By Al Bunis
May 30, 2010
Matthew 25: 34-40 and John 14: 1-4
(mp3, 5.5Mb) ]
d like to begin this morning by sharing with you some words that have meant a great deal to me…words that helped propel me on a path of deeper faith. It's a benediction. In fact, it's the benediction I've used each time I've preached.
Go now with God.
Be not tempted to stay in the safety of known places.
Be not tempted to go only in your own time.
Choose not to go alone.
Elect to go with God.
Go in the faith
there is no valley so low,
no wilderness so vast,
no passage so crooked,
that God is not already there,
waiting to be with you.
This is actually the benediction that my former
pastor in Brooklyn also used it each time I heard her preach. And the
funny thing is that no-one knows who authored these words.
But what was it about these words that helped lead
me to a life of deeper faith? The answer is that they invited me…invited
me to a deeper relationship with God. They encouraged me to look to my
faith...to rely more on my faith. They didn't tell me the right way to
have faith…the right method…the right theology. They didn't warn me about
what can happen if I don't have faith. They didn't tell me that if I have
faith, I will achieve a great reward. These words simply invited me…in a
non-judgmental way, they simply welcomed me.
This idea of invitation to faith…I think it's
among the most basic of Christian ideals. Christianity, at its core is
supposed to be an invitation to a life of faith with God…perhaps with Jesus
extending the invitation. Christianity was meant to transcend national
and ethnic allegiances…to extend hospitality to people of all backgrounds…a
hospitality that transcends differences.
And I think that this is also the key message of
our reading from the Gospel of John. Although this text has a mysterious
aspect relating to Jesus' resurrection…I also see it as a simple invitation to
relationship with God. God's house is a dwelling place with many rooms…for
all types…By God's grace, those rooms are already
prepared for us. This passage…just like the benediction…they both feel
like God's Hospitality.
Our reading from Matthew 25 shows us a different
angle on hospitality. This passage reminds us that this theme of
hospitality…that it's about more than inner spirituality, belief and faith…that
Christian hospitality also has real world meaning…that it is tangible…that it's
also about us reaching out to help others. It reminds us that Christian
hospitality is not just God's hospitality…it's also about our own
This passage from Matthew speaks to this real
world hospitality so beautifully and simply that it hardly needs
explanation. “For when I was hungry, you gave me food, I was thirsty and
you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you
clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
This passage is so basic to Christianity that many
simply refer to it as “Matthew 25”. When you hear someone say Matthew 25,
this is usually the passage they are referring to.
From a class in seminary, I have a great little
book called Biblical Social Values, by Bruce Malina…and
this book describes the core social values from ancient society…values like
faith, trust, love, envy. One of the core values the book speaks about is
The book says that the ancient take on hospitality
was quite different from the way we think about it today. In those days,
hospitality was not so much about welcoming friends and family… as it is in our
society. Instead, it was about welcoming the stranger. In
ancient times, there was thought to be an almost mystical quality to welcoming
the stranger…one of transformation. If properly hospitable, you were
thought to “transform” the stranger into a guest.
Actions like foot washing and putting oil on
guests' heads were viewed as noble actions…truly welcoming…truly
hospitable. The outsider was thought to have no standing in the community…and
hospitality could actually make the difference between life and death in this
rugged world. But hospitality was not without risk. In those times,
strangers were viewed with great trepidation. There was real fear of
strangers. So hospitality was seen as an act of courage as well.
And, of course, we see so much of this hospitality
in Jesus' travels in the Gospels. We see foot washing…we see oil on the
head…we see eating with outsiders. In fact this theme of eating with
outsiders…Jesus carried it to extremes…challenging the basic holiness and
cleanliness codes of his faith by eating in impure settings…and…eating with
gentiles and sinners….sinners like those dreaded tax collectors.
Now when it comes to this ideal of hospitality…I
think we are at an odd time here in America…especially with the immigration
debate. Sometimes it feels like we have a sort of new Xenophobia in parts
of the country…which is ironic for a nation that is composed of mostly
And while today we certainly have reasons to be
afraid of some strangers…terrorism is very real…it isn't clear that we have
balance in the debate. In some places, fear seems to be trumping
But there are other hospitality issues to
consider. With our new cell phone technology we have a certain “Big
Brother is watching” ability to capture pretty appalling behavior.
A couple of weeks ago The Today Show showed
a series of videos of people ignoring or abandoning some pretty desperate
situations. Tragically a bicyclist was left to die in the street after
having been hit by a car. People just walked by. The video even
showed one person coming over to take a close look at the fallen biker…and then
walking away. Not exactly the ethic lifted up in the story of the Good
Samaritan. Again, it feels like fear is trumping courage…in this case,
probably the fear of getting involved.
Cynically, we might hope for everyone to be afraid
to act so callously…for fear of being caught on video. But another hope…a
more sustainable hope…is that people can take to heart lessons like the Good
Samaritan…or Matthew 25…lessons that seek to instill an ethic of hospitality.
But our passage from Matthew 25 goes beyond eating
with tax collectors…or helping fallen victims…it is also about reaching out to
the neediest in society…those who are not only outsiders…but those who have
Matthew 25 is an all-inclusive call to help the
neediest…whether they are thirsty or hungry…whether they lack clothing…or are
in prison…or are sick.
And I can tell you that as a seminary intern…being
part of Christ Church…it has been my pleasure to witness the way Christ Church
rolls up its sleeves and pitches in to help those in need…to help those lifted
up by Matthew 25.
Just last night, you finished another two weeks of
providing food and shelter to the homeless. As a member of the Board of
World Fellowship, I have seen firsthand how involved the church is with those
in need. Just think of those container shipments filled with clothing for
Nicaragua…those Haiti health kits…or those Bridges runs…to name a few.
And it's not just about writing checks. You
do indeed roll up your sleeves…you get on planes…and in cars and boats…and
visit those places. I have learned a lot from you that I want to apply in
my own ministry.
So yes…this text from Matthew 25 does speak well
to this Christian ideal of hospitality…and when the passage continues it adds a
most profound twist. “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or
thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and
welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see
you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, ‘I
tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine,
you did for me.'”
Certain corners of Christianity talk a lot about
belief…emphasizing inner faith…and sometimes insisting on very precise
theological formulas for belief. But I don't think it always needs to be
so abstract or complex. Matthew 25 breaks our faith down to the simplest
of ideals. When we are hospitable to our brothers and sisters…we are
hospitable to Christ.
Now there is an irony about Christian
hospitality. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus and the Disciples are
traveling around being hosted by others…Jesus and His disciples are
rarely doing the hosting. Instead they rely on the hospitality of others
for food and places to stay. They are constantly going in and out of
others' houses. And Paul too…he spent his entire Christian ministry
traveling from one congregation to another.
This is the model that they set for
ministry. And it is the model for ministry that Christianity largely
follows today. Those in ministry…and those of us
training for ministry…we too rely on the hospitality and welcome of our
And from the moment I arrived here at Christ
Church, I have felt truly welcomed…by Chuck and his team…and by you all.
Your hospitality is most appreciated.
I'm sure most of you remember that moving
confirmation service a few weeks ago…when all the confirmands passed through
the baptismal. In that service, Chuck spoke to the teenagers about the
value of memorization. He talked about how memorization can help bring
ideas from the head to the heart. I think the same is true of
And that was certainly my experience with the
benediction that I spoke of earlier. I had heard that benediction many
times…that is until it finally sunk in…until it finally reached my heart.
At just the right moment...when I was ripe for a
transformation…I finally noticed what this invitation was saying to me.
It was an invitation to look beyond simply my own
solutions to problems…an invitation to also look to God…to know that no matter what, God will be there to help…an invitation that gave me
confidence to begin to make some pretty big changes in my life.
I was ripe for a transformation of my relationship
with God…a transformation from “stranger” to “welcomed guest”…welcomed guest in
God's house. This invitation…God's hospitality…it didn't promise some
reward or threaten some consequence. No, it simply welcomed me.
I was no longer tempted to stay in the safety of
known places, or to go only in my own time. The benediction helped me
feel comfortable…to know that I wasn't being judged…that I was instead being
welcomed into God's house of many rooms. It helped me to realize that
there is a place in God's mansion that is already prepared for me…to realize that
there is no valley so low, no wilderness so vast, no passage so crooked, that
God is not already there waiting to be with me.
And so what I want you to know today is that I am
thankful for this hospitality…both God's hospitality and Christ Church's hospitality.
But I also want you to know something else…something
else about God's hospitality and your hospitality. Whether from my
perspective…or from the perspective of the many others you routinely welcome
and help here at Christ Church…God's hospitality and your hospitality…they
are one in the same. Amen.
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