|“Come Unto Me” Window
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Houston
At first glance, hospitality seems like an odd suggestion for a Lenten practice. After all, meeting and welcoming others is a way of being or acting like a Christian, but what does it have to do with our own spiritual walk? The truth is, hospitality is more than making cupcakes and hosting a great party (although if you do that, I’m always open for an invitation!). It’s more than making a guest feel comfortable in your home (which is, after all, the mark of any good host). In fact, it’s about more than welcoming anyone, friend or stranger, at all. The spiritual practice of hospitality is about entering another’s life and, perhaps even more difficult, allowing an other to enter yours. It is walking the way that Christ walked–welcoming all unto himself and then allowing them to see him in the deepest and most profound way.
We struggle with this. Our society teaches us to protect ourselves, to stand up for our place, and to not let anyone in who we do not trust. And so we put up fences around our borders and walls around our lives all in the name of protecting what we have and who we see ourselves to be. OK, really, at the risk of sounding trite, is that what Jesus would do? I doubt it. After all, while we’re arguing over how many additional persons to allow into this country of “respectable” immigrants (most of which are probably descended from illegal immigrants themselves!–I know my great-great-grandfather probably stowed away on a boat to get here from Germany!), Jesus is welcoming the Samaritan woman at the well and giving her life. So, let’s see–respectability vs. life. Sounds like there’s a winner to me!
Maybe we’ve forgotten what hospitality is. What is it to you? For me, I think at the very least its civility. Dr. Jim Bankston, our Senior Pastor, mentioned in today’s sermon Mark DeMoss, a conservative evangelical Republican that partnered with Lanny Davis, a liberal Jewish Democrat to work on what they called The Civility Project. They came up with a 32-word Civility Pledge that says:
(1) I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
(2) I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.
(3) I will stand against incivility when I see it.
They sent the pledge and asked for signatures from the 585 sitting members of Congress and state governors. Well, apparently, these 32 words are pretty divisive, because they got a whole 3 signatures. Yes, 3 SIGNATURES! First of all, I would encourage you to write and thank Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.), Rep. Frank Wolf (Va.), and Rep. Sue Myrick (NC). Secondly, I would encourage you to read the letter at http://www.demossnews.com/resources/civility_project.pdf. And then, maybe we need to start talking a little more about civility. This is amazing!
As I said, civility is the LEAST, the starting point. I think good hosts go a step farther and welcome. And maybe those among us who do care about others will develop a spirit of tolerance and respect toward one another’s lives. But those who walk the way of Christ do more. Those who walk the way of Christ accept one another not in spite of what they are but because of who they are–a child of God, a brother or sister in this big human family, a co-worker in bringing the vision of God to be. You know, you don’t have to become friends. You don’t have to agree. In truth, you don’t even have to like each other. Just be open to what you can offer each other. Just be open to the way that you can encounter God in the face of another. We are all children of God, immigrants to this earth, visitors for a time until we finally return home together.
So, as your Lenten disciple, go and welcome a stranger and be open to what he or she can bring to your life.
“People do not enter our lives to be coerced or manipulated, but to enrich us by their differences, and the be graciously received in the name of Christ.” (Elizabeth Canham)
Grace and Peace,