presence, not perfection: some thoughts on Christian hospitality

Each month, LCM-TC is focusing on a different value that we hold central to our ministry, and to living out the Christian faith.  February = hospitality.  These are a few thoughts from a sermon I preached at pause, on Matthew 25.  The text is at the end, as well as a few questions for reflection (just in case you’re away and want to gather a few friends of your own!)

The Reflection:

There are some passages in the Bible that are confusing, some that are vague or nebulous.  This is not one of them.  For anyone who is throwing down judgment about sexuality, around drinking, about any kind of personal behavior really, I challenge them to read this passage.  Our call as Christians is so clear in this passage.  We’re given a straight shooting response as to where Christ will show up until the Kingdom of God is realized.  And, there’s a pretty significant consequence named for not doing all of those things that are listed.

I’m going to read the  words once more:

Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ 41-43“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

There’s some conviction there, ‘ey?  But when we read this – not with an eye to the fires of hell of our imaginations – but through the eyes of God’s grace and mercy and love – I think we get another picture.

We are promised, brothers and sisters, that God shows up among us.  God shows up here on this campus among the lonely, the grieving, the ostracized, the lost.  God shows up in you when you’re feeling particularly broken by the sadness in this world and in your lives.

When we surround ourselves only with those on the top of the heap – the strong, the powerful, the happy, the resourced, we’re missing out on a big part of life.  When we are disconnected from the brokenness of the world, when we isolate ourselves from those who are suffering, when we withhold our love and care, we are disconnected from God…and that, brothers and sisters, can feel like the fires of hell, it can feel like outer darkness, it can feel like weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But this passage, and the call it offers, invites us into a life lived in communion with God, and with others.  We are called into a life lived in hospitality.  We’re called to open ourselves to the stranger, to the hungry, to the sick, to the homeless…trusting that they have something to teach us about the living Christ.

Now hospitality can be a funny word.  It makes me think of Martha Stewart, and a perfectly cleaned house where I offer perfectly frosted cupcakes.  It also makes me think arguments that break out at churches and in families about who is on for making coffee, and who is bringing the waldorf salad.

I’m not as interested in that, though I do love beautiful cupcakes.  Instead, I want to talk for a little bit about a more radical version of hospitality.  This hospitality, rooted God’s unconditional grace and love for each of you, doesn’t require perfection.  It requires presence.  We are set free to care for others, by offering food and shelter when possible, but also companionship and care and laughter and love.  It all kind of gets mixed together in this kind of radical hospitality.

When we notice, really behold, the whole person, our quest for justice becomes deeper.  Our commitment to service grows stronger.  Our curiosity is piqued as we see the light of Christ in the stranger, and are blessed by their presence…as we are each blessed by the connection we experience with the living Christ.

In just a moment, we’re going to break up into small stations.  You are invited around the cross, to light a candle or two for a person or place in your life that is in need of the love and care of this community, of the broader community, or simply of your presence.  You are invited to make an offering of your time or talent or a financial gift.  This community exists because you all make it happen – your offerings are the core of our expression of hospitality, on this campus and in the broader community.

And last of all, you’ll be invited to gather around the table in small groups of three or four.  In the meal that we’ll share, God shows up amongst us in all of our broken places, healing us, restoring us, and setting us free to live lives of love in this world.  In this meal, and in the presence of God, we’re reminded that none of us are only broken, and none of us are only healed.  We are all, each of us in need of one another.  And so it is with the world.

And so, brothers and sisters, as you go forth from this place, I invite you to keep your eyes out for God in your midst.  You are set free by the grace and love and absolute forgiveness God has for you.  You are set free to care for and cook for and welcome and open yourself to the abundance of God’s presence in this world.  Live this abundant hospitality, draw near to the hungry and the broken, the ostracized and the homeless, for there you find Christ.

May it be so. Amen. Amin.

 

The Text:  Matthew 25

31-33“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left. 34-36“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

37-40“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ 41-43“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’ 45“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’  46“Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”

Questions for reflection (leader’s guide):

Think for a minute about whether you’ve ever experienced meeting Christ in a stranger.  If people feel like they’ve had that experience, encourage them to share.  If not, discuss what might be getting in the way of them seeing Christ in the stranger.

Talk together about when and where you’ve encountered the people listed in this passage?  Concrete examples, or metaphorical, are welcome.  What do these categories look like at the U?  Who are the outcast, the imprisoned, the hungry, the marginalized?  Where do you see them?

(If there is time, and if the group seems to be gelling…this is a touchier subject) Have you ever felt like the stranger, the outcast, the marginalized?  Did you experience a sense of love or people reaching out to share themselves with you?  What was that like?  If not, what could have they done?

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