Hospitality and Rest

+ A sermon for Pentecost +6C/Lectionary 16C at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on July 21, 2019 +

Texts: Genesis 18:1–10a; Luke 10:38–42

I remember when I was growing up and our family was expecting company, we would go into deep cleaning mode.
It was almost like clockwork—whenever my grandparents or aunts and uncles or family friends would come over, we would start cleaning.
Now, it’s not like our house was usually dirty or anything, but before we had guests my sister and I would be tasked with dusting or vacuuming or cleaning toilets to make sure our house was as clean as possible.
And, as you can imagine, we were always super cooperative with these requests and never complained at all.
But I remember how on one Saturday when I wanted to watch TV or do literally anything else, my mom asked me to clean the bathroom and I asked, “Wait, who’s coming over?”
My mom looked at me in exasperation and said, “You know, we can have a clean house for ourselves too! Now go clean!”

Now that I’m older, I can recognize that I completely do the same thing.
We generally try to keep our apartment neat and orderly, but when we have friends or family coming over all of a sudden I’m dusting and vacuuming and, of course, cleaning the toilet.
And when they arrive they enter a different version of our apartment with candles lit, music playing, and exciting foods prepared and displayed.
Maybe you do something similar – put on the best for your guests, make them feel welcome and at home.
And then while we’re hosting we can be busy running around, sitting at the edge of the table ready to jump up and get more food or whatever may be needed.
Which is wonderful and can even be fun, but can also sometimes distract us from really being with our company.

And we know that hospitality is important.
It shows our loved ones and our guests how much we value them, how excited we are to welcome them into our home.
It allows a time of fellowship over food and drink and merriment.
A time to celebrate or even mourn as we deepen our relationships and grow the love we share.
And hospitality is an important part of our Christian tradition, too.
Not only in welcoming our friends and family to our home, but extending a wide and radical welcome as we make manifest the welcome we have received from our God as we recognize the dignity of each human we meet.
From Medieval monasteries opening their doors for travelers to organizations that provide shelter for those without homes to congregations intentionally extending an inclusive welcome to all people, hospitality is engrained into our Christian identity.
Which is not to say that this is exclusively a Christian characteristic—nearly every religious tradition urges hospitality and care for the stranger.
But our scriptures remind us that when we show radical hospitality, when we welcome the stranger, when we care for the outcast, when we protect the vulnerable and protest unjust laws, we see the face of God in the people around us as we reflect the hospitality and welcome and care that we have received from our God.

We see examples of this in two of our scriptures this morning.
In our first reading from Genesis, we hear how Abraham and Sarah go all out when three strangers come to their tent.
How Abraham rushes out to meet them, washes their feet, and welcomes them inside.
How Sarah made cakes from the best flour, how they prepared a calf to eat and served milk and curds and all the best foods they could find.
And little did Abraham and Sarah know that these strange travelers whom they had welcomed were actually a mysterious manifestation of God incarnate.
They were providing a lavish welcome to these strangers and unwittingly had welcomed God into their tent.

And then from Luke’s gospel, we hear about when two sisters, Martha and Mary, welcomed Jesus into their home.
And I’m sure the sisters had a wonderful evening planned as they too were actually welcoming God into their home.
Jesus even comments on how hard Martha is working: “Martha, Martha,” he says, “you are worried and distracted by many things.”
But I mean, can you blame her?
Can you imagine how deep you’d clean, how hard you’d be working if Jesus were coming over?
But I think Jesus is telling Martha that with all that she’s doing, she isn’t able to appreciate what is happening, she isn’t able to enjoy the fruits of her hospitality.
Because as we know when you’re busy running around, when you’re sitting at the edge of your seat ready to run to the kitchen for more food or whatever, you don’t get to enjoy your company as much.
If we spend all our time hosting our friends and family, we doing get to spend as much time being with them.
I think he is inviting Martha to take a break, to sit and be with her guest, to spend time with Jesus who is in her home, like her sister is doing.

Now, these few verses from Luke have often been interpreted as valuing the work of one sister over the other by saying that sitting at Jesus’ feet is more important than being busy with service.
But I wonder if this short story is actually showing us the two sides of discipleship.
Because yes, of course we need to work, to do what the Lord has called us to do.
Remember just last week, a couple verses before these ones, Jesus just to us to “go and do likewise.”
So we go and work to do justice in the world, we go to feed and shelter and heal following the example of Jesus, we go to proclaim the gospel in word and deed.
But we also should recognize that there is a time to recharge, a time to be restored, a time to remind ourselves that Sabbath is holy and we deserve rest.
And really, we should recognize that there is a time to listen to Jesus, to pray and contemplate his words, and refocus our energies, to realign our priorities with the message of the gospel and ensure that the work we do is what Jesus would have us do.

Both sides are important.
And no matter how much commentators may try to pit these two sisters against each other and choose one side over the other, doing the work of the gospel and contemplating Jesus’ words are not in conflict with each other.
We as disciples of Jesus have to do both, work and listen.
In fact, it’s really hard to do one without the other.
If we spend all our time working and being active in our faith, we’ll quickly get burnt out, we’ll miss the human connection at the core of our calling and the opportunity to really be with the people around us, we’ll get worried and distracted by many things and may loose sight of where Jesus is leading us.
But if we spend all our time resting and contemplating, if we only come to church or spend our whole lives in prayer, then we ignore Jesus’ call to us and our commissioning as his agents, his hands and feet in the world.

Instead our actions in the world, our work among God’s people, should lead us to contemplation as we reflect on what the needs of our neighbors are and where God is calling for change.
Just as our prayer and reflection and sitting here at Jesus feet should push us back out into the world where we follow his example to love and serve our neighbor.
No, I don’t think Martha and Mary are giving us opposing views of what we should do, but are showing us the two sides of discipleship – reflection and activism, work and rest, listening to Jesus and doing the work of Jesus.
It’s a cycle of discipleship that feeds us and restores us and that pushes us into action in the world.

And I hope that coming to church is one way we engage in this cycle together.
Here at Holy Cross, we really work hard to live into our calling of hospitality.
We welcome visitors to join us in worship, we have invited two other congregations to join us in praising God on Sundays, our building is used throughout the week as a place for community events and organizations to find a home, and our gardens and orchard welcome the community to join in our care for the earth so that this entire plot of land has become a beacon of welcome inviting our neighborhood to experience the love that we have experienced in Christ Jesus, the love that unites us into one people and one family of faith.
But for many of us, this is also a space of refuge.
We come to church to join together as a community, to rest and reflect and reconnect, to sit here at the feet of Jesus and listen to his words for us, and then to be sent back into the world for a life of action, for a week filled with following Jesus’ example and loving our neighbors, working for justice, and proclaiming the gospel in word and deed—opportunities to practice radical hospitality by welcoming the stranger, caring for the outcast, and perhaps even meeting God in the people around us.
And then next Sunday we’ll come back here.
Not as a chore, but a joy.
Not as work but as rest.
We’ll be welcomed again into this place and take our deserved place at Jesus’ feet.
We’ll be invited again to this Table where Jesus welcomes us with a radical hospitality to come to the banquet table that he has spread with heavenly food, and where we invite Christ to come among us once again.
And at this table we sit with Jesus, we sit with each other, as we are fed and nourished, restored and equipped to go out into the world again strengthened by the communion we share with each other, strengthened by Christ’s presence within and among us.

My friends, our Lord has called us to a life of discipleship.
This should be an active life, filled with extending radical hospitality, loving our neighbors, restoring creation, and working for justice.
But Jesus also knows how demanding this life can be, how we can grow tired and distracted by following his commands.
So this morning, just as he called out to our ancestor in faith, Martha, he is calling to each of us by name, calling us away from our worries and distractions, calling us to come and rest with him, to come and listen to his voice, to come and be restored in his love for us.
So come, rest, listen, be restored, so we can go out together and do Christ’s work in the world.

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