The Grace of Hospitality
Updated: Jul 6, 2021
St. Philip Lutheran Church
4 July 2021 + Lectionary 14B (Pent. 6)
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
“Can I bring anything?” … is usually the first question out of my mouth whenever I’m invited to someone else’s house for a meal. Maybe it’s the Midwestern politeness in me, but it doesn’t feel like “nothing” or “just yourself!” are ever acceptable answers.
“Take nothing with you,” Jesus says to his disciples, before sending them out two by two. “Take nothing with you, except the staff in your hand, the sandals on your feet, and the tunic you’re wearing.” As someone who plans out every last detail before going on a trip, usually to the point of over-packing, Jesus’s instructions seem downright foolish. Nothing? Really? Not even my phone charger?
Of course, Jesus isn’t telling his disciples to neglect their most basic needs. But Jesus is teaching his disciples an important lesson of learning to be the guests of other people’s hospitality. (Rolf Jacobson)
For many of us, it’s so much easier to offer hospitality and open up our homes to others because it gives us something to do. But it’s so much more difficult to receive hospitality because it means we have to sit still and just be. Receiving hospitality requires an element of trust that our host knows what they’re doing and has our best interests at heart. Receiving hospitality means relinquishing control and letting go. And in that trust and letting go, beautiful things can happen.
For the past several weeks, those of us in GLOW Exploration have been reading the book Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others by Episcopal priest-turned-world religions professor Barbara Brown Taylor. In her book, Taylor recounts her experiences teaching world religions to her students at Piedmont College in rural Georgia.
The hallmark of Taylor’s class revolved around field trips to various places of worship, as she writes early in her book: “How could anyone teach a living religion without leaving the classroom?” (27)
One of the class’s first field trips started with the Hindu Temple of Atlanta. After enlisting the help of her fellow faculty member, a professor of mathematics who happens to be from India, the van full of students arrives at the Temple. Soon enough, they begin taking in the sights and smells of the Temple activity, and they even observe the special ritual bathing and dressing of one of the many deities.
Just as the ritual ends and the group is getting ready to leave, Taylor spots her fellow professor standing in front of the shrine of another deity, saying something to a priest nearby … so she gathers up her students to join them at the shrine.
As the priest begins chanting and tossing flower petals at the feet of the deity, Taylor suddenly realizes: Her colleague has asked the priest to perform a prayer ritual for their group, asking the deity’s blessing on them and their studies. “We have unwittingly crossed over from observation to participation,” Taylor writes (39) - certainly out of their familiar comfort zones.
As the priest continues the ritual, he grabs a bowl of some kind of liquid and a spoon. Suddenly inundated by her own rapid-fire inner thoughts and realizing her students would be looking to her for guidance on what to do, Taylor flashes back to an experience she had with her husband while on vacation in Ethiopia. Tired and dusty from a day of hiking, they stumble upon a wedding celebration, where a tall smiling man spots them and eagerly walks toward them, offering two full glasses of what turns out to be a kind of fermented mead and gesturing for them to drink … and they do.
Back in the Hindu Temple, with that same kind of openness, Taylor holds out her hands for the liquid the priest offers her and drinks. “It is not my wedding,” she writes, “but I am still a guest.” (41)
If Taylor’s experience with her students at the Hindu Temple in Atlanta teaches us anything, it’s that beautiful things can happen when we learn to be the guests of other people’s hospitality.
There is something about surrendering control and giving yourself over to the care of another, trusting in the abundance of generous hospitality.
It’s unfortunate that Jesus focuses his instructions on what to do when a place rejects the disciples. Of course, some will reject them. But what about the places that accept them? What about the people who will receive them and extend gracious hospitality to them?
It is in surprising encounters of opening our hands to receive an unknown liquid offered as an act of blessing … in those moments of learning to be guests of other people’s hospitality … where the grace of God is revealed most clearly … when we turn from our skepticism and judgment and turn toward the God beyond our understanding.
Because it’s not about us. It’s never been about us. It’s about God and what God is doing in and through us so that God’s grace might be poured out to nourish a parched and weary world. With hands outstretched, we receive the body of Christ, given for us, guests of God’s hospitality around this table none of us owns.
The disciples had to learn to be guests of other people’s hospitality in order to experience grace - and to let that grace flow in and through them. It’s an experience that changes them.
“Can anyone who visits a sacred space remain an observer,” Taylor wonders, reflecting on their recent field trip, “or does one become a participant simply by entering in?” (43-44) Can anyone who experiences the grace of hospitality remain a passive observer, or are we somehow changed in the process?
Taylor is right: No one can really teach or learn about a world religion without ever leaving the classroom. So why would we think we can really live the life of discipleship without leaving the sanctuary?
Yes, these pews are made for sitting - a safe place to rest and be renewed. But this place is also made for leaving … for being sent as disciples who learn that the best way to show grace is to let ourselves first receive it.
Thanks be to God.