Sunday, May 09, 2010


Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
May 9, 2010

Year C: The Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 16:9-15
Psalm 67
John 14:23-29


Well, there’s a whole lot going on today. First and foremost, like every Sunday, today is a Feast of our Lord, and so we gather here in church to hear the Word of God, to offer our prayers and thanksgivings, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and then to go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

That’s more than enough for one day, but wait, there’s more. Here at Grace we’re marking today as Rogation Sunday. Some of our children made these wonderful vestments and hangings. Having special prayers or services on Rogation days – from the Latin word meaning “to ask” – is a very ancient custom with its roots in the desire to ask God’s blessing on this year’s crops. In more modern times, the understanding of rogation has expanded to asking God’s blessing on all of creation – the gift of this beautiful planet and vast universe, the gift of life itself.

And finally – maybe you thought I’d forget – today is Mother’s Day. Today’s the day beloved by greeting card companies and florists that we give special thanks for the great gift of our mothers – those who are with us and also those who have died.

So there’s a whole lot going on today – and one theme that ties together the different aspects of today is the very important, central Christian theme of hospitality.

At its heart, hospitality is how we receive and share life.

Hospitality was extremely important in the ancient world and its value is emphasized throughout the Bible. Just to give one important and timely example from the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy there’s this: “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” That’s both a law and a pointed reminder from God about how we are treat foreigners.

That kind of hospitality isn’t necessarily easy.

Hospitality is also an important theme in the New Testament. Jesus is often depicted as a guest and is also remembered as inviting the unlikeliest people to eat with him.

Hospitality must have been crucial for the first disciples who carried the Good News out into the world. Paul writes to the church in Rome, “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers” (12:13). And there’s this beautiful verse from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (13:2)

In the Bible and in everyday life hospitality is how we receive and share life.

Unfortunately, in our own society, many of us neglect even the relatively easy parts of hospitality. Forget about strangers, how often do we share our lives with our friends? I know Sue and I very rarely make time to have people over or even just go out to eat with friends. Without even that minimal effort we run the risk of reverse hospitality turning friends into strangers. In a column called “If I Had My Life to Live Over Again,” Erma Bombeck wrote, “I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.”

Hospitality is how we receive and share life.

If you stop and think about it, hospitality is a very important part of who God is. For God, creation is hospitality. I’m getting into dangerous theological ground here, but while I wouldn’t say God needed to create anything or anyone, it seems like because of who God is, it was almost inevitable that God would want to share life. God chooses to share life with all of us and everything that is alive, has been alive and will be alive.

The Bible tells the story of God over and over offering hospitality to human beings, wanting to transform us from strangers into friends.

In Jesus, we see the ultimate example of this hospitality, of God taking the risk of reaching out to us, of sharing God’s life with us. In Jesus, God says, look this is who I really am. In Jesus, God says, I want us to be friends and not strangers. In Jesus, God says I want us to live together forever.

And in return we’re invited to offer hospitality to God. In today’s gospel, Jesus is quoted in the farewell discourse as saying, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

“We will come to them and make our home with them.” Hospitality is how we receive and share life.

If we look around, we see God’s hospitality all around us in this beautiful planet. And on this Rogation Sunday we give special thanks for God’s hospitality. At the same time, we remember that God expects us to show this same kind of hospitality to all of the other living creatures with whom we share this planet. And unfortunately we don’t have to look far to see how we have failed miserably in that kind of hospitality. The sad images of fish and birds killed by the oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico should make all of us reflect on how we live our lives and our general lack of hospitality toward God’s creation.

It’s depressing to think about our abuse of the planet, yet Mother’s Day reminds us that we really are capable of deeply generous hospitality. Motherhood itself is profound hospitality. Motherhood is the supreme example of sharing one’s life – and for a time one’s body – with another. Having received life, mothers (and fathers, too) then give life to another - hospitality.

We heard about a beautiful example of hospitality in today’s lesson from the Acts of the Apostles. In what might be taken from a first person account from one of Paul’s companions, we hear the story of Paul’s arrival in Philippi in Macedonia. The Good News of Jesus had now reached Europe.

It seems like Paul’s usual approach when he first arrived in a city was to find the local synagogue and connect with the Jewish community. Many scholars believe that Paul was also particularly interested in meeting gentiles who may have been attracted to the God of Israel and Jewish religious practices, but had not formally become Jews. These people are sometimes called “God-fearers.”

So in Philippi, Paul and his companions went “outside the gate by the river” where they thought there was a “place of prayer.” The synagogue may have been near the river or it might have been that the Jewish community was so small that the handful of faithful people simply gathered near the water.

Anyway, Paul begins speaking to the women who were there and particularly to a woman named Lydia. The author of Acts tells us a good bit about her. She’s described as a “worshiper of God” – maybe meaning she’s one of those gentiles already drawn but not quite committed to Judaism. She’s apparently a woman of some means since she was a dealer in expensive purple cloth and has a “household.”

Most important, after Lydia and her household put their faith in Christ and were baptized, seemingly without delay, Lydia invites Paul and his companions to stay in her home. In her baptism, Lydia received the gift of life. And her first response is to share that gift – to offer generous hospitality to strangers who were well on their way to becoming friends.

I wish we knew more about Lydia. I like that you can see a depiction of her in the St. Paul window over in our chapel. Some people speculate that Lydia founded a house church in her own home. Maybe her spirit of warm hospitality permeated this early Christian community in Philippi. Paul had a lot of trouble with many of the Christian communities he founded, but his letter to the Philippians, written from prison, is extraordinarily joyful. Maybe recalling Lydia’s hospitality, Paul wrote to the Philippians:

“I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:3-4).

Hospitality is how we receive and share life.

Yes, there’s a whole lot going on today. This Feast of Our Lord reminds us of God’s hospitality – God’s giving life to us, always reaching out to us, wanting to be friends and not strangers.

Rogation Sunday reminds us to give thanks for this beautiful home that God has given us. And Rogation Sunday also reminds us that we are expected to be hospitable to the creatures of the earth.

Mother’s Day reminds us of the gift of our mothers and the profound hospitality they showed by literally sharing their life with us.

And today we remember Lydia, who received the gift of baptism and immediately offered hospitality to others.

That’s a lot of reminders for one day. But, then again, hospitality is important for God and for us. Hospitality is how we receive and share life.