Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42
[Jesus said to the twelve:] 40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
A few years ago I bought a book about the Gospel of Luke and the title of the book was “The Hospitality of God.” I loved the title; the book, not so much. The point is that God is all about hospitality. 40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
This is the truth of the Hospitality of God. When we welcome each other we welcome Jesus, and in welcoming Jesus, we welcome God.
I found this interesting definition of hospitality: The ability to make your guests feel at home when you wish they were any place but in your house or at your table. True hospitality is never easy. Making strangers feel welcome is always a difficult.
I read this story this past week: A woman was interviewing a prospective servant and asked, “Can you serve company?” The applicant replied, “Yes, ma’am, both ways.” The lady looked puzzled and asked, “What do you mean, both ways?” The woman replied, “So’s they’ll come again, or stay away.”
Another story from a blog: At times hospitality is very much like the true story of a woman who had invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?”
“I wouldn’t know what to say,” the little girl replied.
“Just say what you hear Mommy say,” the mother said.
The little girl bowed her head and said, “Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”
Both are amusing, albeit true, recounts of hospitality.
I learned hospitality from my grandparents and my parents.
In my home and my Scandinavian home there was always a pot of coffee on the stone and a plate of cookies on the table and the door was always open.
In my Ukrainian grandparents’ home there was always a pot of stew on the stove, ready to be heated and place at the table, no matter what time of day it was.
In some ways, though the cultures differed, the action was the same. There were no strangers at the dinner table. Everyone was welcome, the neighbors, the strangers, the relatives that we might have struggled with, but all were welcome.
However you may feel about opening your heart and your home to strangers and guests, I believe that hospitality lies at the heart of Christian Discipleship. By receiving others into our own homes we receive them as we would receive Christ himself. In giving ourselves to those who come into our lives we share Christ himself – the one who has sent us – with them.
So how about the way we welcome people into our church on Sunday morning?
How do we invite them to our table called the altar?
I think Overland Park Lutheran Church does a good job of being a welcoming place. Visitors are greeted and welcomed and given a gift of bread. As I observe our members in action, we do “welcome” quite well. The first words you read on our website are “You’re Welcome”. Our newly revised Mission Statement speaks of being a place where all are welcome.
But we must not forget why we welcome: Jesus is present each and every day in the hospitality that we offer others and others offer us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it very well in his book, The Cost of Discipleship:
“The bearers of Jesus’ word receive a final word of promise for their work. They are now Christ’s fellow workers, and will be like him in all things. Thus, they are to meet those to whom they are sent as if they were Christ himself. When they are welcomed into a house, Christ enters with them. They are bearers of his presence. They bring with them the most precious gift in the world, the gift of Jesus Christ.”
“And with them they bring God the Father, and that means indeed forgiveness and salvation, life and blessing. That is the reward of their toil and suffering. Every service people give them is service provided to Christ himself.”
In a sermon from a long time ago Bonnhoeffer also said if you are a Christian you must see, in the face of everyone you meet, the face of Jesus Christ.
We are a people of God who practice hospitality. The hospitality of God means that we welcome, the stranger and care for the world in which we live because to do so means that we welcome Christ and in welcoming Christ, we welcome God.
When you are lost in your own life.
When the landscape you have known falls away.
When your familiar path becomes foreign and you find yourself
a stranger in the story you had held most dear.
Then let yourself be lost.
Let yourself leave for a place whose contours you do not already know,
whose cadences you have not learned by heart.
Let yourself land on a threshold that mirrors the mystery of your own
It will come as a surprise, what arrives to welcome you through the door,
making a place for you at the table and calling you by your name.
Let what comes, come.
Let the glass be filled.
Let the light be tended.
Let the hands lay before you what will meet you in your hunger.
Let the laughter. Let the sweetness that enters the sorrow.
Let the solace that comes as sustenance and sudden, unbidden grace.
For what comes, offer gladness.
For what greets you with kindly welcome, offer thanks.
Offer blessing for those who gathered you in and will not be forgotten—
those who, when you were a stranger, made a place for you at the table
and called you by your name.