Compassion through Hospitality

Genesis 18:4-5 – June 11, 2017

Exod 18 Abraham bends down before Holy Trinity - angelic visitors at Mamre - mosaic in Monreale Cathedral

“Compassion through Hospitality”

Almost everyone enjoys visiting with friends. This can involve meeting for a cup of coffee or tea, going out for a meal, or having friends over at your house. What do you do to make friends or relatives welcome at your table? How do you like to be welcomed, when you go over to someone’s house or apartment?

These are great things to think about. We begin our first sermon of the summer, our Compassion sermon series. Let’s take a look at Genesis and at Abraham, the friend of God. He and his wife Sarah were on a nomadic journey—a very long caravan camping trip that lasted for years and years. While they were traveling, they camped for a time in the land of Canaan near what is now the town of Hebron.

God appeared to him. Here’s how it happened: “The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.” Right off the bat, this bible reading lets us know an important fact. It’s sort of the summary statement at the beginning of this reading, and then the passage explains what it’s all about.

This first verse tells us a lot. Abraham had his tent set up by some big trees. There wasn’t any air conditioning in those days, so he looked for some big trees to provide natural cooling. Abraham sat at the entrance to his tent—a cool place, to catch any little breath of wind drifting by. We also know it was the middle of the day—a really hot time in that semi-desert terrain!

Now that we’ve explained more about it, in your mind’s eye, can’t you just see Abraham sitting there, catching the breeze in the cool shade, at the door of his tent?

What happens next? “Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.”

We are not sure how much Abraham knew about these three men, but he goes out of his way to greet these three strangers. In many places in the world, people give you a warm welcome when you come to their home. It’s certainly true of many people and places throughout the Middle East.

“As a nomad, Abraham and his family lived in tents, as they traveled with their grazing herds in the desert. The few who lived in the harsh deserts of Judea depended upon each other for survival. Visitors were treated very well, for they brought companionship and help for the host. The practice of hospitality was highly prized in Abraham’s time.[1]

“Abraham and Sarah offer hospitality to strangers that come to their camp, upon seeing the strangers coming in the heat of the day, it’s suddenly high gear hospitality.  Hospitality would be the duty of any desert dweller of the time.” [2] I mean, really greet you! They give any stranger an extravagant welcome.

Let’s turn to a modern-day example. When our children, or grandchildren, or nieces and nephews go over to a friend’s house, what are some things that might make these young people feel welcome? Yes, their friend might offer them a drink or a snack. That is great. But, let’s go further. What if their friend goes the extra step? What if their friend lets our children play with their toys? What if their friend lets them pick what show they would like to watch on cable or DVD? How about inviting them to stay for dinner, or even inviting them to sleep over? All these ways of helping them feel welcome in their home are ways of showing “hospitality.”

Just as Abraham and Sarah welcomed these unexpected strangers, can’t we do the same thing? Maybe make a special effort to welcome each person into our house—or church, regardless of whether we know them or not? We can help them feel noticed, cared for and safe in joining our group of friends. How did Abraham show these three people they were welcome?

“Abraham said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree.”

Let’s play a little game with this bible reading, a topsy turvy game.

What if Abraham did not feel like showing hospitality to the three strangers? What would that have looked like? What might have happened, then? As the three persons came near the tent, Abraham might hide inside and shut the tent flaps tight. When they knocked at the tent door, Abraham could tell them to go away, in an angry voice. If the three persons insisted that they were thirsty or hungry, Abraham might yell that they should go some other place, and freeload off of someone else.

If all that had been true, bible history might have happened very differently!

But, no! Abraham and Sarah were fine hosts. Let’s read more of the bible passage: “Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” “Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

As a fellow pastor commented, “There was no Holiday Inn, or highway rest area, there is only Abraham and Sarah’s camp and their herds and their well. So, when strangers appear in the heat of the day, needing a wash and a rest, you tend to their needs. Some kind of host switch has been flipped.  Abraham runs, he hastens, he quickly prepares.  His hospitality seems to go above and beyond – the best of the herd, the best flour and in abundance for the meal.” [3]

Modern times have not changed hospitality. How do good hosts show us their hospitality today? They offer food and drink and try to make us as comfortable as they can.

I remember my dear prayer partner Zhou Hui. She was born in mainland China, grew up in a poor neighborhood in a medium-sized town, did really well in school, and was able to get awarded a scholarship to university. She came here to the United States as a graduate student, and became a naturalized citizen. She lives near here, and her children attend New Trier High School. She is a devout Christian, and a real pray-er. I thank God I was able to be her prayer partner for years.

I bring up Zhou Hui because she always bends over backwards to be a wonderful hostess. She has the spiritual gift of hospitality, and she always offers wonderful food and drink to her guests. I can remember many, many enjoyable meals my young children and I had at her house. That is just what Abraham did here. He and Sarah hurried up and offered their unexpected visitors wonderful food and drink.

Abraham and Sarah not only showed these strangers genuine hospitality, they showed compassion—Godly compassion.

Hospitality is the way we help others feel welcomed and cared for, and that we can do this anywhere we are: for friends at our homes, new students in our classrooms or new neighbors on our block.

This narrative is a beautiful reminder that when we show compassion and kindness to other people, we are showing compassion and kindness to God.

When we read about Abraham, we might think, “How nice! What a good job, showing kindness and hospitality.” I have news for you: Jesus shows us hospitality! Jesus shows each of us kindness and compassion! Does this change the way we see other people in our lives, especially those we don’t know very well? Or, those we don’t even know at all?

How might we show hospitality to others? I know we pride ourselves on our kind, compassionate welcome to anyone who comes into our church. We can show our community that St. Luke’s Church witnesses to the love of Christ, not only with words, but doing what we do best: serving food and showing people a warm welcome.

Hospitality is a wonderful way to show everyone the love of God and show kindness and compassion—the same way God has already shown love, kindness, compassion and welcome to each of us. Let us go out, and do likewise.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.word-sunday.com/Files/c/16-c/FR-16-c.html “Abraham Welcomes the Lord,” Larry Broding’s Word-Sunday.Com: A Lectionary Resource for Catholics.

[2] https://seattlemennonite.org/2014/07/27/the-last-laugh/

[3] https://seattlemennonite.org/2014/07/27/the-last-laugh/

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

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Where Jesus Is

John 14:3 – May 14, 2017

John 14-3 prepare a place, words

“Where Jesus Is”

Home. There’s no place like home.

I know this feeling is not true for all people, but it’s very true for many, many people, around the world. Many of us have a deep craving to go home, to be comfortable, with familiar people we know and love. Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever been away from home for a long time, and returned at last? Perhaps felt the satisfaction, the relief, the deep-down joy at being in your own hometown again? In your own neighborhood, on those familiar streets once more? And especially, in your own bed?

That is one of the deep emotions our Lord Jesus taps into in today’s passage from the Gospel of John, chapter 14. It is the evening of the Passover Dinner, the Last Supper. He knows His time on this earth is almost over. Jesus gives His disciples as much reassurance as possible. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”

A place, especially for you. That heartfelt feeling of “home” is something that goes deep, indeed. Sure, many people grow up at home. Families are at home. Beloved pets are at home. Even all of our stuff is oftentimes at home.

Remember the movie “The Wizard of Oz”? That MGM mega-blockbuster made in 1939 had Dorothy, played by Judy Garland, singing a song early in the movie about what she imagined about a special place for her. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was almost cut from the finished movie by MGM, because they thought that it slowed down the pace of the movie.

This longing, this yearning for a home somewhere far away, somewhere over the rainbow, is deep within the human psyche. As commentator Chris Lohrstorfer says, ““Somewhere over the Rainbow” encapsulates our own wandering heart’s desire for a promised land of rest and restoration. It speaks to our hope – our need for somewhere else.” [1]

The disciples, Jesus’s friends, often did not understand what He was about. They did not get it. Again and again we see how much they did not understand what He said. How often do we misunderstand the words of Jesus, too?

In retrospect, we can look at certain passages in the Bible and say to ourselves, “Oh, of course Jesus meant that when He preached to the people!” Or, “Naturally, Jesus was saying thus and so when He spoke to the disciples in that way!” Remember our Gospel passage for today: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”

Also remember, the Rabbi Jesus had been an itinerant Rabbi for three years. That meant that Jesus had no permanent residence. He had no home! In Matthew 8 and the parallel passage in Luke 9, “Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’”

Is anyone here familiar with that feeling? Not having a permanent place of residence?

One of my daughters is recently without a permanent residence. Earlier this year, she moved from her small apartment out east back here to Chicago—for some of the time. She sold the bulk of her furniture and put the small remainder in her father’s basement. She has a great job! But, she does not have a regular office to go into, and not even a place to stay permanently.

My daughter’s arrangement is a whole different concept for me! Imagine, being a temporary visitor in a place. Several people I know are resident aliens. Citizens of another country, they live here in the United States for an extended time. With school visas or work visas, they often cannot live here permanently. True, they can learn, go to school, go to work and provide for their families and loved ones, and go about all the other activities involved with living a full life, but they cannot have a full, deep sense of “home.” There’s no place like home, as Dorothy said.

Here in John 14, we hear Jesus letting the disciples know He understood them, deeply, intimately, completely. We know Jesus can understand us and our problems, too. He knows every tear that falls, even those silent and sorrowful tears that redden our eyes late at night. He knows all the pains and suffering that can come into our lives day by day (even out of the clear blue sky, like what happened to Lill).

One of my blogging friends, Marilyn, is a registered nurse who grew up as the daughter of missionaries to Asia. Marilyn has lived in a number of countries overseas and can speak several languages. She sometimes blogs about that elusive feeling of “home” that Third Culture Kids (like her) feel strongly. Some Third Culture Kids (now TCK adults) never have a permanent place of residence for very long, because they and their expatriate parents are so often on the move.

Yes, it is good to get comfy, take off your shoes, and have a cup of hot chocolate or steaming coffee or a cool iced tea. For others, finding “home” can be more difficult. So often, we look diligently for that elusive “home.” And, it is not always obvious or nearby. There is a yearning for it deep in the heart, so much like that yearning Dorothy had for a place somewhere over the rainbow.

Certain people do not associate warm, loving, caring things with their concept of “home.” With serious things in some lives like desperately hurt feelings, challenging people, awkward situations, and less than optimal living conditions, some people would rather not think of a specific place called “home.” I can see how they might feel really conflicted. Painful, even agonizing situations, unkind and uncaring people, places and things: sad and sorry, indeed.

However, Jesus shows us that finding that place called “home” is often not a place, but a relationship.  The next verse, from John 14: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

See? Jesus is not leaving His disciples all alone. Jesus understood about “home.” He understands our deep need for rest and restoration. He promised to get a place ready for us!

Jesus shares with us – His home, His inheritance, His position. We now are “children of God.” Can you imagine the great love that speaks to us? [2]

This is not only good news, this is great news! The absolutely best news that anyone could ever have delivered to them. We do know for sure, because Jesus tells us in these verses, that God will be with us and take care of us after we die.  So, we and every person we love who dies are okay. [3]

Today, on this Mother’s Day, we all can look forward to finally going home, where Jesus is. Where Jesus has gotten everything ready for us. Where there will be no more crying, no more tears, no more fighting or wars or conflict of any kind. Jesus has promised! Such Good News.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] http://wbs.edu/2016/06/theres-no-place-like-home/, Dr. Chris Lohrstorfer

[2] http://wbs.edu/2016/06/theres-no-place-like-home/, Dr. Chris Lohrstorfer

[3] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/03/year-the-fifth-sunday-of-easter-may-18.html 

Worshiping with Children, Easter 5A, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

If anyone would like to check out my blogging friend Marilyn’s blog, here is one of my all-time-favorite posts of hers: https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2015/09/28/stupid-phrases-for-people-in-crisis/