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He was kind
And unassuming.
Precise yet playful
With words.
Our correspondence always took bizarre
Literary and sci-fi turns
Shaped by imagination
And our friendships with those at the
fringes of polite society.

I felt awkward around him at first.
the way he spoke
the language he used
even the sound of his voice.
I can still hear it in my ear
even though several friends
contacted me this week to let
me know that he died.
I can still hear his voice
in my ear.
Angular. Sharp.
Yet self-deprecatingly

The first day we met
was for coffee.
The coffee wasn’t particularly good
and I thought it told me something
I always think that the coffee people pick
tells me something

But in the months that followed,
I found out that it was evidence of
something else entirely.

The coffee was disappointing,
the conversation was rich

It was a few days after he had
preached at my church,
an experience he reflected on
as one of great risk.
Which was why he had not
received an honorarium,
but danger pay.

“Every time you step into a church,”
he told me, “It’s a little bit dangerous.”
“The people there are looking
for the kinds of reassurances you can’t offer,
even though some preachers do
when really they ought not.”

Rodger Hunter leaned across
the table and asked my why I was there,
why I was talking to him
why I was interested in his work
of building friendships
with people
long forgotten.

Abandoned to boarding houses
littered and forgotten
throughout the city.
The internally displaced people
of a country called Canada,
and a city called Toronto.

Rodger Hunter, with a twinkle in his eye
demanded to know
why I was interested in his work
and what made me think that I wanted to join it.

I told him about my previous three months in Kolkata,
serving alongside the nuns.
About how that had turned my world upside down
about how I couldn’t see straight anymore
because everything that made sense
made sense no more.

I had gone over there
to offer hospitality and care
and welcome
and received the same
a thousand fold.

I had gone to save the world.
And that world –
the real world –
ended up saving me.

I told him, “I need more saving.”

“I can’t do that,” he told me.

“I know, but your friends can,” I replied.

And here we are
on Trinity Sunday
and also the Sunday on which we,
along with over one hundred churches
across the city
are doing something we are calling

One City, One Message

You might have heard about
the Vancouver Public Library’s long standing
One City, One Book program,
To encourage literacy, connection, engagement,
And reflection.

This is like that, only different.
It’s a call to action, a challenge,
received from City Councillor
Andrea Reimer

who last November challenged a gathering
of church leaders to take their
position in society and to use it

For Good.

In a time of fractious politics
of increased stratification
of uses and thems
of insiders and outsiders
of centre and margin
of rich and poor
or powerful and weak

These needless divisions that
keep you from me
and me from you

That keep us separate
from those who are not like us
– whoever we think we are –

On this day, over 100 pulpits
in churches across the city
Are buzzing
One City, One Message
On the theme of welcoming the stranger.

And you can see how we might get
to Welcoming the Stranger

From today’s artful rendering of
the unfolding creation story
brought to us by Anne Fletcher
And voiced by so many in the
congregation today.

The unfolding creation story
in which each act of the play
builds upon the others,
in which the very existence of humanity
is clearly seen to be dependent upon
and intertwined with
every preceding layer of
God’s beloved creation.

Without days 1 through 5.5
we could not possibly be.

As we continue to decimate
our relations with the good creation
of days 1 through 5.5
and the people created in day 6
we are undoing our very existence.
An existence created in God’s self-emptying
And from God’s self-giving love.

You can see how me might get there
with St. Paul’s injunction to live with
one another in ways that seek
the flourishing for all created beings
whether human or not.

You can see how we might get
to welcoming the stranger
in a gospel reading that
points us towards the God we
know as one holy and undivided trinity
Creator, Son, and Spirit.

The ancient church mothers and fathers
Have words for the relationship
of this triune God.
They refer to it as perichoresis.
Perichoresis, a mutual indwelling.
A divine dance
or flow of
self-giving, self-emptying love.

That’s what’s at the heart of this relationship:
a relationship that is not simply about
what one might get for one’s self,
but about how the energy of that love
might manifest
and be made known
and might expand
to make space for the welcoming of others.

(Kind of like the dance group that
Billy hosts on the first Sunday of each month.)

And so when St. Paul rehearses
that earliest of Christian hymns
in his letter to the Colossians,
that anthem proclaiming the
Reconciliation of All Things
In and through Christ
He’s talking about that very same thing:

There are plenty of relationships

That are frayed at the edges
That are torn asunder
And ripped to shreds

And that the work of repair
Is at once God’s
And ours.

Since we, the church
are participants in the divine flow
of the reconciling resurrection life.

From the beginning of creation and
throughout the Hebrew scriptures
we hear this story of the Creator’s
Giddy Joy
Bubbling Over
As layer upon layer of creation
Is revealed
And revealed to be good
Not because of its usefulness
But because of its is-ness
Its essence

And the way in which each created
being relates
as part of the complex
and multilayered goodness
of God’s good creation.

We hear the prophets calling us back
to this primordial delight —
to join with Creator, Son, and Spirit
in the celebration of and care for
all others with whom we are in relation.
all our relations.
not just those we know.
or like
or see eye to eye with
or with whom we have multiple things in common.

When the Bible talks about welcoming the stranger
It does so with slavery as the backdrop.

Remember how you were slaves in Egypt.
The scriptures remind us.
Don’t be like that.
That’s not what we’re talking about.

While the Pharoah was breaking
your backs with labour
God was preparing to break down walls

Remember. Remember.
Remember to Remember.

Just a few weeks ago we read from 1 Peter:
You are a royal priesthood, a chosen nation
God’s own representatives of shalom
Born out of perichoresis
Born out of self-giving love
Born out of space making and generosity

These are the people you are,
and this is what you ought
both to give and to receive.

Sometimes – though it pains me to say –
it’s not about the quality of coffee
but about the quality of relationship
that’s being forged over that cup.

Joining Rodger and his friends
Those who were once strangers became friends
Me with them
They with me.

I began to care for them more and more
as we opened ourselves to one another
as I expanded my sense of self to include
the kinds of things that they loved
and cared for and that made them tick.

With each cup of mediocre coffee
sharing the vulnerabilities of life
and illness
and uncertainty
Of profound belief and
Earth-shattering loss

Of being shaken to the core by
the hospitality I received from those
who had little
and those who had a lot

Each offering what they had
to make space for
the stranger.

The Mystery of Christian Faith
Is that in giving your life, it is life that you receive
That in embracing death, we are raised to eternal life

And that as we participate
in the divine dance,
that flow of self-giving,
self-emptying love
we are living to become
image bearers,
creation keepers,
the ones who participate
in the flow of giving and receiving

Even, perhaps especially,
to the stranger.

Earlier in Matthew’s gospel
Jesus, at the Last Judgment tells us
That he has shown up in the guise
Of the stranger.
And that each time we show hospitality
To the stranger
We are doing so as unto Jesus.

But there’s more to this than that.
My friend Dena,
A chaplain
To the ISSBC Welcome Centre at Victoria and 11th
tells the story of
refugees recently arrived from
life-threatening peril
gathering next door in the church garden
evening after evening
to come together and talk
and smoke Hookah together.

Not long after they start,
the neighbours, regular long-term East Van neighbours
start to join in,
recipients of hospitality from
those with little
but the willingness to share what they’ve got.

Salvation is close at hand, my friends. And it’s closer than we think. Salvation for us, for our city, and the world we live in is found as we begin – bit by bit, piece by piece – to offer hospitality and to receive it from the Christ we find in the guise of the stranger.

How might we live into the divine flow of love? How might we receive God’s hospitality, and pass it along? How might we vulnerably become friends with the stranger in front of us – whether that be someone in this congregation, or another you encounter in your daily life in work.

As we gather around the table tonight, may we allow ourselves to receive unconditional welcome from Jesus, the stranger. For his sake, and for our salvation, may we extend the table to all we encounter, in the name of the triune God who is our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Now and Forever.