I’d like to begin this morning by sharing a story from Sara Miles, the director of ministries at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco and the author of Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion (2007).

     Long before I was a Christian, I was a reporter, and I specialized in writing about military affairs. Specifically, revolutionary wars and the ways they played out on the ground in the Third World. Writing about and living in such wars absorbed me totally.  I used to feel ashamed that I found so much joy in the midst of the violence and dirt and ugliness.

     Some of it, I think, was the simple adrenaline thrill of danger, and a guilty but real happiness about coming out alive.  Plenty of it was romance.  But another piece was the intensity of connection in that collective experience, even terrible collective experience provides the powerful intimacy of sharing life and death together. 

     What I learned in those moments of danger and sorrow in many countries informs my faith now. It was a feeling of total community with others, experienced through the common fact of our mortal bodies. We all had bodies that could suffer and be killed; we all had hearts that could stop beating in an instant.  This solidarity had nothing to do with nationality, nothing to do with worldly power. In war, I looked at other, different people and saw them, face to face: and in seeing them felt a we.

     Never was that feeling stronger than when ordinary people took me into their homes and offered me food and drink and rest.  In El Salvador, a priest gave me cookies; in the Philippines, a peasant woman gave me fish. The impulse to share hospitality is basic and ancient. And it’s no wonder all the old stories teach that what you give to a stranger, you give to God. Over and over, despite the poverty of the places I visited, despite the grief my nation had brought upon theirs, strangers welcomed me. And in the middle of war, I found peace.”

     Sara Miles’ words help to put flesh and blood on our gospel lesson for today where Jesus gives seventy of his disciples their marching orders. She reminds us that hospitality is one of the most important gifts we can give to another person. It’s power cannot be underestimated. It is a sign of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. It sows seeds of peace and unity in the midst of difficult circumstances and trying times.

     During my travels in both Europe and Egypt I can say without hesitation that I remember the acts of hospitality that were shown to me as much as I remember the wonderful museums and beautiful architecture. I remember a lady in Belgium who helped Gary and I navigate transfer trains while we were en route to Zurich. She also bought us coffee since we were between countries and had no Belgian currency.

     I remember the Italian couple who shared their lunch with me while on a long train ride. I only spoke a few words of Italian. They didn’t speak any English. And yet, while breaking bread together all of our differences seemed to disappear. And I felt a sense of “oneness” among us.

     If you’ve ever traveled before, especially in a foreign country, you know that simple acts of hospitality take on new meaning. And if we learn anything from this experience we become a more hospitable people in return.

     The same is true for those of us who have been the victims of natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and fires. Acts of hospitality from others, such as a bottle of water or a bed to sleep on, become signs of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. They become acts of holy service that bond us to others in ways that words cannot express. Have you ever been in the hospital for an extended stay or sat with a loved one in the ICU of a hospital for days on weeks on end? Again, it is acts of hospitality from others, such as a hot cup of coffee or an encouraging word, that make all the difference in the world.

     This brings us to our gospel lesson where Jesus tells us “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” At first glance, we might find these words difficult to relate to. However, when we think about war, natural disasters, long hospital stays and other personal crises, we know that Jesus is talking about. We know that life is going to be difficult sometimes. In fact, it will be downright scary. Sometimes we’re going to feel like we are sheep surrounded by a pack of wolves.

     However, we should not be afraid because God’s Kingdom is appearing all around us if we have ears to hear and eyes to see it. And even though some will be hostile to us, others will be hospitable and kind. We should seek these people out and dwell in their midst. For it is there that peace, unity and hope will be found. We will receive strength for the journey and protection from the wolves even if it is only for a moment or for a night.

     Good As New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures renders Jesus’ words this way: “Remember you’re going to find yourselves without protection in places where the inhabitants may be dangerous.”

     Never, have truer words been spoken. And if we hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people perhaps it is the message that hospitality is one of the most powerful gifts we can receive or give. Its power cannot be underestimated. It is a sign of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. It sows seeds of peace and unity in the midst of difficult circumstances and trying times.

     Again, I’d like to turn to Sara Miles who continues her story: “In South Africa in the early 1990s, apartheid was in its final throes: the white state, with its security forces and death squads, was unleashing violence upon black people at an unprecedented rate.  I had been in the country for about a week when a friend from the African National Congress, Mzwanele, took me to cover what the government officially called “unrest.” I rented a cruddy little car, and stuck a notebook in my pocket;  Mzwanele took nothing but a bandana to wipe the sweat off his face.

     We set off. It was ten in the morning in Alexandra township, just outside of Johannesburg, and the sun was already scorching, beating down on the rutted road.  A dozen people had been killed overnight, and more disappeared or were arrested, and everyone was terrified.

     Mzwanele and I drove very slowly through the homemade barricades that were mushrooming at intersections.  We got out of the car at one point and stood next to a boy with an open wound on his arm.  His chest was heaving up and down from running, as he faced a semi-circle of gigantic police tanks.  There were acrid blasts of tear gas and smoke from burning tires;  I could see a line of armored personnel carriers descending a hill towards us. 

     People scattered, running down alleys and dodging out of sight of the army.  There was a rush of voices and a sound of breaking glass somewhere close by. And then the shooting started. I stumbled. A grandmotherly woman in a flowered skirt standing at the door of her shack beckoned urgently to us. ‘Come here,’ she said.  Mzwanele deposited me inside, saying he’d be back.

     I’ve seldom been as visibly an outsider as I was in Alexandra that day: a foreigner, the wrong color, someone whose very presence meant danger for the people around me.  The woman calmly motioned me to sit down at her kitchen table, under a print of Jesus, a calendar and a broken clock.  She took some spoons and mugs off a shelf  and, then the woman smiled at me, pouring the hot dark tea from a banged-up kettle. She stirred sweetened condensed milk into my cup, humming under her breath. ‘Here, my dear, drink it,’ she said.

     I had no idea that what was settling upon me in that moment, as I sipped my tea and traced my finger over the pattern in the linoleum, was the peace of God. But I knew the woman’s offer of peace was stronger than anything I was afraid of. The gunfire and the shouting were still there, outside, but in that kitchen some other power prevailed….

     Entering that kingdom is as simple as welcoming a stranger into your house, and saying, ‘Peace be with you.’ It is as difficult as welcoming a stranger into your house, and saying, ‘Peace be with you.’ The air is full of tear gas, and the streets of this world are full of broken children, and the Kingdom of God is very near.”

     Friends, Jesus was right when he said “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Life is going to be difficult. Violence will rear it’s ugly and unwelcome head. Tragedy will flow in and out of our lives like a raging flood. However, our gospel lesson reminds us that “the kingdom of God has come near.”

     It will be found in simple acts of hospitality. It will be found in the shelter we provide for the bodies, minds and souls of those whom God has placed in or path. They may be total strangers or they may be beloved friends. Whatever the case may be, both the givers and receivers of these holy acts will discover that the peace of God will surround them and bring them closer together.

     Typically, our gospel lesson is used to talk about evangelism and our need to get our butts out of the pews and into the world. But if that is the only message we receive from this text we are missing out on something greater and more profound. Our world is sometimes a very scary and violent place and in the United States of America it appears that a number of us have lost the art of being hospitable to each other.

     People fly off the handle all the time yelling at waiters and cashiers as if they were their personal slaves. Cars nearly run us off the road as we try to make the turn into the church parking lot. Guns and fists are used to settle arguments instead of words. Tensions continue to increase between nations, races and religions. Greed and over-consumption of resources has made the individual more important than the whole.

     Indeed, Jesus was right when he said “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” However, our gospel lesson is also telling us that even in the midst of difficult circumstances and trying times “The kingdom of God has come near.” And it is often found in the simplest of acts such as providing hospitality to the stranger and caring for our neighbors in need.

     This is the work we are called to do as disciples of Jesus. Let us never underestimate the power of hospitality to sow seeds of peace and unity in our world and provide a shelter where the peace of God may be found. AMEN

Copyright ©2019 by David Eck

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