The Hospitality of God, Part 2                                                           

 

I am reading a book by Brendan Byrne, a Jesuit Theology Professor in Australia.  The title caught my attention … The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel.  This academic book can be a challenging read however I was captured by what he wrote about hospitality in light of what Luke presents in the Gospel.

Byrne sees hospitality as the most “fruitful way to approach the Gospel of Luke.”  That got my attention.  I had not read or studied Luke from that perspective.  Physician, yes; healing before teaching, yes; a more Gentile audience, yes; hospitality, nope.  He writes

“Hospitality” conjures up images of guests, visitors, putting on meals for them, providing board and lodging, making the stranger feel “at home’ in our home – enlarging our home to make that wider “at homeness” possible.

Byrne points out that the most common context for Luke is around “meals and the offering (or non-offering) of hospitality…”  Hospitality forms a ‘notable frame of reference for the ministry of Jesus.”  But even more important he believes Luke sees the ‘whole life and ministry of Jesus as a ‘visitation’ on God’s part of Israel and the world.

As I reflected on this and read further, hospitality is about welcoming everyone, friends, enemies and strangers.  It is about making room for others whether we know them or not, whether we like them or not.  It is about noticing, paying attention and including.  Hospitality is about making the stranger feel at home among us. It is about enlarging our home.   That got me thinking, are hospitality and fellowship the same, or nearly the same?  I think not, at least for me.

In fellowship I hear a sense of relationship that is not present with stranger and, most certainly not with enemies.  Don’t get me wrong, fellowship is good and wonderful but it seems to me, more focused around the existing community, the sharing of our stories, the deepening of connections.  Hospitality is about expanding our home, our community, our table, to make room for those who walk through our red doors.

So what does that mean for us to offer hospitality?  To intentionally enlarge our home?  To focus on the other?

Over the years I suspect we have all visited a number of churches or organizations or homes.   I suspect each of us has experienced underwhelming hospitality.  The being left to stand on the sidelines, invisible, unable to find an opening into the gathering.  The sense of being perhaps an intruder.  What was that like?  What might have made you know you were truly welcome?  But I also suspect most, if not all, of us have experienced overwhelming hospitality as a visitor.  What was that like?  What happened that gave you a sense the community was enlarging their home?

In this Easteride, the season of joy and deepening our discipleship, I invite you to reflect upon this and how we at St. Luke’s offer hospitality that is more than fellowship.   While we say, and in fact, we do enlarge our home with grace and warmth, is there room to grow in this ministry that Luke sees as the core of Jesus?  In offering our very best hospitality to others, we are joining with Jesus in his ministry here on earth.

 

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The Hospitality of God

The Hospitality of God

Brendan Byrne’s book, The Hospitality of God, A Reading from Luke, is my read for this Year C when churches who follow the lectionary are hearing Luke.  My New Testament Professor in seminary encouraged us to take on the discipline of reading a book about the yearly cycle we were in.  He believed firmly that there was always more we could learn, encounter and experience in our gospels.

Reading Luke through the lens of God’s hospitality has been thought provoking.  Byrne writes that a favorite device of Luke is to bring together two individuals who have each had a religious experience that puzzles them.  In the sharing of their experiences, “individual experience becomes community experience and in the process finds full meaning.”  He then relates that to the story of Mary and Elizabeth.  Elizabeth in seeing Mary realizes Mary is carrying the Christ child and becomes “the first in a long line of characters in this Gospel who give hospitality to Jesus only to find themselves drawn into the hospitality of God.”  He concludes that “these two women and the two stories have come together and faith overflows in knowledge, testimony and celebration.  In the meeting of these two women, in the hospitality they exchange, we see the beginnings of community that will share and celebrate the blessings of salvation.”

For me, this heightened my awareness for the need for community.  It is only in the telling of our stories in community that we can experience a deeper understanding of our own story and offer hospitality to others as they share their stories.  I remember when my mother-in-law died, I found myself repeating the story over and over to others.  My retelling the story bothered me enough to talk with the hospital chaplain where I both volunteered and worked part-time.  He said something that helped me immensely in understanding the power of our stories and the need to tell them.  “It is only in the sharing of our stories that they become real.”  In the telling and retelling they get knit into the fabric of our life.  And, in the telling and retelling our stories in community we can begin to hear and experience God in our life.

For me, that is the real gift of offering hospitality.  It is more than socializing.  It is more than good food and drink.  It is about creating a safe space where our stories can be shared.  Stories of joy, fear, pain, confusion, excitement, all the rich stories of our lives.

There is a wonderful hymn that I have sung for many years.  One verse for me speaks directly to this:

Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

                                                                                                                Words by Marty Haugen, GIA Publishing

May we, be it in our churches or in our homes or in our world, create such a sacred space.

“We are called to be fearless people in a fearful world!”

I happen to like Henri Nouwen’s writings. He was a Roman Catholic priest whose spiritual journey has encouraged many. His ecumenical work was a witness that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, regardless where we happen to worship. I got to hear him speak at an Episcopal General Convention a number of conventions past. A while ago, I read his book, Sabbatical Journey. As I was comfortably reading along, I came to the words, “We are called to be fearless people in a fearful world!” That stopped me. You see, I’m much more of a fearful person than a fearless one. I worry about things that I cannot control. All my life I’ve been told that I cross bridges before I get to them. In fact, my father would say that I build bridges that aren’t there just to have a bridge to worry about. I live in a world that is fearful. A world filled with fear of many things, some real and some created fears. Some things we fear we can do something about but so many are things we can’t do a thing about – yet we live a fearful life. How could I ever be a fearless person in this very fearful world?

Henri writes, “Life with all its turmoil is an opportunity to witness to God’s love! The many events of life so easily pull us in all directions and make us lose our souls. But when we remain anchored in the heart of God, rooted in God’s love, we have nothing to fear, not even death, and everything joyful and everything painful will give us a chance to proclaim the Kingdom of Jesus.”

What would it mean to live a fearless life in this fearful world? To begin with, it would mean that I would need to take on the gift of God’s generous forgiveness and abundant love for me. This would mean not just saying I believe it but living out my daily life as if I believed it in the deepest recesses of my heart and mind and soul. It would mean that I would need to let go of my fears. For me that includes giving up my fear of rejection, fear of feeling stupid, fear of not having enough, fear of not being safe and secure. Most importantly, it would mean giving up my childhood image that life can be perfect – that life can be without pain, that life can be without worry. You see that image is what I keep waiting for. When I get my life in order…, when I am not so tired…, when I am not hurting, … when… when… when… Once that happens, then I’ll be able to witness to others about God’s love for them. Then perhaps, I can be fearless.

But God doesn’t want us to wait, God wants us to be fearless NOW! In this season of journeying with the disciples, I invite you to be fearless so that together we might be a fearless people in a fearful world. So that together we might bring the light of Christ into the darkened and broken parts of the God’s creation so that the world, in experiencing the abundance of God’s mercy and love, might become a less fearful world.

Things not to say…

Just got another, “things not to say to….” on Facebook. For some reason it just irritated me, not the specifics but the negativity of it and all the others that have found life. Perhaps it would be best if we just stopped talking period. After all, it seems that it is too easy to offend said person(s) rather than even give another person the benefit of doubt. Sense of humor…forget it. As we live with my father who is in hospice, people do say things that I experience and judge as thoughtless or not helpful but I appreciate that they, if not perfectly, recognize the human condition we are living with. And when someone says they have experienced something similar when dealing with a dying beloved pet, I understand losing a loved one is often hard, painful work. Or question if we are getting enough sleep (no we are not), I am thankful they in some way understand, appreciate this journey we are on. But here is what I say to myself and to others, I could have missed the pain and grief but I would have missed the dance. Even this last dance. Even when others say things that are thoughtless. And in this post I have probably joined them in what not to say…

Lent: Unzipping Our Hearts

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          Rend your heart

          Return to the Lord

          The words of Joel are clear, they are a call to action

          It is not God who is to rend our hearts but us.  

We are to break open our hearts, we are to turn more fully to God.  We are to turn away from anything or anyone that keeps our heart distracted from God so that we can more truly, as the psalmist proclaims,

         bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

We are to render our hearts so that there is room to cultivate a purity of heart.  Laura Swan, author of the Forgotten Desert Mothers:  Sayings, lives and stories of Early Christian Women, writes about purity of heart. 

It is a mature mindfulness, a grounded sensitivity, and a keen attention to one’s inner world as well as to the world in which one journeys.  She goes on to write of intentionally letting go of all that keeps us from the single minded pursuit of God:  feelings and thoughts that bind us, cravings and addictions that diminish our sense of worth, and attachments to self-imposed perfectionism. 

Maybe for some this is easy, to rend our hearts but I struggle with it.  Why is it so hard to open our hearts to God?  What keeps me from doing it? 

Part of me is fearful that if I open my heart I might find out I don’t really like all that is in my heart, so shame keeps my heart zipped up.

Another is I secretly like what is in my heart.  The thought of God taking away my judging of others or my slothful habits, well, I like them too much to let go of them.

Then there is the suspension that God might ask too much of me.  If I rend my heart and return to God, God just might ask me to do something that I just don’t want to do. 

I don’t want to go to a place with lots of creepy crawly things to be a missionary.  I don’t want to give up my earthly wealth or creature comforts. I don’t want to be uncomfortable.  I want to be safe. 

I like the world I have created and while my heart is certainly flawed, the risk of God working more fully in it might mean giving up what I don’t want to. 

All of my reasons are grounded in one thing.

Recently David and I saw a play, Souvenirs, at the Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay.  It was a thought provoking play with great humor.  The story line is based on the real life story of a wealthy woman, Florence Foster Jenkins, who could not sing but gave sold out recitals including one at Carnegie Hall, where people lined up for blocks hoping to get a turned in ticket.   The money she made went to her favorite charities. 

The story is told from the perspective of her pianist, Cosmé McMoon.  I can’t imagine how difficult it was for the person playing the woman to sing all over the place against the piano accompaniment, but she did.

So what was thought provoking? 

The pianist at one point wondered if the woman was mad, unable to see she was silly, foolish, that the tears flowing in the audience were not from being moved by her singing but by laughter. 

Then he thought, perhaps she was very smart, playing the foolish woman who could not sing, entertaining folks, getting them to pay $2.40 for a seat all to help her favorite charities.   

But then he went further to reflect on that no matter her reason she did not let fear of any kind keep her from living her passion, her dream.  She was aware of her critics, but never let them stand in her way: “People may say I can’t sing,” she said, “but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”  She chose to follow her heart, the “music in her mind”, and do so with great certainty, joy, and enthusiasm. 

And as he pondered this, Cosme wondered why his fear or insecurity kept him from living out his gifts, his passions and dreams. Why did he let the possibility of being ridiculed or ignored by people keep him from living his life fully? 

As he talked it hit me that I let uncertainty, I let fear keep me from doing in my life.  I found myself wondering,

“How do they keep me from sharing my gifts and talents? 

How do I embrace them rather than the joy and enthusiasm?” 

It is easy to listen to the voices of others, even the voice of the evil one, and then let doubt prevail.  After all, what would people say or think?  It is harder to embrace the “music in our minds.” To live fully the life God offers each of us. 

Today, as the Season of Epiphany, a season focused on light, the light of Christ, has come to an end, I am reminded of scripture that admonishes those of us who are Christians, to not hide our light under the basket.  Rather we are to let the light of Christ shine forth through our lives lived faithfully, purposefully, passionately.  We are to take the gifts we have been given and use them to let God’s love shine forth.  Years ago, a priest challenged me to stop hiding the light God had given me, the gifts, the energy, and the passion.  I, like the pianist, was uncertain I had anything of worth to offer.  I listened to the voice of the evil that said, “other might ridicule me or even worse, not even see the gifts.” 

Fear, fear is the zipper on my heart.  It quickly closes my heart and in doing so zipping God out or allowing very little room for God.  It closes down so that there is little courage to bless the Lord with every breath.  And over time it seals my heart so that faith cannot breathe, so that faith struggles to burn in my heart.

The Gospel reading from Matthew reminds us that where our treasure is will be our heart.  We often hear that as where we put our money, our wealth, our time or our talent. 

But then I thought, if the zipper on my heart is fear, what does that say about what I treasure?  That was simple to name, I treasure safety and freedom from worry.   Never mind others, while it would be nice for others to feel safety and freedom from worry, if I am brutally honest, it is about me.  My zipper is meant to keep me safe and living a life free from worry. 

And in putting my treasure there, it is hard for me to unzip that zipper of fear so that I can rend my heart.  So that I can live more fully in the light of Christ.  So that I can be more fully that light of Christ in God’s world.

And so, as I prepare to enter into the Season of Lent, Cosme’s questions will propel me to a season of reflection.  Just perhaps, like he, I need to grasp courage to be able to say “no one can say I never sang”.  To grasp the courage of faith, and live more fully into who God intends me to be. To grasp the protective zipper I have put on my heart and unzip it so that in rending my heart, Jesus Christ’s flame of love burns brighter. 

In a few moments you will hear Mother Barb invite us to a Holy Lent, a season of penitence and fasting.  She will invite you enter into a time of self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.  

Why are we encouraged to live this kind of a holy Lent, marked with self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting and self-denial?  Again, Laura Swan, author of the Forgotten Desert Mothers observes that these practices teach that awareness of our own weaknesses gives us an opportunity to deepen our compassion for the weaknesses of others.  As we cultivate a tender, vulnerable, expansive hearts that embraces the humanity of all, we see with new eyes…the eyes and heart of Christ.

What will that mean for you?  How will you rend your heart?  How will you make more room for God within your life?  How will you embrace and live out of Christ’s light, Christ’s love for you?  How will you unzip your heart?

I want to end with a quote from a noted theologian whose name I did not write down when I copied it

I invite everyone to join me in living a fear free day. No matter how grave my own situation may seem, no matter how difficult the struggles of the world, I want to live these hours without being afraid. I will believe that my life is in the hands of a loving power that will help me find my way through any hardship. I will believe that peace and goodness will heal the broken world in which we live. I will not despair. I will not surrender to resignation.  He concludes with, I will let my fears go, dropping them at my feet, as I rise to feel the lightness of my spirit when all it knows is faith unfettered.

And so in this lent, unzip your heart, cultivate a heart of purity, let the light of Christ burn brightly within you and bless the Lord with all that is within you, bless his holy name.

Souveniers: A Play at Third Avenue Playhouse

This afternoon we took a break as caregivers for my dad and went to a play, Souvenirs, at the Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay.  It was a thought provoking play with great humor.  The story line is based on the real life story of a wealthy woman, Florence Foster Jenkins, who could not sing but gave sold out recitals including one at Carnegie Hall, where people lined up for blocks hoping to get a turned in ticket.   The money she made went to her favorite charities.  It is told from the perspective of her pianist, Cosmé McMoon.  I can’t imagine how difficult it was for the person playing the woman to sing all over the place against the piano accompaniment, but she did.

So what was thought provoking?  The pianist at one point wondered if the woman was mad, unable to see she was silly, foolish, that the tears flowing were not from being moved by her singing but by laughter.  Then he thought, perhaps she was very smart, playing the foolish woman who could not sing, entertaining folks, getting them to pay $2.40 for a seat all to help her favorite charities.   But then he went further to reflect on how she did not let fear of any kind keep her from living her passion, her dream.  She was aware of her critics, but never let them stand in her way: “People may say I can’t sing,” she said, “but no one can ever say I didn’t sing.”  She chose to follow her heart, the “music in her mind”, and do so with great certainty, joy, and enthusiasm.  He wondered why fear or insecurity kept him from living out his gifts, his passions and dreams.

As he talked it hit me that I let uncertainty, fear keep me from doing in my life.  How do they keep me from sharing my gifts and talents?  How do I embrace them rather the joy and enthusiasm?  It is easy to listen to the voices of others, even the voice of the evil one, and then let doubt prevail.  After all, what would people say or think?  It is harder to embrace the “music in our minds.”

As the Season of Epiphany comes to an end, I am reminded of scripture that admonishes those of us who are Christians, to not hide our light under the basket.  Rather we are to let the light of Christ shine forth through our lives lived faithfully, purposefully, passionately.  We are to take the gifts we have been given and use them to let God’s love shine forth.  Years ago, a priest challenged me to stop hiding the light God had given me, the gifts, the energy, and the passion.  I, like the pianist, was uncertain I had anything of worth to offer, that other might ridicule me or even worse, not even see the gifts.

Tonight I am again wrestling with that same questions and doubts.  And so, as I prepare to enter into the Season of Lent, Cosme’s questions will propel me to a season of reflection.  Just perhaps, I like he, need the grasp courage to be able to say “no one can say I never sang”.  To grasp the courage of faith, and live more fully into who God intends me to be.

Being God’s love in the world

I have started Bishop Curry’s on line course on Being a Crazy Christian.  As I reflected on the questions, one was about defining love and implied in the question (at least to a number of people responding to it) was living out God’s love in the world.  Another was about living in such a way that people see the image of God in us.   As I sat with those questions, I remembered my ethics seminary professor, Dr. Timothy Sedgwick.  He and his family brought a person (perhaps a friend) dying of AIDS into their home to live with them, to care for him as he lived out his remaining time.  The changes to their lives had to be major, it must have turned things inside out.  Having someone, even a friend, move in can be challenging but to tend to a person who is sick, who is dying, truly alters a household.  To me, it struck me as radical obedience, radical hospitality, the very things Christ calls us to be and do as his followers.

Right now, we live it out as full time care givers for my father.  It is hard work, it can be demanding, but it is wonderful.  That is certainly love.  But I then realized that this, while a wonderful gift for us and for my father, is loving someone I already love.  Someone for whom I have a deep gratitude for…for being my father, for giving up much to raise my brother and I, for being there for me, for David and I.   We do this as a response to God’s love for us.  We do this because we have the ability, the time, the resources.  We do this because after years of dad being someone we could turn to for help, he needs us to be there for him, to attend to his needs, to provide for him, to watch over him.

We are told at least once a week by various people how wonderful we are, how beautifully we designed our home so that someone with limited abilities could enjoy being here, how hospice wishes they could clone us, that few people receive the attention and care that my father receives.  We are commended for our commitment to care for dad until he dies be that tomorrow or years down the road.

And yet, Jesus asks us to love our neighbor, to love not just those who are easy to love but to love the stranger and the enemy.  Jesus, I think, would say, Joanne, it is a wonderful, love-filled gift you are giving your father.  Would you do it for your neighbor?  Would you bring the stranger into your home and provide care?  Would you invite your enemy to live in your home and tend to the wounds and the dying?  To be honest, I doubt it.  I doubt I would turn my life upside down for someone I did not love immensely.

As I continued to reflect I was reminded not only that God has plans but God also has a sense of humor.  Please note, God, that I did not say I would not care for my neighbor, the stranger or my enemy, just that I had my doubts about caring for others in my home.  I know from past experience if I say I would never do something God loves to make me eat my words.