Ps 89:1-4, 15-18
Jane Shelton, CRE
July 2, 2023
Welcome, welcome, welcome! It is so good to be here with all of you today in the house of the Lord! A place where all are welcome!
We often hear “all are welcome,” and this Gospel invites us to consider how we might define hospitality. Do we make the new comer welcome? How about the visitor that ventures through the doorway, do they feel they were welcomed during their visit?
How do we know the proper way to welcome? Is there a correct way? A right or wrong way?
Having a feeling of being welcomed is different for different people. For some, a hello and a smile may be enough. Although, for others, being welcomed may require a conversation or invitation to be involved or to be a part of something.
On the other hand, some people may feel welcomed by having distance. So how do we know? How can we truly respond with the hospitality needed to connect with someone?
Can we greet the stranger with the same quality of welcome that we offer to one another within the body of Christ? As those in our church?
Do we welcome visitors and each other based on how a person looks, how a family looks, how a person speaks or the quality of clothing they are wearing?
Can we set aside prejudices and judgements to consider that our Lord did not turn away anyone for the way they looked, rather he welcomed those with needs that could be met?
When our focus becomes how much money someone has in the bank, or if they have a proper education, are we focused on the same hospitality offered by our Lord?
When Jesus fed the 5,000, all that was needed was provided by God. Jesus showed the disciples how to entertain when they thought there was not enough to fulfill the need. Not only was everyone fed, but there was more than enough.
In one of my commentaries, William Goettler writes the following regarding the hospitality of Jesus:
‘Jesus addresses the issue in the most personal of terms. He describes the love that families hold for one another, the tenderness with which we care for one another, the tenderness with which we care for parents and for children. That tenderness and compassion must be our model for loving all who come into our lives, in Christ’s name. When we welcome the stranger, we welcome none other than Christ.
Jesus arrives and says, “Take the love for family, love for your closest community, and extend it, extend it further and further still. Welcome in the stranger. Welcome in the one whose life you hardly understand. Not to change them, but simply because they are God’s.”
Dare we preach that hospitality is good news? We can imagine that it is good news to those who have been previously shut out, those who in the past have been made to feel unwelcome—if, that is, they are somehow willing still to join in our song of faith. Of course it will take more than a bit of grace for the stranger to be willing to risk approaching the church doors that may have previously been closed.
Jesus insists that although we might pretend otherwise, we are not the gatekeepers of the community of God. Our work is to welcome, to offer an embrace when embrace is invited, and to give a cup of cool water for a hot summer day.’
The reference in this gospel to “the little ones” is the same as the phrase, “one of the least of these.” It is referring to those who are considered “less than” in our society, just as members of the early Christian communities were considered. The disciples of Jesus were encouraged to identify themselves with “the little ones,” and were also called to serve other “little ones” in the world.
Jesus and the disciples were rejected by many in society, and yet, they were entertained by many who held no stature in society.
Hebrews tells us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
This message relates back to the Old Testament where Abraham and Lot entertained visitors who were messengers from God.
Jesus says, “When we help one of the least of these, the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the needy, we help the Lord himself.” When we entertain strangers, we are showing hospitality to Jesus Christ our Lord and demonstrating sisterly and brotherly love.
So what should our hospitality look like? I think the Psalmist gives us a very good idea. We can sing with steadfast love for one another. We can proclaim our faithfulness and walk in the light of Jesus. We can exalt God for all that is provided to us, and enthusiastically praise all that is our reward provided by God. In other words, we share our joy!
In hospitality, we also practice repentance, turning from familiar behavior that is anything but welcoming, and turn toward a willingness to embrace and live new ways of being found in the presence of God.
Although Jesus speaks of rewards in this passage, we do not offer acts of compassion and welcome with the expectation that we will be given something in return, as love is not always returned with love. Love is often met with hatred and acts of violence, just as Jesus was crucified. Yet we are called to love in the midst of hate. We put our love in jeopardy so that blessings may be manifested in the lives of others, and at times in our lives as well. We become the embodiment of a Christian compassionate welcome that leads to hospitality in God’s spirit of mercy.
A spiritual discipline is rooted in compassionate welcome when we extend hospitality that is something new and different to someone who has a need. While it may be at first rejected because it is unfamiliar, it may be a blessing later recognized and revealed by God.
What if we greeted everyone as if they were Jesus? How would this change our perceptions and judgements of others, if when we looked at them all we see is the face of Jesus?
In the role of host, we find ourselves strengthened in our own faith by the “little ones” who carry no money in their belt. They cast themselves upon us in trust, and create the opportunity for the offer of a simple cup of water. In practicing hospitality we find our reward, not always in the act itself, but with our Lord.
When we extend hospitality to others, we may also find that we experience new insights and hear new stories of faith that redirect our perceptions that stimulate our theological and spiritual imaginations so that we become new people.
Looking at the word “welcome” we could see the following:
W- widen our spiritual boundaries
E – embrace new ideas
L – learn to love more openingly
C – care with a compassionate heart
O – open our minds to a better understanding of the life of Jesus
M – mind our manners without preconceived ideas and judgements
E – entertain strangers so that we grow spiritually stronger
In stretching the limits of our hospitality, we stretch the limits of the imagination of the mission of ourselves and our church. We make available fresh and faithful ways of seeing and being. Let us go forth with a warm heart, an open mind, and a cold drink of water to offer, so that we too might entertain messengers of God and Christ himself.