“Holy Hospitality” Colchester Federated Church, June 28, 2020, (Matthew 10:40-42) Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (**Virtual Worship)
We heard some distinct words from Jesus about hospitality in the Gospel according to Matthew today, about how the disciples should be received. This passage also points out how the disciples should receive others. Really this is a story about Christian hospitality. Jesus says, “Those who receive you are also receiving me, and those who receive me are receiving the one who sent me.” When we welcome others, we welcome Jesus. When people welcomed Jesus, they were welcoming God.
Though why would Jesus have to make hospitality so explicit? The answer lies in the way the early Church functioned and the folks who were part of the early Church. Jesus wandered from place to place where he would preach and teach. In modern language, we would say that he had an itinerant ministry—a tradition that the United Methodist Church continues for instance. Pastors go where the bishop sends them, it’s an appointment system. So Jesus had his home base of Capernaum, but even there he would stay with friends and new disciples and then hit the road. He would often preach outside or even from a boat with the people crowding the shores of the sea.
When Jesus realized that he would no longer be with the disciples physically and began to face hostility and adversity, he knew that his followers would have to carry on his ministry. So he gave them a discipleship model, telling them that when people welcome them, they in turn welcome him. This could be a line for the followers of Jesus to say to get their foot in the door after he was no longer with them.
The disciples would go from community to community and home to home. They would preach and teach and quote today’s passage. Jesus is giving the disciples a pep talk of sorts. He’s telling them that they are messengers of God and when people accept them as such, those people are just as faithful as they are. When they go to help people and someone accepts that help, well that’s as good as being the helper in the first place. It’s about giving and receiving, loving and being loved.
So we know that Jesus gave these instructions to the disciples and gave them some courage for the future. We all have heard it before, but it’s worth repeating—Jesus’ disciples were not necessarily the leaders of society, they were not the well-to-do, educated, elite or people who had tons of power and prestige. Scholar Jung Young Lee relates, “Jesus’ public ministry may best be characterized as a life of marginality. He was a homeless man with a group of homeless people around him. The people Jesus called to be his disciples were marginalized people. None came from the religious establishment; they were not elders, high priests, or Judaic-law teachers. Most were fishermen, except for a tax collector and a clerk, Judas, who betrayed Jesus. His other associations were primarily with the poor, weak, outcast, foreigners, and prostitutes.”
Lee presents a clearer picture of why Jesus would need to give his followers a pep talk, why he needed to give them words that could allow them to have some access to people in this society who may not have been outright open and hospitable. They might have been trying to speak to people who were not of the same socio-economic class, or of the same educational level. They might have been trying to speak to people who didn’t trust them or have any use for illiterate Galilean fishermen. Lord knows we can all be judgmental of people who come from backgrounds that are different from our own. So hospitality was of vital importance to Jesus’ ministry and he knew that the disciples would have to take all that they learned from him to go out into society to spread his message of the kingdom of God, to spread his message of loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving ourselves.
The Christian call to hospitality, the call to welcome all in Christ’s name as Christ welcomed all during his lifetime—this had major consequences in the future of Christianity. One of my favorite time periods to study is Medieval Europe and I recall being told by a professor that Christianity came to shine during the periods the Bubonic Plagues swept across Europe. Those history lessons are hitting a little close to home these days and I don’t want to directly compare COVID-19 to that plague. The comparison is that this was another time period of chaos, anxiety, and disease. My Professor taught us that some people would abandon their diseased family members at the first sign of the disease. Sick people would just wander if they were strong enough to even do that, seeking help and refuge.
So the sick would often find their way to monasteries and convents, to be cared for by Christian monks and nuns. Of course, you had some crazy preachers saying that this was a scourge from God and people would practice self-flagellation for their sins which only spread the disease further. Don’t we have crazy preachers today that say that COVID-19 is God punishing us? The reality is that true Christian charity shone through during these periods of chaos. People saw the Church as a place of radical hospitality—the safe place that would help them. The monasteries and convents in Medieval Europe were hit hard by these periods of disease and a clergy shortage resulted in the aftermath because of these religious folks answering the Christian call to service of their fellow human beings.
It can make us think about the role that the Church can play when society faces upheavals. It has been uplifting for our church staff to hear about how these Virtual Worship services are helping members of our congregation (and beyond our congregation) feel some hope and support during these difficult days. Perhaps the Church will reclaim the ways that we can be a place of hospitality, especially in uncertain times when anxiety is so high. Perhaps we’re learning ways to do this that were impossible during other historical time periods. It can make us wonder what future historians will write about what transpired during these times in which we’re currently living. (If I had another life to live I would have gotten my PhD and been a History Professor, so sorry not sorry you have to deal with my historical musings sometimes.)
In the end, Jesus speaks about hospitality by calling on people to be welcoming. In the eyes of Jesus accepting help from someone is just as important as giving help to someone. We can see this in the Church of the past, in the present, and hopefully the Church of the future. It’s like the beautiful opening hymn we sang goes, “Won’t you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I might have the grace to let you be my servant too.” Thanks be to God. Amen.