Germy but Loved
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of very generous hospitality that you didn’t deserve?
I surely have. Let me tell you about what happened to me this past Lent. I went on retreat to the Society of St. John the Evangelist, SSJE, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was all excited about going away for those 3 days and being in silence, and walking around Cambridge, and eating all the marvelous food that they serve in the monastery. The beauty of the place was calling to me and I was so happy to be going.
And doggone it, wouldn’t you know that those were the very 3 days that I developed a whopper of a cold. There I was in that gorgeous chapel (pictured on our bulletin cover) coughing my head off and disrupting services. It was the kind of cold where you try to hold in the coughs but they keep rolling out and it’s awful, and messy and embarrassing and germy.
And I was really distressed about it. I met with Brother Jonathan for an hour while I was there and apologized for this affliction. And he wondered if I got it there because my body knew it was in a safe place to be sick. And I thought that was a really interesting thing to say—it was loving and not the least bit judgmental. And it helped me relax and not worry so much about being a nuisance. They accepted me there and treated me as if I were Christ—which is a true monastic ideal. They gained nothing from the hospitality they extended to me; in fact, they may have been exposed to that awful virus.
On the last day of my visit, at Brother Jonathan’s urging, I became an affiliate of the monastery and joined the Fellowship of St. John. There was a little liturgy at the noonday prayer service just before lunch. Here’s my cross that’s a symbol of being in the Fellowship. But for me it’s more than that. It’s a reminder of that extremely loving welcome I received at a time when I considered myself crippled with coughing. It’s a reminder to me to do the same for other people—welcome, forgive, accept, love.
My germy monastery retreat was one time when I felt as if I belonged to that group of people that Jesus mentions at the end of the gospel—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Jesus should have added “the germy.” And I was given amazing hospitality despite it all.
Jesus tells us in this gospel not to invite the people who can repay us, but instead to invite and include those who cannot—those who normally would be shunned. And he says to do it not because you’ll get a nice payback from them in THIS life, but because God will reward you in the next. And it’s part of living a holy life—reward or not.
Extending hospitality to strangers is a deeply important thing among the peoples of the Middle East. Not accepting a traveler in your tent at night means they might be exposed to harsh winds or dehydration and might die of exposure. We see hospitality touted as early as the story of Abraham receiving the three angels in the 18th chapter of the Book of Genesis. And this must be the basis for what we see in today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels unawares. Those we may normally avoid may have divine gifts for us.
And extending hospitality to others can only be done well by a humble hearted person. One who knows his or her place in the universe—as a creature who knows that he or she is fallible, flawed, and fragile—and no better than the people who are often treated as outcasts.
And it’s not too long a leap to the deeper theological implications of God’s hospitality to us. God accepts and loves us when we are so mired in our common flaws. God waits for us to grow. As Brother Curtis might say, “God adores us. God thinks we are the best thing since sliced bread.” Warts and all.
And Jesus’ word picture of the wedding feast occurs over and over again as a metaphor for the divine banquet promised to us in the book of Isaiah, and re-echoed in the Book of Revelation. The passage [Isaiah 25:6-9] says,
6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for ALL peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over ALL peoples, the sheet that is spread over ALL nations; he will swallow up death forever.
8Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from ALL faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.
9It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
All peoples, all faces, all nations. All are welcome. All are already loved, despite our flaws and despite our past.
So spend some time this week thinking about when YOU’VE been on the receiving end of hospitality you really didn’t deserve—by human standards. How can you mine that experience and further include others, as God includes us all? And how might it help us to look forward to the banquet promised us at the End?