not as hospitable hosts to those who come through our doors, but as guests in the North End or even in greater Tacoma.  What if we were to let go of power and instead, risk being vulnerable; to offer our gifts, our story and risk rejection or ridicule?

What if, when we walk down the street downtown, we see ourselves as guests entering the home of the people who live there – on the streets or in shelters; as guests entering the home of people whose political views are different from ours or whose culture is different; who have made life choices with which we disagree?

What would it be like to embrace hospitality as a lifestyle; a practice that guides every aspect of our lives, every decision we make.

Perhaps we could try shifting our mindset and see what happens.  I wonder how we would understand our mission.  I wonder in whom we might find Christ.