Our Gospel this morning, concludes a trilogy:
Installment one was Jesus commissioning the disciples into his ministry and mission, because Christ was compelled by compassion and overwhelmed with the abundance of human need. This initial commissioning, however, was limited to the lost sheep of Israel but would later be extended in the Great Commissioning in ever-expanding ripples of God’s inclusion, grace, and love of all people, all creatures, the entire earth, and the whole universe. Thanks be to God!
Installment two was Jesus informing the disciples of the high cost of discipleship, because discipleship is to follow in the footsteps of your teacher mimicking (or proclaiming) them in word and deed. As disciples of Christ, we are sent forth to seek justice, to act with compassion and mercy, and to love and serve all people but especially our most vulnerable siblings. This ministry challenges the status quo, especially those who benefit from injustice, and can lead to sharp divisions and conflicts among our most valued relationships. This ministry can also lead to rejection, scorn, and for some persons physical death.
Installment three is about hospitality and welcome. As you might recall, Jesus sent the disciples forth without extra clothing, food, or money in order that they would be vulnerable and completely dependent upon the hospitality and welcome of strangers. Additionally, the act of hospitality was of the upmost importance in the Ancient Near East, including Jewish culture.
Our countdown video begun with a profound observation about our scriptural commandment to ‘welcome the stranger’ and our human nature, stating:
Sometimes our worse nature gets activated by people from other lands, from other cultures, by people we don’t immediately understand when they are in the neighborhood with us and that we maybe don’t get the chances to know well. And it can activate something about our human response to difference that isn’t a very attract quality. So you go back to scripture and you say, ‘oh, that is why this is a commandment that repeats and repeats and repeats and repeats because it is hard to do’.
This commandment, as in our countdown video, is often associated with immigrates and immigration policies, but it is not intended to be so narrowly applied.
The unfortunate truth is that we, as sinful critters, have an unflattering response to difference. Thus, we are most comfortable in social circles and situations that mirror ourselves.
Additionally, it is this unflattering response to difference that manifests as bias and prejudice in word and deed that divides and conquers us as a human family.
The apostle Paul, by the grace of God, reached out to the “strangers” across those divides and embraced the ever-expanding ripples of God’s inclusion, grace, and love. He understood and taught that we have been freed from the “law”.
- This freedom, however, does not encourage an increase in our sinful, self-centered conduct.
- This freedom, however, does not incite unlawfulness or moral anarchy.
Instead, it liberates us from justifying and rooting our bias and prejudice in and through the “law”.
But, even within a nation that highly values freedom, the freedom from the law is intimidating. The law offers order, meaning, and identity, but Christ calls and will continue to call us into divine order, deeper meaning, and a truer identity as beloved children of God.
Similar to Paul, we were, are, and will continue to be called into freedom from the law in order to embrace the “stranger”, for he wrote later in Romans, “love is the fulfillment of the law” (13:10). This ‘love’, however, does not only fulfill the letter of the law but the intensified spirit of the law.
Yet, we continue to permit our bias and prejudice to distract our hospitality, welcome, and love, whether based upon:
race, ethnicity, or nationality;
gender identity or sexuality;
religious adherence or lack thereof; and
numerous other invalid reasons,
for difference does not necessarily equal division.
I read a sign that read:
“Hospitality is when someone feels at home in your presence”.
I also read one that read:
“Hospitality is simply an opportunity to show love and care”
These are beautifully stated truths.
We are called to be a safe, comforting home for all persons.
We are called to care for, love, and serve all people.
May we reach across those bias and prejudices to extend a hand to the stranger.
May we be an embodiment of God’s ever-expanding ripples of inclusion, grace, and love.
May we be examples of hospitality that welcomes the “least of these” or “little ones” as Christ himself.
May we use our freedom from the law to fulfill the more challenging spirit of it…
for LOVE is its fulfillment.
The ministry and mission that Jesus commissioned the disciples and us into is not easy, it is costly, but it is worth it. Amen.