Calvary Baptist Church – Denver |:| October 2, 2016
One of my favorite memories to share about my grandmother, my Nonnie Belle, is how we would go over to her house when I was a child and she would just “whip” something up. This was not unusual for my grandmother to do, shower their loved ones with food and comfort. Nonnie Belle was a good southern woman so whipping up food for us would include dumplings made from scratch, cooked greens, and spareribs. Topped off with whatever pie she had made that morning, or my favorite her chocolate chip cookies. With these stories I share how my grandmother embodied the welcoming grace of God for me; she still does.
When I was in Bible college in Canada we had gone to my friend Amanda’s house for one of our breaks and upon our arrival we were all hugged and welcomed into the Drebert house has if we had been there countless times before. Amanda’s mom, Momma Drebert, taught me a different kind of hospitality; unlike southern hospitality where the guest comes in, sits, and is waited on fore all things had been thought of and prepared in advance as is expected of a proper southern host. Momma Drebert taught me that hospitality can mean welcoming friends of her daughters, whom she had never met, into her home and inviting us to join her completing dinner. I remember her telling us, “in this house we are all family and we all join in preparing for a meal.” It wasn’t in a chore capacity but a deeply warm invitation to take part in their family.
My Junior year of college I joined a group from my church on a trip to India; during our time in Jammu we were visiting a temple on the outskirts of town when we walked out of the temple we were greeted by a Baltic family. They graciously introduced themselves and answered questions we had about the village and the temple. As we were talking with them the husband invited our team of nine into their one room home. We found ourselves sitting shoulder to shoulder on the floor as they made us balti tea, a version of chai tea but with salted water. This family had invited strangers into their home with great ease and excitement and offered us a staple in their day, the simple-ness of tea.
Stories in Scripture call forth from my imagination the vivid hospitality of the woman with the alabaster jar, Ruth and Naomi, Zacchaeus, the woman who feeds Elijah.
God uses unexpected people who teach us the unexpected nature of hospitality in random corners and surprising courses in Scripture, and Abraham, in our text, today is no different. Abraham’s posture was not one that should have lent itself to hospitality and grace filled welcome. Before the text we read today we learn that Abraham had been circumcised as a grown man – an age where he was well aware of the pain of taking on the sign of covenant with God. What we consider relatively minor surgery today was not so minor in Abraham’s day. As he sat in the heat of day, we are told he looked out, possibly in a daze as he ponders how God will fulfill the recent promise of children mothered by Sarah.
If you have ever experienced a summer day in Georgia, Florida, Texas – really any coastal or bayou city – you know that in the heat of the day your mind can wonder and create vivid images of your dreams as the heat creates a haze filled mind.
Abraham sits recovering from the previous day’s events in the heat of the day when he looks up and sees three strangers coming his way. It would have been understandable had Abraham dismissed them as an exhausted daydream; his posture was certainly not that conditioned to readily welcome strangers into his tent.
Yet Abe jumps up and moves with haste to greet these three strangers. As they are face to face he humbly invites them to extend grace and stay. Healing and exhausted, Abraham moves to Sarah and instructs for three cakes, to servants he instructs the preparation of his best calf he brought in. We hear of a posture of lavish welcome from Abraham to these three passersby.
These strangers appear seemingly out of nowhere; at least the text does not note it. They come into the tent, settle in and are willing to enter into Abe’s world for a period of time. This section and those following in Genesis focused on the importance of welcoming and moving towards Spirit guided hospitality.
Since Bible College I’ve come to see in scripture a difference between hospitality described in stories like our text today and what our culture has come to know as hospitality. Often when someone is described as hospitable today we mean someone who has a willingness to host, feed, and entertain guests – often with people they know. But if they do this with people they don’t know there is a sense of great awe. It is not a normal practice for us today. The key thing I noticed about biblical hospitality is it often happened between strangers, not those people already knew and were comfortable with. In examining the original meaning of the word hospitality I learned there isn’t an exact translation. From the Greek translation of Scripture the term we know as hospitality is a combination of two words; Philao, meaning brotherly love, and Xenos, meaning stranger or immigrant. Essentially biblical hospitality means love the stranger in the way you would love your own brother … a little deeper and challenging than our cultural expression of hospitality.
Our cultural hospitality is rooted in biblical hospitality; acknowledging it is more common to welcome those we know or friends of a friend –yet welcoming them; hosting them and serving them. This is certainly a branch of God’s welcoming nature created in us.
A nature expressed in this community of faith quite well; when people worship with us the first time and are genuinely welcomed through our greeters, our bread makers, and conversations held in the Narthex as an extension of worship. Calvary you welcome people well. It is one of the main things I hear from people experiencing our community for the first time. I’ve also heard you all ask us pastors if we know where a newcomer has been if you haven’t seen them in a few weeks or if there are ways to connect to each other to make sure you all are doing well.
It makes sense then, why the theme of welcoming underpinned so many of the conversations and writings the Vision 20/20 team heard from us. We are grounded in a welcoming Spirit and wish to grow in this spiritual practice. The beauty of the Spirit is She knows how to draw us into the vibrancy of spiritual growth by tapping into a natural rhythm already pulsing in our beings. Taking those rhythms and breathing courage and hope into us as we are able to receive it.
You see Abraham was not always a man with a posture of hospitality; remember this is the guy who out of fear for his own life pretended his wife Sarah was his sister and it resulted in her being in Pharaoh’s chambers for the night. He wasn’t perfect. He was a man who knew what it was to operate from fear and how to escape risk. We, too, know how to operate from fear and how to seek opportunities to avoid risk – hopefully not in the ways Abraham did … but we have our own Abraham moments, for we are living this life of discipleship and learning to dance with the Spirit more every day.
One of the ways we grow in our welcoming nature is to welcome the spirit of grace into our lives and relationships. Abraham grew in his relationship with God and found himself in a posture ready to receive the stranger, as he was guided by grace. As we move with the Spirit we are invited to practice this readiness; a readiness of looking for the stranger and being willing to invite them into our shared life together, whether it is convenient or not – and it will likely be less convenient than not.
This posture of learning who they are, and reciprocating with sharing our stories with them – creating holy ground between us as we learn the Divine reflection in them and them learning It in us. A shift from asking or expecting the stranger to join us by assimilating to our ways of life, and shifting to a synergistic connection – co-creating a new way of life together. The posture we glean from Abraham is that of being grounded in the unknown and discomfort in sharing life together. A life of hospitality is a beautiful hot mess of grace … grace binding our souls together as we stumble through the pains of coming to be community. Hospitality as we see it in Scripture is that of losing our individual focus for the focus of the Spirit of God, a focus on the wellbeing of the whole.
Calvary, we are capable of moving into this deeper sense of welcome. A desire clearly expressed by you all in our congregational and the passions and perspectives relational meetings. This is a desire that entwines with the hope of connecting across generational lines, opening pathways to know and align our spiritual gifts, allowing for trust to be built for the risk of spiritual formation to take place, and committing to doing this love bound covenant work of church.
Moving from discernment into implementation is always tricky. The process of discernment is tiresome and builds an anticipation that can be frustrating and slow. Take heart, the steps into and exploring what we have discerned together is one of humble courage. When it comes to our responding to the Spirits nudgings to search more branches of welcome progressively embrace the examples of biblical hospitality.
When we don’t wish to live out this kinship love of the stranger, when this work is too raw and exhausting … rest in the grace of those who have made the way for us.
In times when I simply forget I am made in the Divine’s image which means I get to co-create the beauty of hospitality through the magnificent and the mundane, I lean into the embrace of my childhood memories of Nonnie Belle inviting us in with a lavish banquet of a common meal; I draw breath from knowing what it felt like to be invited to share in family practices by Momma Drebert; I dance with gratitude as I recall how I felt when a stranger welcomed into a Baltic family’s home.
The Spirit is one of abundance and has bestowed upon hospitality in an array of avenues. Draw strength from your personal experiences as we sink our roots into the Spirit’s calling and live into a hospitality where we build with the once stranger now neighbor, in how we do worship, structure our practices, share our meals, tell our stories, and develop our culture– a hospitality based in Being the Church.
A favorite author of mine, Enuma Okoro, discusses this weird and uncomfortable call to hospitality in this way – “try to live into the absurdity of church. Really it’s not normal. We do not naturally group ourselves with strangers who are different from us in so many visible and not so visible ways. We do not readily give up the things we want in order to provide for people we don’t know or even necessarily like. We do not give our time, resources, and privacy to just anyone. But that’s what church calls us to do and that’s why I have such a hard time with it.”
As we grow in what it means to be a congregation of welcome, know this – it will be beautiful, it will be messy, it will be hard and frustrating, it will be joyous and life-giving, it will be sacrificial, it will be humbling … it will be standing on holy ground for we are moving where the Spirit leads us.
Abraham stood on holy ground with three divine strangers, offering his spirit of readiness and allowing his healing to not keep him from welcoming them. We shall stand on holy ground as we move with the Spirit and further into this thing of loving the stranger in a KINdom way – as bumping of a journey it will be it will be a grace filled one.