Benediction Online

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Generous Hospitality

Ephesians 2:11-22

It seems to be part of human nature to build walls. Walls between people. Walls to keep people in, walls to keep people out. At the time that the Letter to the Ephesians was written, probably at the end of the first century, one of the big divisions, at least from the Jewish perspective, was between Jew and non-Jew. But this division disappeared within the new Christian church –  we heard, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”

It had become clear to the early church that the grace of Jesus’ death and resurrection was available not only to the Jews, the traditional people of God, but also to Gentiles. In a similar way, earlier this month the Episcopal Church made it very clear that, as far as we are concerned, God’s grace is fully available to gay, lesbian, bisexual transgender and queer people. Since General Convention, there have been some cynical newspaper reports suggesting that in its death throes the Episcopal Church is making a last ditch effort to bring in the crowds, and in the process selling its soul to the wider culture, and by extension, the very Devil himself.

I am sure that there were people in the early church who came up with similar arguments when Peter and Paul began to talk about including Gentiles without expecting them to become Jews. Today it seems like a no-brainer – of course God wanted us in the Church – why wouldn’t she? But then it was a highly contentious issue. I imagine that some people left the Church because of it. Just like some people will probably leave the Episcopal Church because it is choosing to extend a gracious arm of hospitality to those who so often feel excluded and unwelcome.

The Gospel reading shows Jesus at his most gracious and welcoming. The disciples had come back from their first mission trip and were tired. Jesus wanted to meet with them and hear their stories. But their attempts to get away together were thwarted not once but twice. The first time Jesus saw the need of the people, how they were like sheep without a shepherd, and so he took the time to teach them, to give them a sense of direction. Then, after they had crossed the lake, people rushed to bring him all their sick people and whoever even touched the fringe of his cloak was healed. Jesus had planned a retreat but when people came he didn’t turn them away; he ministered to them.

People who were sick or disabled in first century Palestine were often marginalized. They had no way to support themselves, often they were unclean. Yet Jesus reached out to them and drew them back into community. He broke down the walls which separated the sick from the healthy. People who are sick or disabled today often find themselves on the margins. We are all so busy and active it is difficult for those who are in pain or who are slower because of physical or mental difficulties to feel that they can participate or contribute in a meaningful way.

We often think about the political divisions of contemporary America, but those are not the only walls that divide us. We are divided by walls of fear, of ignorance, of circumstance. Many of the walls are ones that we have built ourselves because we fear being attacked or hurt in some way.

But in the Body of Christ we can all be united. Jesus did not erect walls. He did not even defend himself against the high priests and Pilate. He allowed himself to be killed and then showed the impotence of death by rising again. In the Body of Christ we can let down our defenses.

We have all been saddened and shocked by the senseless and premeditated mass shooting in Aurora this week. It is easy after something like this happens to feel that we must increase our defenses. But that is not the way that Jesus demonstrated. The kingdom of God does not come from violence, it does not come from manning the ramparts and battening down the hatches. It comes when the people of God open their hands in generosity and welcome, even though that means being vulnerable. Even though it may be costly.

Because Jesus always comes from love and as the disciples of Jesus, we too get to come from love. As the Apostle Paul said, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Cor 13:4-8a)

Healing comes as we risk opening our own hands in generosity and vulnerability. We have more in common with those we fear than we have differences. Healing comes as we stop battling our pain and the pain of those around us and open to it in compassion and empathy. Healing comes as we reach out to God acknowledging that we are totally dependent upon the Divine.

Who is God asking you to reach out to today? Where are the places in your life which are tight and constricted? Where are the hard places in your heart which need to be softened? Where is the Holy Spirit prompting you to open your hand in generosity and vulnerability?

It takes courage for us to ignore the promptings of our culture. It takes courage for us to cross the walls that have been built in our minds and hearts. But we know that whenever we step out in love, the Holy Spirit is already there before us.

Let us this week, today, determine to open our hearts and hands in generous and loving welcome to all whom God sends, and to work to dismantle the walls which keep us trapped and others out.


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