Thursday, June 23, 2016

RADICAL HOSPITALITY: "Almost all people, from their own religious, even non-religious, experience, struggle to practice radical hospitality, or think to do so would be impossible." John+

I Am What I Am
Last week we talked about "radical hospitality" * (sermon posted below) and how the refusal to embrace the "radical" in our hospitality can so easily be transformed into "hostility." The failure to practice radical hospitality keeps the world engaged in a constant cycle of escalating violence. We're not talking here of some kind of ethical ideal, but God's plan to save the world.

Practicing radical hospitality is not easy. It will be a struggle for most of us. It was a struggle for St. Paul as well. The Law of Torah and practice he grew up in didn't allow the practice of radical hospitality: acceptance of each person, openness to hear their story and dialogue, and forgiveness first before requiring change of behavior. Being a Jew meant embracing the whole Law which excluded all Gentiles.

Almost all people, from their own religious, even non-religious, experience, struggle to practice radical hospitality, or think to do so would be impossible. Only Jesus Christ, and the help of the Holy Spirit, makes living radical hospitality possible. Even Gandhi admitted this to his life-long Anglican priest friend.

For St. Paul, it was his own meeting with the Risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, that changed his mind (metanoia) and heart. Whatever would come, he would have to practice radical hospitality for the rest of his life. When he founded a church, he did it with the goal that all believers in Jesus would overcome all the social, linguistic, gender, and religious barriers they faced:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

No longer. No longer. No longer. Three times he stresses that in Christ everything has changed and been turned on it's head. And further, for Paul, conversion to living a radical hospitality begins in Eucharistic hospitality and the fellowship that flows from hearing the Word and sharing the Body and Blood of the Lord.

Not practicing radical hospitality makes the world sick. In the Gospel today, Jesus and his disciples enter Gerasa. On the outskirts of the city there's a cemetery. In ancient times, cemeteries were where the mentally ill were banished. After a time, clothed "crazies" would be wandering around naked, often shouting and terrorizing the town, causing fear among the people. The people considered them possessed by demons and, unsuccessfully, tried to chain them down
Into this scenario comes Jesus. The Demoniac recognizes Jesus and realizes that something has to give. The demons cannot coexist with Jesus present. Jesus practices radical hospitality with the demons and enters a dialogue:

"What do you have to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you do not torment me?" (Jesus has begun exorcise the unclean spirit out)
"What is your name?" Jesus asks.
"Legion." (Singular word, but meaning many)
We heard the rest of the story. Jesus commands the unclean spirit into a herd of pigs who follow the leader of the swine over a cliff and falling to their death. Later the swineherds and townspeople find the man clothed and in his right mind. The man wants follow along with Jesus, but Jesus sends him back to his society.

I used to think that "Legion" were many evil spirits that possessed that poor man, but more and more, I've come to see that the "Legion of evil spirits" were the townspeople themselves that refused to practice radical hospitality with the man. He was banished as a "crazy" and was a constant source of fear for them. They could never come to grips with what caused him to act out. They could never imagine him as ever being innocent and free.
The story isn't about Jesus performing an act of vengeance in casting the evil spirits into the swine, but rather, if as suggested, Legion refers to the spirits of the townspeople, possessing the man, falling to their death, then you have an example of attempting to manage violence with violence leading to more and more death.

Jesus, like the man in the story, restores us to our right minds, clothed in the garments of salvation received at our Baptism. We're sent (thinking of the hymn "Just as I Am") from the Eucharist back into the everyday world, sometimes very crazy, to love and serve the Lord.  (emphasis added/LR)


Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.

The Reverend John Smith, Vicar.
5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)


* Homily: "Radical Hospitality" June 12, 2016

Radical Hospitality
The term "Christianity" was never used for many centuries after the death and Resurrection of Jesus. If the word "Christian" was ever used, it was not by christians themselves, but by others to describe them as followers of Christ. The earliest descriptor of followers of Jesus was "People of The Way." This term, "The Way," attempted to describe the manner in which followers of Jesus lived in contrast to the "way" most others conducted their lives.
In today's culture, we invite people over whose company we enjoy. When they arrive we give them a hug, find a place for their coats, lead them to the hors' doerves, and offer them something to drink. Those are the basics of hospitality today. The basics of hospitality in Jesus' day were a little different: a guest was offered water to wash their feet, given a greeting kiss, and their head was annointed with fragrant oil.
In today's Gospel, Simon the host, offered none of this basic hospitality to Jesus, his guest. They were too busy watching him, to catch him in some perceived failure. They didn't have to wait very long. A woman of the night, a known sinner, comes up to Jesus and begins to wash his feet and dry them with her hair. Her approach to Jesus was completely unacceptable to Simon and the other guests, even though "this sinner woman" offered the basic hospitality the others failed to provide. Instead of providing basic hospitality to Jesus, Simon the Pharisee and his friends, offered a veiled hostility. This hostility was the fruit of their religious outlook formed by their interpretation of Torah.
But Jesus knew that the only way Torah is fulfilled is by love. The woman "sinner" fulfilled Torah and Simon and his like-minded friends didn't.
Christopher Higgins, the well-known atheist, claims that "religion poisons everything." Looking around the world today, he's probably right. But It's been that way from the beginning. Jesus came to redeem religion practice that provided hospitality to some and not to others who were different. Jesus practiced, and his followers after him, what is sometimes referred to as a radical hospitality offered to every human being even when they are different or rub us the wrong way. For Jesus, the "us and them," approach of religion needed to change. Subtle hostility and/or passive aggresiveness could neutralize the love he came to bring.
The Gospel reveals the core of radical hospitality which turns on its head normal religious practice of requiring repentance before offering forgiveness. Jesus,as we see in the Gospel today, offers the woman forgiveness first, then allows her the freedom to live a new life in a spirit of repentance. Diane Butler Bass has decribed religion in terms of Believing, Behaving, and Belonging, in that order. You believe the creed of your religion, follow its rules, and then you can belong. In contrast, Jesus put the emphasis on belonging, no questions asked. This is radical hospitality.
The breaking of the bread that Jesus left his followers to perform, the Holy Eucharist, is the Sacrament of radical hospitality. All are welcome, all can belong, all are invited to covenant with God in thanksgiving for life. The General Thanksgiving on pg. 101 of the Book of Common Prayer captures this spirit:
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants, give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. 


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