June 18, 2017, 2nd Sunday of Pentecost YR A The Rev. Anne Abdy Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:8
I have in my living room two icons. The larger of the two is the Icon for the Feast of Pentecost showing the disciples with tongues of fire above their foreheads and Christ sitting in the middle assuring them that they will not be alone. The second icon depicts the Holy Family riding a donkey and hurriedly traveling towards Egypt as Mary and Joseph escape Bethlehem and Herod’s massacre of the Holy Innocents. Both icons relate and provide tension to a third famous icon, Abraham’s Hospitality to the Three Visitors—the story we read in today’s Old Testament Lesson.
How? Well, the icon depicting Pentecost is the beginning of the Church. In Matthew, Jesus commands the disciples to go out into the world but don’t be surprised if you do not get a warm reception. Luke’s Gospel of the Great Commission depicts a kinder story where the disciples are welcomed into the homes of strangers. The greater story here is that the church is to be a welcoming safe place for strangers. Churches through the ages have been places of safety to weary travelers fleeing oppressive regimes just as the Holy Family found safety, ironically in a country full of strangers.
The term sanctuary state, sanctuary city, sanctuary church has unfortunately become something of a popular buzz word of late because of the refugee and immigration crisis. Our own Mayor, proclaimed Eugene to be a sanctuary city. So how does a church take care of the tired, the weak, the widowed, and the orphaned, and engage in the care of others? We are to provide hospitality.
Abraham entertains three guests. They are angels or messengers of God. This story is a fulfilling of a promise made by God for Abraham to become a patriarch of a large nation. And, it is also an annunciation a story about Sarah who laughs almost mockingly at God’s intent knowing that she is well passed child-bearing age. In the next chapters, we will read of how God turns the painful laughter of disbelief into joyful laughter of a promise fulfilled as Isaac is born. Abraham welcomes these angelic beings to the table by washing their feet and feeding them.
So what does it mean to extend hospitality? One source, the Benedictine Rule of Life created in 529, explains that Saint Benedict expected many different people to arrive at his monastery. He also expected his brothers to treat these sojourners as guests. This monastic rule for hospitality reads:
“As soon as anyone knocks, or a poor man calls out, he [the porter] replies, ‘Thanks be to God’ or ‘Your blessing, please’; then, with all the gentleness that comes from the fear of God, he provides a prompt answer with the warmth of love” (vv. 3-4).”
In 2006, I was the beneficiary of the hospitality given me by the Roman religious order of the Queen of Angels at Mount Angel. I had enrolled in a two year Spiritual Direction course and was welcomed into their conference center and guest space, into their community chapel, and able to walk the grounds with freedom. I was also welcomed into their dining room for numerous meals. I learned much about their hospitality including being able to take communion. All of these welcoming acts, were acts of love—unconditional love.
But the rule does not stop with the notion of loving thy neighbor. It continues to offer advice to us about the treatment of the traveler.
“Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received…” (53.15). Hospitality is provided not only in the form of food (“the abbot’s table must always be with guests and travelers” [56.1]), but lodging as well, since St. Benedict, speaking of the guest-house, says that “adequate bedding should be available there” (53.22)”
Taking in the families at Shelter Week and the homeless during the cold winter months as part of the Egan Warming Center Program illustrates how Resurrection is a welcoming parish. Hospitality is not new to us.
But here’s a twist, what does it mean for you and I to experience hospitality? In every celebration of Holy Communion we experience the hospitality of God given in the bread and the wine of the Body and Blood of Christ. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote about this kind of hospitality in his text, Being Christian:
“For Christians, to share in the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, means to live as people who know that they are guests—that they have been welcomed and that they are wanted. It is, perhaps, the most simple thing that we can say about Holy Communion, yet it is still supremely worth saying. In Holy Communion, Jesus Christ tells us that he wants our company.”
Jesus invites us to partake at the table, in the pew, at the bedside, in the living room, and even in a prison cell. In the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, he says: “Take eat: This is my Body, which is given for you” and “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant.” That’s why I so value communion which is the essence of my call to the priesthood. That I have the privilege to stand in the place of Jesus by being the vessel by which he invites us to share in the eating and drinking of his body and blood—we become Jesus’ guests the moment we reach out with our hands to accept the bread.
Just as Jesus is there to invite us to the table, we are able to invite him to the table too. Remember, Zacchaeus who is vertically challenged so he climbs a tree to see Jesus? Jesus approaches and looks up at him asking him: “Aren’t you going to ask me into your home?” We get to not only feed at the table, we can and should invite Jesus into our home…our bodies at each sacred meal. Archbishop Williams further explains this relationship with Christ this way: “His [Jesus’] welcome gives us the courage to open up to him. And so the flow of giving and receiving, of welcome and acceptance, moves backwards and forwards without a break.”
Jesus broke bread before the resurrection and after the resurrection with the disciples. It is a celebration that has taken place whenever and where ever Christians have gathered together. Jesus makes the connection with God, the Father, at Gethsemane, with the disciples in the Upper Room at the Last Supper, and then in the final act where he is given over to the Roman and Jewish authorities. God, the Father, does not rescue his Son. By not rescuing Jesus, God, the Father, becomes the Giver—and that act of giving is witnessed in each Communion in the calling down of the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.
By reaching out my hand to accept the bread and drink the wine, I need to remember that my neighbor to my left and right have also accepted this invitation. In doing so, I get to see Christ in them and in others. By accepting this invitation to be Jesus’ guest, community is built.
So what can we do here at Resurrection to build community. In the Tune-up newsletter this week, there was a notice about Parish Conversations that will take place. We will have an opportunity to be in community and to share what it means to be a member of this community that forms the Parish of Resurrection.
It means remembering to set a place-setting for the unknown guest at a meal in the parish hall. That place-setting is for the honored guest. I remember visiting with a friend in tattered clothing eating cake at my ordination reception downstairs. Who ever invited him in, thank you! This is a wonderful invitation of hospitality and to have the Christ in him present with us at a joyous occasion!
That holy invitation is there. It is always there, we just need to use it. I wonder if we made a good faith effort to invite the Christ seen in a neighbor, a traveler, or a refugee into this sacred space by honoring what we say at communion: “This is God’s table, all are welcome,” then all of God’s children searching for that Holy Feast would find a home in this religious community? I wonder, then, if all our churches would be filled?
In the words of the Benedictine Rule on Hospitality:
“If we could come to think of all people as our guests, our world would be a very
 Raverty, Aaron, OSB. “Hospitality in the Benedictine Monastic Tradition.” Revista Interdisciplinar da Mobilidade Humana [Brasília]Ano XX N° 38 (Jan./Jun. 2012):251–255.
 Rowan Williams, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 41.
 BCP, 362-363.
 Williams, 43.