“In just a few shorts sentences of power and compassion, we are challenged to think more deeply about what is meant by welcoming one another. It is only after doing so that we discover the reward that comes from the deep hospitality found in God’s welcome of us,” instructs Rev. Emilie Towns, of Yale Divinity School. (Feasting on the Word, p. 188)
We at Mountain View United Church speak often of radical hospitality, of widening our circle of welcome to all people. We just finished celebrating the LGTBQI Community hopefully exampling that there are Christian congregations who love and welcome them just as they were created to be – fully human in the image of a loving God.
We root our community in the spirit Kathleen Norris’ words, “”True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person.” (A Spiritual Geography.)
In the book, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, Henri J.M. Nouwen, another spiritual icon, puts it this way, “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
To take our understanding of welcome and hospitality one step further, we must hear the words of Letty Russell, a foremother in feminist Christian theology, “Hospitality is the practice of God’s welcome by reaching across difference to participate in God’s actions bringing justice and healing to our world in crisis.”
I would say that for us, Russell’s words best describe what we hope to be a part of – bringing the kin-dom of God close at hand – co-creating a world community rooted in compassionate, active, bold hospitality – one that not only changes the world but changes us from our hearts, to our minds, and through our actions.
If we are honest with ourselves, as people of privilege, it is we who offer welcome and hospitality who are often the people most changed. By opening our hearts, lives, and communities to the stranger, or an adversary we are confronted by the very presence and love of God through Jesus Christ.
We are called to meet Christ in the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the hungry, the sick, the homeless, and the enemy. We are called to offer Christ a safe place to rebuild his or her life after fleeing from war. We care called to welcome Christ as he or she seeks employment and new opportunities for families. We are called to offer Christ a fair and just system of health care to insure that his or her wounds and illness are treated and transformed into health and hew life!
Today, is a wonderful day to see where we learn and experience God’s humanizing, dignifying, transforming, healing welcome:
We have before us both the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of Holy Communion!
Friends this is where we, as participants in Christian community, first experience the radical welcome and hospitality of a loving, forgiving, God! Through Daniel’s baptism we are moved deeply to our core remembering that our parents or guardians took these same promises when we were but babes in their arms. We might be remembering when we offered these promises for our children; or when we made those promises ourselves as teenagers. For some of us, we might be here wondering about if we should choose to be baptized as children or adults.
Baptism is a communal acknowledgement that God is already active in our lives, loving and forgiving us and creating us as we grow and mature. The sacrament calls us by name marking us as one of God’s beloved children, as disciples of Jesus. This is God’s radical welcome of each of us – whether we were babes, toddlers, teens or adults. Baptism always reminds us that we are loved by and claimed by God.
The Sacrament of Holy Communion is another place where we experience God’s hospitality. No matter who we are – no matter what — we are always welcome to participate in God’s great love, acceptance, forgiveness and transformation by sharing Jesus’ meal of holy love. Through eating this bread and drinking of this cup we are filled with God’s love and acceptance, we are challenged to live lives rooted in the teaching of Jesus and we are strengthened for the journey by the Holy Spirit.
Come this morning to this table, dip your fingers into the water of Holy Baptism, and fill your body and souls with the bread and cup of God’s transformational love. Forgiven, set free, and charged with being stewards of God’s hospitality to all, let us participate in God’s justice and healing in our nation and world.