Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.
June 18 – Second Sunday after Pentecost
“Hospitable places”. Text is from Matthew 9:35–10:23
Sermon audio follows:
Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.
I am going to describe something to you and I want you to nod your head if you have seen it.
A man is standing on a box in the middle of a public square. He may be holding a megaphone or may simply have a loud enough voice that to those who hear him don’t need the amplification. He probably has some signs in front of his box declaring how and in what manner God is going to send down his wrath and what people must do to be saved, and he may be with other people. The words coming out of his mouth are a combination of bible verses picked all across scripture and his interpretation of what those verses mean to those who may be listening. He might point at one or two people walking by, almost in a carnival barker style, declaring that this woman is dressed like a harlot or this young man should change his gangster lifestyle.
Regardless of his words, and usually it involves condemnation of just about everything, yes these are the type of Christians we mainliners just want to roll our eyes at an shake our heads to, because their hellfire and brimstoney speeches are clearly giving the rest of us a bad name. But the words are almost always falling on deaf ears. How can you call something good news that does very little but frightens people listening to it? And besides all that, what kind of message is shared when the messenger is so far removed from the object of the message? With such a lack of connection, is it any wonder that these street hawkers of biblical condemnation meet with very little success?
Yes, the gospel message is offensive to those who are afraid to embrace the gift of faith that Jesus Christ has bought for us. That Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Yes, some people shirk at the mere mention of his name, because of what they think people are saying versus what the good news is all about. But that doesn’t mean that the gospel message is one that should be offensive! Christ calls us into community, and the grace of Christ is meant to be shared between people who are connected, people who are able to look each other in the eye and speak to one another by name. We break bread when we are gathered. The message that Jesus Christ is Lord is a message to be shared among all peoples, but one that is shared with kindness and love and understanding.
Today is the first Sunday in that long season after Pentecost known as “ordinary time”. And each year, we follow along with Jesus and his disciples as they travel throughout the appointed Gospel for that year, with miracles, parables and words of wisdom.
Jesus is traveling throughout Galilee and doing miracle, healing every person that asks, and feeling for the growing crowds that gather around him, knowing that they are facing things in life that make it difficult for them. Is it oppression from their rulers? Is it that the people who are gathering are homeless, jobless, kicked out of their communities? For whatever reason, Jesus sees them and has compassion, telling his disciples that the people need direction, that this harvest is plentiful, and that it’s time.
Jesus gathered all of his disciples together to give them instruction as to what they should do in his name. Matthew recites the name of all twelve of them for us, and this is telling for he names them alongside of the instruction and authority that Jesus gives them: Curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers and casting out demons. Last week we were talking about people who are unworthy doing deeds in Jesus’ name. And yet it is clear what Matthew intends here, that all twelve of the disciples, including the one who was to eventually betray Jesus, are given the power and authority to perform miracles even as they proclaim the good news. As if the power of God is greater than any weakness of humankind.
And the additional instructions, included here give us a decent idea of what is entailed with the sharing of the gospel. That the disciples, even those of them who were men of means, such as Matthew, take only the clothes on their back, no money, none of the comforts of life. That they should expect hospitality where they go, and if they do not receive it, those places are definitely not ready to hear the good news. Jesus’ message seems to become more prophetic toward the end of the instructions, because the details seem to be more about the time after the resurrection than they do the current commission.
But one thing is clear in the instructions that Jesus is giving out. He is not telling them to go to the town square and shout at passersby warning them of the impending apocalypse. He is telling his disciples to accept the hospitality of strangers and to become vulnerable to those people and therein lies the good news.
What does it mean to be vulnerable to people we are bringing the gospel to? It may seem easy at some times. People like to host guests, show that they can spend time over a carefully prepared meal and provide a welcome respite for a weary traveler. Accepting hospitality of strangers is no great chore. But while the message is the same, the world has changed greatly. We don’t travel from town to town spreading the good news. Our proclamation happens right in our own back yard. Perhaps that is in part some reason why some people find it simply easier to get on a soap box and shout at passing strangers with whom they share no real connection.
So what is it like to accept hospitality and become intimate with the people that Jesus calls us to witness to in this day and age. How do you accept the hospitality of prisoners, for instance, when you’re in an environment where there is no possibility of the exchange of food, of comfort? How do you establish the kind of intimacy required to share the good news?
What about on the street with a person who is living in a doorway. Who has nothing real to offer to you except what they have managed to collect in their day to day. Where the kind of comfort one expects from living indoors does not exist. Sometimes hospitality may mean bringing your own cup of coffee and one to share as well.
How about in a nursing home? Where the resident may have a cache of candy but receives only the food that comes with their daily meals? Their home is possibly one half of a two-person unit. Like with the others, hospitality is being invited into a space. Establishing intimacy is being able to look the other person in the eye and naming them. Being able to see the Christ in them as they see the Christ in you. Opening yourself up to the Holy Spirit to guide you as you open your heart to the person in front of you.
Because in a world where people are often mean to each other, hospitality is a unique thing. How many of us know the names of our neighbors on both sides of us? How about across the street or hallway? And how many of them know that we are Christians called upon to proclaim the good news as his disciples? In the world today, we must sometimes be uncomfortable to become intimate, we must sometimes brave strange places to go where Jesus calls us. Because the good news needs to be proclaimed, and we are God’s tools to do it.