June 24, 2016
40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
For the past almost twenty years I have lived within a couple hour drive of The Abbey of Gethsemane, the oldest monastery in the United States still in operation. The Abbey is home to an enclave of Trappist monks who set up shop there on December 21, 1848, and they have been at it ever since. They live a simple quiet life of prayer and work according to the Rule of St. Benedict. Incidentally, this was the place where Fr. Thomas Merton lived out his life and work. It’s one of my absolute favorite places on the planet. Between the cathedral and the expansive grounds the place has become for me like a massive “room” in the spirit of Matthew 6:6 where I can go for the day (or longer) and “shut the door and pray to my Father who is in secret.”
Etched into the wall just to the right of the entrance are these ancient words from St. Benedict, “Let every guest be received as Christ.” I think this is part of the secret to the compelling gravity of the place. I think it’s the subtle yet not so secret reason I keep coming back. People often scoff at monks claiming they have taken the easy route of escaping the world. I find it fascinating how there is always a line of people waiting to spend time in this sacred place and a waiting list for their guest house.
When God dwells in and amongst a community of people who have abandoned their self interested lives for the interest of the now near Kingdom of Heaven it creates a kind of sacred gravity around them. People are literally drawn to persons and communities that bear this character, whether they be in a rural monastery in central Kentucky or the work-a-day world in any neighborhood, town or city in the country.
One of the hallmarks of these kinds of people is what I call holy hospitality. Because they have learned to receive the unmerited favor of God and to be received in the name and place of Christ, they have a capacity of holiness which empowers them to extend the unmerited favor of God to others and so receive them in the name and place of Christ.
I realize I’m speaking more broadly than the scope of today’s text but then again maybe not. Jesus is sending his disciples out literally in his stead, as his agents. To receive them is to receive him. As they literally carry and present the ministry of Jesus to others they exude a type of preemptive welcome that itself opens the hearts of complete strangers to welcome them. In doing so, they show us what it looks like for a guest to extend hospitality preemptively to their host. The host actually gets caught up in the gravity of the guest because the welcome of the guest bears the extraordinary character of the ordinary yet supernatural gravity of the grace of God.
I want to be one of those people whose lives are so caught up in the gravity of the person of Jesus Christ through the loving power of the Holy Spirit that he is able to woo and win others into the now near Kingdom of Heaven by the gravitational pull of his presence in me. Unfortunately, because of the law of sin and death, the default condition of the human race is that of preemptively rejecting other people. It manifests itself in the form of xenophobia, stand-off-ish-ness and subtle suspicion towards those we do not yet know or through preemptive judgment of people we think we know but have never really met.
We are entering a period of history in America where the nature and responsibility of hospitality is shifting. Thus far, the church has enjoyed the favored status of serving as the “host” of this country. The church is fast becoming the guest in America. It is quite different to operate as a guest than as a host. It will require us to recover an apostolic nerve and that may well begin with this notion of apostolic hospitality. It is the preemptive love of the guest for the host. It’s a big idea we need to be gearing up for. You ready?
1. How about the nature of your presence and posture toward others (notably people you do not know)— do you exude an outreaching welcome or a guarded and measured approach?
2. How might the mastery of “social skills” masquerade as the welcoming hospitality of Jesus? How would Jesus’ welcome to others through you be distinctive from mere social graces?
3. Why do we tend to preemptively judge and often subtly reject people we do not know or know well? What will it take to unlearn that posture and to learn the way of a follower of Jesus.
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.