Message for Sunday, May 15, 2022 Reimagining Home: Hospitality The Rev. Megan Collins
About sixteen years ago, Dave and I went on an interview for a church position together. Church interviews often take place over an entire weekend, so we had to travel with our two sons, who were 2 and a half, and 6 weeks old. The first night, the committee had us meet them out at a restaurant for dinner. The restaurant was beautiful - candlelit tables, soft music playing in the background, people in fancy clothes eating perfectly plated meals. Just lovely. But as I looked around the room of the fancy restaurant, my heart sank. Remember I mentioned we were traveling with a toddler and a newborn? Those of you who have ever tried to eat out with tiny humans are shaking your head, because you know. I had no idea how we would get through that meal in such a nice restaurant with our two kids. I did know it would be a disaster. You know what? I was right. It was a disaster. To give our kids some credit, they were exhausted from traveling and meeting new people and staying in a new place. Dinner was at seven and our newborn was in that magic hour of the evening where crying is the main activity. For the first part of dinner, Dave and I took turns walking the baby around outside while the other one of us tried to act natural. Meanwhile we had given our toddler a device to watch a movie on, which seemed to be working. He was quietly watching Toy Story but then thirty minutes in, the battery suddenly died and the screen went black. I think my heart stopped for a minute and I watched to see his reaction. But then both of our kids were in a full melt down and we gave up. We excused ourselves to head back to our hotel. All we wanted at that point was to go home.
We are spending a few weeks talking about home, and reimagining what it can mean, both for your family or here at our church home. Each week for the next three Sundays we will look specifically at one element that makes a home - and today’s is hospitality. Now traditionally when we think about hospitality we think about things like a beautiful restaurant, like the one we went to in Ohio that night. We think about a lovely setting with delicious food. Or we think about a clean and immaculately decorated home. A gift wrapped perfectly with ribbon and colored paper. Things like this are wonderful. I love a good meal (and maybe someday my house will be really clean). But if we stop there, with the external things, we haven’t really found the key to the kind of hospitality that makes someone feel at home. So today we are going to take a look at a story today in the Bible about two women who have just learned someone is coming to visit them in their home.
You’ve had that happen, right? The sink is full of dishes and the only food in the house is a half eaten bag of Doritos, then you get a call that someone is going to stop by to say hello. These are the moments when we find out just how fast we can throw everything on the floor into the closet. Now imagine the person who called and said they are stopping by is Jesus. This is what has happened to the two women in our story, and where the passage for today picks up.
This story comes from the gospel of Luke, chapter 10:
Now as they went on their way, he (Jesus) entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to what he was saying.
We’ll stop here for a moment because this is an important detail. When Jesus comes into Mary’s house, Mary sits at his feet to listen to him. But she was doing more than just sitting and listening. To sit at someone’s feet was to take the position of their disciple, which is what Mary was doing. This was something only men would have done at this time, but Mary doesn’t hesitate to put herself there, as a disciple of Jesus. Many of you have heard this story and know Martha isn’t sitting there next to her. It says:
40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her, then, to help me.”
Most of us can sympathize with Martha here. You are trying to make dinner or clean up the house and you look over and someone else in the family is just sitting there, so you get frustrated. Why are they being lazy while you are doing all the work? If you haven’t had a moment like Martha here, I’ll bet someone who lives with you has - and you were the one they were glaring at while you sat on the couch.
41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things, 42 but few things are needed—indeed only one. Martha’s focus on being hospitable to Jesus distracted her from the thing that mattered most - being with the person right in front of her. She was so busy trying to be a good host to Jesus that she got distracted from being with Jesus. Martha had a whole list of things she thought she had to do, but forgot the only one that mattered.
Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
Jesus establishes here that Mary’s choice to be a disciple will not be taken away from her. This is a powerful moment of Jesus once again leveling the field between women and men. So when we see Martha in this passage, she is what we think of when we talk about hospitality. She is busy cleaning and making the meal, she is trying to be a good host. But to Jesus it is Mary who seems to get it right. When Jesus arrives, Mary does run around with Martha setting up the home. But she does do three things: stops, sees, and adjusts her posture. Mary physically stopped doing whatever she was doing when Jesus came in, saw Jesus for who he was, and adjusts her posture to him, by sitting down at his feet to be his disciple.
This is the part of hospitality that has nothing to do with the dinner or the setting, and everything to do with the person you are welcoming in. And it may be the more important kind of hospitality we can offer.
In your home, you can do everything we think of with traditional hospitality - you can make the dinner, bake the cookies, clean up the house, set the table. These are all important and can set the scene for welcoming someone into your home. But for the most important thing, where true hospitality happens, looks like Mary in our passage today.
First, you have to stop. When Jesus came into the room, Martha was busy and distracted, but Mary stopped whatever she was doing. So when you interact with someone, first you stop. Stop moving, stop the busyness and distraction, stop cleaning or cooking or preparing, stop using your cell phone. There is a time for all of these things but to truly welcome in other people, you have to stop long enough to see them for who they are.
When Jesus came in, Mary saw him for exactly who he was. Hospitality means you really see the person in front of you. Not just physically seeing them, but seeing their needs, how they are in that moment. You get out of your head and pay attention to the other person.
Then, having seen them, you adjust your posture. Mary saw Jesus and knew how she should respond, by sitting at his feet. But sitting at his feet wasn’t just about where she was physically, it was how she was with him. He was there to teach, so she took the position of a disciple. When you adjust your posture, it’s how you are with someone, it’s about adapting to where they are in that moment.
Maybe your spouse comes home and you stop working on your computer, and then you see something is bothering them. So you adjust your posture - you lean in to really listen to them instead of being distracted. Or maybe your kids get older and you see they are figuring out who they are, so you adjust your posture to take up less space in their lives, to give them the room to become who God is calling them to be.
Maybe you run into a friend while you are running errands and you clear your schedule to stop and make time for them. You thought it was going to be a casual chat but seeing that they needed you, you adjust your posture to serve them in any way that you can. Here at the church a child comes running in on Sunday morning and you stoop down to stay hello, and seeing they need to play, you make space for them to run around. Someone new wants to join you on a ministry team you lead here, so you slow down to listen for why they wanted to help and adjust to find new ways of doing things from their ideas. The good news in all of this is you can be hospitable without being perfect. You don’t even have to be able to cook, or there can be dog fur on the floor in your house (which is good news for Dave and I). The core of hospitality isn’t a perfect presentation. It is when you stop, you see the person, and you adjust your posture to meet them there.
This is what hospitality can look like with the people we know. But the New Testament also talks about another kind of hospitality - hospitality to strangers. In Romans 12:13 it says “Contribute to the needs of the saints; pursue hospitality to strangers.” In Hebrews 13:2 it says “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” The word in all of these verses for hospitality in the greek is philoxenia, which literally means love (philo) for strangers (xenia). Hospitality then is not just for those we know but for each and every person that we meet. It’s not something we do once in a while at a dinner party. It’s a way we live our lives.
This is what Mary did, and she learned it from Jesus. The Bible talks a lot about Jesus and hospitality. He sat down at tables full of food with other people - usually people no one else would eat with. He stayed in their homes. Once he even turned water into wine. But above all, what we see in Jesus is the hospitality of God toward us.
God stopped waiting for us to come to God on our own.
God saw us for all that we are. God saw our needs, our hopes, our failures and our fears and then
God adjusted his posture toward us. God stooped down to meet us here, coming as Jesus to save us. I love the way Rachel Held Evans wrote about God’s posture toward us. She wrote "God stoops. The God of Scripture stoops and stoops and stoops. At the heart of the gospel message is the story of a God who stoops to the point of death on a cross. Dignified or not, believable or not, ours is a God perpetually on bended knee, doing everything it takes to convince stubborn and petulant children that they are seen and loved.”
God stopped and saw you, just as you are, and then adjusted his posture to stoop down and be with you. Jesus did this over and over again in his ministry. He stooped to write in the sand and protect the woman caught in adultery from those who wanted to stone her. He stooped down next to a paralyzed man, and a hemorrhaging woman. When entire crowds demanded his attention he would stop, see the person in front of him, and stoop down with them. And now Jesus stops and sees you, and stoops down to meet you in whatever mess you are dealing with in your life.
This is the hospitality of God. That God doesn’t ask us to clean up for a fancy meal, but gets down in the dirt with us.All so that you could be seen and loved. That is what we feel when we experience true hospitality. You feel seen and loved. And this is the kind of hospitality we are called to live out not only as individuals, but as a church, so that others can experience this too.
After the train wreck of a dinner with the church committee in Ohio, we finally got our kids to bed and all Dave and I wanted was to go home. But the next morning, the committee - remarkably - wanted to talk to us some more. Dave took a deep breath and asked where we should meet them. And you guys . . . . they invited us to McDonalds. A McDonalds with a play place so our toddler could play. At 11:00 AM, while our infant was still human. I felt. . . . . Seen. And I felt loved.
This is the kind of hospitality we want to create in our lives, all the time, for other people. We can make people feel at home with us. And then we can create a church where all of us can experience that here. Last week Dave talked about home as a place people want to come back to. When we create a place of hospitality, people will want to come home.