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Iowa Nice

Proper 6A, 3 Pentecost

18 Jun 2023

Genesis 18:1-15, Matthew 9:35-10:8

Some years ago my cousin and I were bike riding together; it was one of those organized rides with a T shirt and treats for finishing. This particular ride was the Hiawatha Classic, a ride that started and finished at Perry and went to Rippey. The circuit was about 30 miles or so. The day was hot and muggy and we, among the last riders out, were eager to finish. As we watched the sky, we saw huge thunderheads approaching rapidly and it was clear we would not make it back before the storm hit. The two of us were drenched within a few minutes and took shelter in an open sided building, but the rain was driving so hard at us we could not escape the rain. Suddenly hypothermia was a real possibility on a day that had seen us suffering from the heat and humidity a few minutes before.

It was at that point a man stuck his head out of his back door and motioned us to make a run for the house, which we did. He took us in, helped us to dry off, and made sure we were both warm and fed. We rode out the storm there, finally leaving when the clouds had passed and the sun was back out.

His hospitality to strangers saved us from, at best, a miserable afternoon and, at worst, the real possibility of harm. I have not driven, let alone biked, by the house again, but his kindness was never forgotten.

And so it is today we hear of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah and Jesus’ admonition to demand hospitality among those who will receive the word. We are called to offer hospitality and we are entitled to receive hospitality.

But just what does that mean? The hospitality industry would define it as creating a wonderful experience for guests.

One player in the field defines it thus: Hospitality means receiving and entertaining guests in a way that makes them feel well taken care of. It leverages ambiance, service and products or amenities to provide guests with the best experience possible. [1]

It requires a guest, an operator, and technology. It is cold and sterile with profit as the end game

I suppose I could reduce the story of the three visitors under the oaks of Mamre or the that of the disciples as they went into the countryside to a business model. But why? God does not operate on a business model. Love, joy, and mercy are the things that God desires. The visitors came to Abraham and Sarah and were received as the most honored guests, yet they were complete strangers. In Rublev’s icon, three people (genderless and ageless) look at you from behind a table. Are they waiting for your offer of hospitality? Are they inviting you to join them?

We offer hospitality to God, to self, to family, to neighbors, to strangers, to enemies, and to all of creation.[2] I could spend an entire essay of each of these, but let us today dwell on how we offer hospitality to God. You may wonder how is it possible to welcome God and to offer hospitality. God is not likely to show up at our doorstep, literally, with angels. Let us then open our doors, for God awaits our invitation to enter in. And once you let God in, community and hospitality happen. God, who is all powerful, waits for you to invite God in. It is not a matter of right belief or right ritual, but only that of opening your heart. When we have Eucharist we say:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This prayer has been prayed by Anglicans since 1549 when Cranmer translated it into English. The prayer itself is much older; for Anglicans the prayer is so familiar many of us can recite it from memory. It says many things; one of those is hospitality to God. Abraham and Sarah opened their home and their heart to God and God returned with a blessing.

Jesus talks of hospitality today when he addresses the disciples as he sends them. He sends them to their greater family: the Israelites (although it will not be long before he opens the way of God to all). He tells them they deserve hospitality from those they visit. Think about it: if you fail to offer hospitality to the stranger, you may be failing to offer it to Godself!!

We are living in a time when people are so fearful they shoot at someone they don’t recognize at their doorstep. We live in great fear. We have so many guns in this country that the leading cause of death in children is from guns. Last year 1 in 5 deaths in children was due to guns.

We do not have to live in fear; yet we will always need to take risks. Are we willing to take the risk, as the disciple did, of going to a place where they knew no one and asking for food and shelter? Or will we hunker down in fear that will keep us from being fully human and fully the children of God?

And if we fail to open our hearts, to live without fear, and to trust in God, what will happen? Surely we will remain stifled and less than what we were meant to be.

Can we open our hearts, not just to God, but to ourselves, to one another, to those that are near and to the stranger and even the enemy? If we do, we will entertain angels unaware and God will walk with us and bless us.

[1],with%20the%20best%20experience%20possible. [2] Nanette Sawyer, Discovering the Hidden Spiritual Power of Invitation and Welcome: Hospitality, the Sacred Art. Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock Vermont, 2008

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