Holy Hospitality

March 3, 2013


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Mar. 3, 2013

“Holy Hospitality”
Matt. 10:40-43

A young minister, new to town and his church, was startled as he heard some church leaders talking about another family-
“Have you had trouble with The Millers”?
“Oh, yes!”
“They come in and it seems like you can never get rid of them!”
“I know! We’ve had the same trouble. Whatever you try, they won’t go away.”
“Yu don’t see them as much when it gets hot.”
The minister was quite concerned and asked if the Millers were church members or residents in town.
“Oh no, we’re talking about the Millers—you know, Moths!”
The residents at Martins Care Home have experienced an incredible boost in health and energy in the last year. The nurses report that this year they’ve had:
• Few falls
• Fewer calls to the general doctors
• Reduction in medications prescribed
• Better quality of sleep for residents
• Lower rates of agitation
• A generally more upbeat feel around the home
What brought about these drastic improvements? Water. Last summer, the staff started a “water club” for their residents. They encouraged them to drink more water, installed water coolers, and put water jugs in each room, encouraging residents to drink at least eight glasses a day. A small gift of thoughtfulness and hospitality made a real difference. www.adamjcopland.com

In today’s scripture, Jesus explains to the disciples the rewards of welcoming others – the call to hospitality. Read Matt. 10:40-43.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

A cup of cold water, in Jesus’ day would have been a rare treat. Early every morning, women went to the village well to draw water for the day. Coming from the bottom of a deep well, this water would be clear and cool. But just a few minutes in the hot Palestinian sun would melt even a block of ice.

So you might offer your dinner guest water, but not cold water. To serve cold water to a guest, someone from the house would need to run to the well, run home – which is tricky when carrying water – and hurry to offer the guest the cool water – quick, before it got hot. In Jesus’ time, a cup of cool water would have been a rare and welcome treat.

But Jesus went further than that. He said, “Whoever gives even a cup of cool water to one of these little ones will receive their reward.” In Jesus’ day, “little ones” would have included children, but more as well: “little ones” are those of little standing in society, the unappreciated, the poor, prostitutes. Offer that cool crisp thirst-quenching glass of water, Jesus says, even – no, especially – to those little ones of society. www.adamjcopeland.com

That is going way above and beyond for a guest! Holy Hospitality. Hospitality is an oddly old-fashioned word, rather genteel, almost archaic. But I believe it is very relevant to where we are right now, as a church, as a nation, as a species. It is a fragile art, worth teaching and hard to practice. www.uucpa.org/sermons

The root word of Hospitality-hospes—means both “guest” and “host”. There is no distinction, the host treats the guest as family. Daniel Homan in his book, Radical Hospitality, says: “Hospitality has an inescapable moral dimension to it. It is not a mere social grace; it is a spiritual and ethical issue. It is an issue involving what it means to be human. All of our talk about hospitality doesn’t mean anything as long as some people continue to be tossed aside.” Haythorn, Trace. “The Art of Welcome”

A story In the New Yorker magazine described just the sort of radical hospitality Jesus suggests. The Church of the Holy Apostles in New York City serves as the largest soup kitchen in the city. In 1982, the members of the small and dying church felt the need of the homeless men and women in their neighborhood so great that they began a soup kitchen in their meager hall. They had no idea who would show up, but on that first day 30+ years ago, 35 homeless guests came through the line. And they haven’t stopped.

Today, the soup kitchen serves 1100 meals each weekday. Of course, the guests don’t fit in the church hall, so after a fire destroyed the sanctuary, it was restored without pews. Now, every weekday under the vaulted arches of the sanctuary 1100 homeless people eat a meal that for many will be their only meal that day.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that a church is using its building in this way. After all, churches are supposed to be hubs of mission – the center of holy hospitality. But the question for churches today must not be, “Are we showing hospitality?” but always, “How can we practice hospitality even more?” www.adamjcopeland.com

Our hygiene pantry is amazing! If you haven’t been there, sign up to volunteer in Fellowship Hall! What other hospitalities are we called too?

One of the oldest stories in our Bible tells of Abraham sitting outside under the shade of a tree. From a distance, he spots 3 strangers walking. He doesn’t wait for them to get closer; instead, he runs out to greet them and bring them into his home. He has the best calf slaughtered for them, an oven full of homemade bread baked in their honor and eats with them. In the desert during the time of Abraham, to act in this manner truly meant the difference between life and death. People walking through the heat of the day without benefit of canteens, cool storage for food, lack of roads and directions, were often walking to their deaths. Abraham’s hospitality meant that he may have literally saved their lives. We may not quickly recognize that Abraham’s hospitality had a cutting edge. He took a chance in greeting these people wandering around in the desert. What if they were robbers, cattle rustlers, no-good-ers just looking for an opportunity to steal or kill? What if these were men on the run, or wanderers without morals? But Abraham went out of his way to make them feel at home regardless of the personal cost.

Immediately following Abraham’s story is another, parallel story about strangers coming into two towns – Sodom & Gomorrah – but this time the guests were not treated well. There was no hospitality at all available to them. While some people think that Sodom & Gomorrah were destroyed because of sexual sin, theologians recognize these stories as related and thematically paired. When compared with the extravagant hospitality of Abraham, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was lack of hospitality.

True Christian hospitality doesn’t stop at our house or care home, nor does it extend only to our church building. Holy hospitality encompasses all one’s life: hospitable driving, hospitable office work, hospitality toward strangers, and hospitality towards the silly neighbors you’ve known for years, hospitality towards creation in all its forms….We have friendly people here-but we need to go farther-hospitality-Jerry Harney shoveling goose poop.

I would like for each of us to take a moment to consider one act of hospitality we could demonstrate – something we’ve not done before – in our everyday lives or here at church. As far as the church goes, I am looking for one or two people to come into the office on Monday morning to follow up with our guests. If you are interested in offering this hospitality, please talk with me. Other than that, take a moment to think of your everyday life and how you might offer hospitality to a neighbor, co-worker, acquaintance, or family member…

Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” An angel is a being who brings a blessing. And when we open our homes and churches and hearts to others, and make our homes their homes, I believe we will find ourselves unexpectedly blessed.

Bible References

  • Matthew 10:40 - 43