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June 28, 2020
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
The gospel reading this morning is a continuation of what we’ve been reading over the past few weeks. Jesus commissioned the disciples to go and proclaim the good news that the realm of heaven has come near. The catch, though, was that when they went out they couldn’t take anything with them. Not even a walking stick, according to Matthew.
My preference is to travel light. I don’t always succeed, but when I do it makes things easier. And when you think about it, we don’t usually need to take a lot with us because when we go somewhere away from home it’s within our comfort zone – at least to a point. Most of the time we’re going to spend time with family or friends; people who we know will take care of us and make sure we have what we need.
But Jesus sent the disciples out to be with unknown people for an extended period of time. So when I think about his instructions for them to just go with basically nothing more than the clothes on their backs, I’m always amazed that, according to the gospel writers, they went without question. That’s a lot to expect.
But Jesus’ expectation of the disciples was high because their mission depended on how others received them. Their outward appearance had to show that they were completely open to trusting God and letting God’s power work through them.
Jesus gave the disciples the same authority he had to proclaim the good news of God and to heal the sick and cast out demons. If they’d gone with everything they needed for their journey, it would have been easy for them to depend on their stuff and it would have given a different image of the message that they were proclaiming.
Or, at the very least, it would have been a distraction for them and the people they met along the way. They had to publicly live what they believed and taught about Jesus and God’s promises.
In other words, when people looked at the disciples, it was imperative that nothing prevent them from seeing and experiencing God as the source of who the disciples were and what they were doing, so that everyone could experience it and trust it. Because part of the disciples’ authority rested in receiving hospitality.
Putting yourself in a position of having to receive and depend on others doesn’t sound much like authority. Because depending on another person’s hospitality – trusting someone else to take care of our needs – makes you vulnerable and requires you to be humble.
Instead of making sure we have everything we need to take care of ourselves and closing ourselves off – or constantly being in a position of giving and essentially keeping people at arm’s length – receiving opens us up.
Being humble enough to physically display that vulnerability is often thought of as weakness because when we do it, we submit to a power that’s greater than ourselves.
And that’s scary to a lot of people because we don’t like to think of ourselves as being weak or not in control. But it also requires us to trust in God. And that is strength.
What it comes down to is that practicing hospitality is part of being a disciple. And hospitality doesn’t only mean giving and doing for others, it also means being willing to be the guest and receive from others,
When I finished my term of service as a missionary in Costa Rica, people asked me what I learned. The short answer to that is, “a lot.” And when people asked me that general question, that’s how I answered because I can’t distill everything I learned into a simple list.
But after a while, people started asking me what was the most important thing I learned. And that one’s easy: never refuse hospitality when it’s offered to you. Even now, fifteen years later, that is still the single most important thing I learned. Never refuse hospitality when it’s offered to you – whatever it might look like.
It sounds simple. But the reason that’s still so important to me is that when someone offers hospitality to you, they’re offering a part of themselves. And to refuse their hospitality is to refuse them as a person.
And when hospitality is the only thing a person is able to offer you, refusing it, at best, is disrespectful. At worst, it completely negates the value of the person as a person.
And as people of faith, when we refuse hospitality, we refuse Jesus. And that sounds harsh, but it’s true.
When Jesus sent the disciples out, he gave them the authority to go and learn what it means to be a guest – to learn to depend on people and what it means to receive. It sounds counter-intuitive, but whether they received and the way they received, reflected their trust in God. And living out trust in God is what being a disciple is all about.
It’s the same for us as it was for the twelve. Our authority as disciples comes from living out our trust in God. And part of that means being a guest – being humble enough to be open to the experience of receiving from others. And this isn’t only about receiving food or beverages or even a place to sleep.
Whenever I received hospitality in Costa Rica, usually it started with a cup of coffee or a snack. But it was never rushed, and the expectation was that it’d be shared over a conversation. We shared life stories and experiences and learned from each other. And in the process, relationships and trust were built.
As a faith community, we pride ourselves on welcoming and doing and giving and genuinely being excellent hosts. But the flip side of hospitality is being a guest and receiving from others, whether they’re close friends or complete strangers or somewhere in between.
It’s taking the risk and the time to be vulnerable; and remembering that it’s an act of strength because it’s an act of trust in God. And realizing that we can’t expect people to trust us if we aren’t willing to also trust them.
With everything that’s going on in our country and in the world, receiving hospitality from others is more important now than I think it has been for quite some time. Taking the risk to be vulnerable with others and spend time learning from people.
One of the conversations or, rather, one of the series of conversations we will have as a congregation is how we can be faithful allies to the people of the LGBTQ+ community.
Like the conversations about racism that several of you are already having, learning how to be openly welcoming and affirming means being willing to be vulnerable and to receive. It means pushing past your fear.
And committing to being open to new perspectives; to listen and learn about people’s experiences. It means being vulnerable enough to live into your trust in God.
When Jesus sent the disciples out, he gave them the authority to go and learn what it means to be a guest – to be humble and learn to depend on people and what it means to receive. This is also where our authority lies as his disciples, because it reminds us that, wherever we go, God is the source of who we are and what we do as people of faith. Thanks be to God! Amen.