Tonight, I would like us to think about hospitality together.
And not just about what it means to offer hospitality here, in our church – though I think that’s also important. But I want to think about how we offer hospitality once we leave here. I want to think about how what we do and think about here, impacts how and who we are once we leave this sanctuary.
So first let’s look at the word itself:
1. the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.
friendliness, hospitableness, welcome, warm reception, helpfulness, neighbourliness, warmth, warm-heartedness, kindness, kindheartedness, congeniality, geniality, sociability, conviviality, cordiality, amicability, amenability, generosity, liberality, bountifulness, open-handedness
And I want to think about this through the lens of Isaiah.
Because I’m loving the prophets right now and because I think we could use some prophetic voices right about now.
Yesterday I went to the dentist and my dentist has a tv in the rooms so that you can watch tv while they are digging around in your mouth, I guess so that you will be distracted by what is on the tv and not think about what you are actually doing.
Maybe a bit of a theme for us in this particular time in the world.
But yesterday, I wished they hadn’t. Because they had the tv set to CBC newsworld which was basically telling me about all of the crappy things that are going on in the world right now, so I didn’t feel distracted at all – I just keep feeling more and more sad as the list of ways that people are not showing up for each other just kept getting longer.
I don’t feel like I need to repeat this list, you probably know it – or have a list of your own.
But while I was still riding the high of last week’s worship here – with members from three different and distinct communities who came together to offer a beautiful worship the closed off Pride and reminded me what God is like in the many ways that we experience them, this was a bit of a buzz-kill.
But tonight we have a call to action from Isaiah that is (I believe) rooted in an understanding of welcome, generosity and neighbourliness.
In my experience, prophets rarely show up when things are going well, with words of congratulations for following the rules so well; Isaiah in true form has come with dire warning to a people who have clearly strayed from what God hoped for them.
In fact my study Bible calls the poem or vision that Isaiah offers: A Rebellious nation.
What we know about this is that he is speaking to Judah, who is under the rule of King Ahaz, who was not a particularly great guy, known in part, for desecrating the Temple for his own benefit.
And we can guess from Isaiah’s words, what the people under his rule were getting up to.
And his warning includes the example of what happened to Sodom and Gamorrah – it’s hard to hear this passage without having those words shine out louder that almost any other in this passage – or maybe that’s me.
So let’s go down this road for a few minutes because I think it deserves some unpacking because I’ve been doing some digging around.
In an article by theologian and assistant professor at Episcopal Divinity School, Patrick Cheng wrote for the Huffington Post, he offers the following:
“To me, it is clear that the real sin of Sodom is radical inhospitality, or turning one’s back upon the strangers and the neediest in our midst…In fact, the Bible itself expressly describes the sin of Sodom elsewhere as radical inhospitality. According to the prophet Ezekiel, the real “guilt” of the Sodomites was the fact that, although they had “pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease,” they “did not aid the poor and needy” and were “haughty” (Ezekiel 16:49-50). Similarly, the Letter to the Hebrews warns Christians by alluding to the true sin of the Sodomites as inhospitality: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).
We all know how else this passage is used by some, but I really want to invite us into a new way of thinking about this story, as a way of thinking about how we treat strangers, travellers, those not known to us – and how we welcome them.
That this story and the ways that Isaiah is talking about the people to whom he is prophesying tonight is a warning against radical in-hospitality.
Because we are called as people who follow the teachings of Christ, to do the exact opposite of that – we are called into radical hospitality. To offer places of welcome and safety, where stranger and friend are both welcome and offered safer places to be.
That is certainly what we are trying to do here, in this place and in this sanctuary.
But this reading tonight warns against coming and offering shows of worship and then leaving and doing the exact opposite.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
He certainly uses words to get our attention.
But I think it’s worth our paying attention, it is no good for us to come to church and to gather in worship and then to go out and not get involved with each other. We are called to offer ministries of hospitality – to look out for each other – to help keep each other safer, not to record on our phones when someone is in distress, but to find help for them.
This world can feel overwhelming right now in all of its/our brokenness, but that is not a reason not to act. And maybe it’s just me who needs to hear this message right now, because let’s be honest, I can be really good at just walking by and hoping that I’m not noticed, being a part of the invisible furniture is one of my favorite things – but it isn’t who God calls us to be and it isn’t how we bring about the kindom of God.
I worry about my complicitness in systems that actively seek to keep some in power and others without – that continue to hold on to patriarchal and heteronormative ways of being as the best, or only.
In my ability to access goods cheaply which means that working conditions somewhere else are terrible and unsafe.
Where children are beat up or die while others film it on their phones as though it’s entertainment.
So tonight I want to make the case that what we practice here together: this way of being that seeks to be invitational and to watch out for each other – that takes seriously the sacredness of each person in this room, I want to make the case that we take it out with us when we go.
I want to make the case that radical hospitality doesn’t only happen when people come through our doors but that we also have opportunities for hospitality and (to borrow a term from Walter Brueggeman) neighbourliness out in the world – as soon as we come across another.
I don’t want to live in a world where we video bad things that happen to each other on our phones but don’t risk getting involved.
I don’t want to live in a world where we talk about love but then just walk past one another.
I want us to think together about how we are called to be in the world, what actions we might take beyond these walls. Where are we or you being called to show up?
What is the invitation that you might be hearing and what do you need in order to respond?
Because I think that is some of what we have to offer the world around us – a way of being and doing in the world that has us moving beyond using our cameras to capture or record events, but as participants in bringing about God’s hospitality here and now.
So let’s hear the call from Isaiah tonight and lets’ think deeply together about where our invitation to be with each other is in the world.
Let’s push against the in-hospitality that seems to be seeping in around us and push it back to make room for each other, so that the beauty that we experience here pours out and takes up space instead.
It’s no small task, I know. But it’s our call, it’s ringing out in the voice of the prophets and it’s what we agree to in our baptisms.
Let’s make a case for hospitality in our particular way, in this place where we find ourselves, where the powerful would have us walk by and not get in the way – let’s refuse to ignore one another, let’s make some noise and remind each other of the sacredness that we believe each of us holds.
Let us be bearers of warmth, kindness, let us be open-handed with our care for one another so that we can be participants with God in the bringing about of care and justice for one another and let us be resisters to the societal norm that we will just watch and not get involved.
Life is messy we are called to get messy and to pay attention.
Let me close with the blessing that Dean Peter offers each time he presides ( a quote from Henri-Frédéric Amiel):
Life is short. We don’t have much time to gladden the hearts of those who walk this way with us. So, be swift to love and make haste to be kind. And the Blessing of God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer be with you and remain with you, now and always.
May it be so.