In 1991, Sharon and I were newly married. I have cousins who live in Germany, and that summer, after our wedding, my cousin Matthias came to the United States for a visit. He was a teenager and spent a month here that summer and stayed with my parents. Sharon and I took him on a few trips, like to cedar point, and hung out with him a bit. The following summer, Sharon and I went to Germany for a visit. After a just a few days, Sharon turned to me and said, “I am so embarrassed.” I responded, “I know exactly what you are talking about.” You see, our relatives in Germany spent every minute of every day with us. If we were jet-lagged and took a nap, they were waiting for us when we awoke. Food was abundant, including home-made bakery. Every other day they took us somewhere: to a castle, for a walk in the Black Forest, to a town. On the days in between, we stayed home and rested together. We enjoyed meals out in the garden, took walks into town, and played games. Their hospitality was like nothing Sharon and I had ever experienced before.
There was a small castle up on a hill in the town where my aunt and uncle live in Germany. We walked up to the castle on several occasions, and there was a cherry tree near the front. We ate the cherries off of the tree, and Sharon began spitting the seeds across the lawn. Soon it became a contest, and Sharon was able to spit the cherry seeds the farthest. Years later, when my relatives came to visit, they gave us a painting of the castle with the cherry tree. That’s hospitality.
Dictionary.com defines hospitality as [SLIDE “The friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers. The quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” Dictionary.com]
When we show hospitality, we are welcoming to the other person, and giving an attentiveness to their identity. We are accepting people for who they are.
As Christians, we know a lot about providing hospitality to other people. How many churches say, in one form or another, ‘All are welcome.’ We go on mission trips, go to Redeemer Crisis Center, and offer food from our food bank.
Jesus talks about hospitality and tells us, [SLIDE Matthew 10:40, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”] Some of us read this text, and our minds jump to sharing our faith. Then the onus is on the hearer. As if all we have to do is share our faith, and then it is all up to the other person to accept Christ or not. Theologian Donald Juel (who was an instructor to Pastor Doug and my professor, Rolf Jacobson) instructs us to ask when reading scripture, “What does this text mean?” and “What does this text mean for me?” When Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me..” he means that [SLIDE “We are to be out there”]. Professor Jacobson writes that we are to go out and offer ourselves up as the guests of other people’s welcome. Jesus calls us to put ourselves in situations where people can extend their hospitality to us.
My preaching professor, Caroline Lewis, instructs preachers to work within the Gospel text to flush out meaning and interpretation. When I got to this point in the sermon, I remembered this and thought, “Lets’ look in this same Gospel of Matthew and see how Jesus did it.” How did Jesus put himself in the position of offering himself up as the guest of other people’s welcome?
[SLIDE Matthew 4:23: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every sickness among the people.”] We read of Jesus dining at Matthew’s house, and of having his feet anointed when he is a dinner guest at Simon the Leper’s house.
Jesus puts himself out there into situations where others could welcome him.
We are in a unique time when our church’s welcoming and open doors have had to close amidst a pandemic. The new expression goes, [SLIDE “The church has left the building.”] All of us are ‘out there’ in the world.
Similarly, Jesus sends his disciples out into the world and instructs them to rely on the hospitality of those who would welcome them. [SLIDE Matthew 10:9- 10. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.]. That sounds like a pretty vulnerable thing to do. Then there is a familiar verse, [SLIDE Matthew 10:14-15 “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”] It’s about hospitality.
As a seminarian, I have an abundance of Bibles. One that is becoming a favorite of mine is “The Jewish Annotated New Testament.” Published in 2011, it brings out the Jewish context of the New Testament and includes input from noted Jewish scholars. The footnote on this text says, “Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed for lack of charity and hospitality according to Ezekial 16:49.” [SLIDE Ezekiel 16:49 ”This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.”]
I wonder and pray about the hospitality of our country. [SLIDE. Jesus calls us to extend and receive hospitality]. The good news is that we, as believers in Christ, can extend and receive hospitality within our community of faith, and with the world.
In today’s text, Jesus calls us to go out and to be the receivers of other’s hospitality. This is undoubtedly a growing edge for me. Sometimes I get stuck, and I resist others when they want to help me. Growing up in a hypermasculine, individualistic culture, I tend to resist others who offer their help. I am working on it. I am learning that when others offer their support, it comes from gratitude and acceptance. I have a role in accepting what is offered to me.
Jesus calls you and I to put ourselves out there and accept the offered hospitality. It is in these relationships where the kingdom of God can flourish. In these relationships, God's true nature, God's hospitality is found. AMEN