Rev. Carol A. Prochaska (ret.)

September 1, 2013

Title: Hospitality: Mission and Ministry


           Scripture: Luke 14:1, 7-14

In the days of Jesus' earthly ministry dinners were social events intended to bond together people of similar status. People expected to eat with social equals so the the seating arrangement was crucial. If you were ranked as prominent and you were seated next to a guest considered socially inferior — you as the more prominent guest would be disgraced. According to ancient records people could find out who had been invited before they decided whether or not to attend. Important meals were always served with doors and windows to the street open so the host could demonstrate who had accepted the initiation to dine. Those outside on the street (the less fortunate, the uninvited) could listen to the social exchanges!

Most of us don't serve meals with open doors and windows so our neighbors can see who we've invited and who has accepted! However I confess I've had times in my life when I was glad to be an insider or at least to look like an insider. If I couldn't be a VIP then the next best thing was to be in the vicinity of a VIP!

Some years ago John and I attended his Wyoming University Alumni Reunion. The banquet room was filled to capacity with round tables, each one with places for 8 people. This banquet was also the occasion to introduce to the Alumni the new Chancellor of the University. By some fluke or by good luck John and I were seated at the table with the new Chancellor! So while we were among the first of the alumni to become acquainted with the new Chancellor those at the other tables could only wait and watch.

I remember another time when John and I were serving a church in Texas near the city of Houston. One of the church members was a Secret Service Agent. Her assignments took her around the world with the president and vice-president. She and her husband (an Alcohol and Drug Enforcement Agent) had invited us to meals in their home so we had come to know them well along with their young daughter. On the occasion of President Clinton's visit to Houston she gave us special tickets. These insider tickets meant that we could stand with the group near the rope where the President would walk to enter a building. The tickets we held in our hands took us through security - just like we were somebody!

However in studying today's gospel reading, Jesus' words had the effect of messing with those memories of mine. Doesn't Jesus like VIP'S? Should I have not have felt privileged sitting with the University Chancellor? Or getting close enough to see the President of the United States? So if Jesus doesn't like VIP'S why not? Or is this asking the wrong question? Perhaps the question that needs to be asked has more to do with our inclinations: who are we more inclined to turn towards? So yes I enjoyed sitting with the University Chancellor. And I also enjoyed getting close enough to see the President of the United States. But for those of us who are Jesus' disciples it's not will we be included? It's who can we include? It's not who will notice us. It's who will we notice? Jesus' parable isn't about table manners or social graces. It's about hospitality! It's about being warm and open and inclusive of those who are usually outside our radar. Jesus' parable is about God-like hospitality.

For those of us who follow Jesus, hospitality is our mission —it's our calling — it's our assignment — it's our ministry — it's what we do in Jesus' name. This hospitality may include an invitation to a meal but not necessarily.

Caption: "The alienation of modern urban life is suggested in Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks".
The shadowy apartment buildings and shop fronts in the background appear gloomy and silent; the only light seems to be coming from the all-night diner. The weariness and passivity of the patrons contrast with the energy of the soda jerk who serves them, as he creates a space of hospitality in a threatening lonely city."

"...he creates a space of hospitality in a threatening lonely city." That's what we do: whenever we have an opportunity, wherever we happen to be. It could be a clerk in a store, It could be a neighbor, It could be a stranger waiting in line with us, it could be a fussing child pushing the patience of a caregiver, or it could be the caregiver. We become God's eyes. We notice that person. We include them with our words. We welcome them, in some way, into our space — if only briefly. Whatever our age, whatever our physical strength, is there any reason why we can't be like that soda jerk —"creating a space of hospitality in world that can be a threatening and lonely."