July 21, 2019

2019 July21_FrIan

Hospitality - Proper 11 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger

 

Hospitality. It comes in many forms. The word comes from the Latin hospes, which means not only “host”, but also “guest”, or “stranger”. And like in the reading from Genesis, hospitality in many ancient cultures involved welcoming the stranger and offering food, shelter, and safety; Abraham and Sarah’s response to the arrival of the 3 Visitors was the custom of tent-dwellers of the time.

 

This month, our Bible readings are filled with notions of hospitality. Two weeks ago, Jesus commissioned the 70, and He instructed them to rely on the hospitality of those to whom they went. The context for the Gospel for today is around the hospitality that Mary and Martha are providing for Jesus. Next week, Jesus compares the hospitality – or hostility, which is from the same Latin root word – of friends in need to that of God the Father.

 

When it comes to hospitality, Americans excel, it’s what makes America great! There is something deeply engrained in most of us that we must be ready for any eventual hospitality that may arise. I’m sure in many of your mother’s homes and even in your own, Saturdays would be spent baking, baking cookies in quadruple batches, filling the cookie jar and putting the remainder in the freezer. This wasn’t because our mothers loved cookies. It was in case a neighbor dropped in. She could just nip down to the freezer, and the cookies would be of a reasonable temperature by the time the coffee was brewed. If it wasn’t homemade cookies, I’m sure your mother or you have something ready to set before an unexpected visitor.

 

Our culture is a drop-in culture; neighbors and friends just drop by. And in many areas, dropping-in might be from far away, particularly in rural areas. And I’m sure that you long-time residents of San Luis Obispo have always been the stopping point for friends and family traveling from south to north or from north to south.

 

Chevalier Louis de Jaucourt in his contribution to the 18C Encyclopédie describes hospitality in the as

 

“the virtue of a great soul that
cares for the whole universe
through the ties of humanity”.


In the Sacrament, that perfectly describes Jesus Christ: “the virtue of a great soul that cares for the whole universe through the ties of humanity”. Jesus is the virtue of a great soul who cares for the whole universe. His earthly ministry was His tie with humanity, and His charge to humanity is to collectively be the great soul that cares for the whole universe as the Church, the Body of Christ.

So, we must always be ready to say to the stranger or friend:

 

“Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves.”

 

Bread. Bread is simple; bread is available at every economic level; bread is an everyday staple. That is why it is mentioned in the Bible over 300 times and used by Jesus to symbolize His Body. If we had the time and space this morning, we would make bread together, and learn together how to “Bake and Be Blessed”. That’s the title of a book by Father Dominic Garramone, a Benedictine monk at St. Bede Abbey in Illinois. If you watch PBS cooking shows, he was the host of “Breaking Bread with Father Dominic” back in the 90s. The book takes the reader – and baker – through the stages of bread baking as a metaphor for spiritual growth. It’s the basis for a good retreat program or Lent Series on the spirituality of food. Bread of many different kinds is a staple in almost every culture, and Father Dominic provides a recipe for deepening our understanding of just how important bread is in our lives as spiritual nutrition.

 

In his book, “Bake & Be Blessed”, he begins by sharing how bread baking can be a spiritual exercise. In the second chapter, Father Dominic writes about mise en place – to put in place. This is the process of making sure everything you need is in place. His staff for the TV show had to do a pre-production exercise of having not just all the ingredients and utensils in place, but also the various stages of mixing and baking ready for the shoot. It would have been very inconvenient if the filming had to be stopped to get a tool or to wait for the bread to be at the right stage for the next step to be filmed.

 

Father Dominic says that it is the same for us:

 

“We need to assemble the utensils and ingredients necessary for our recipe for spiritual growth.”

 

This is good advice, and throughout the week, we should be working on that we need to have in place in order to worship on Sundays, and Sundays provide us with the tools and ingredients to continue our spiritual lives throughout the week.


The need for the pre-production steps also suggests that we need Sarahs and Marthas in our lives, whether they be an element of our own personalities or loved ones who care for us. We need people who will make ready 3 measures of flour and who will do all the preparation necessary for the arrival of God in our lives. We need to take the time to metaphorically make cookies to have ready in the freezer. It is that Sarah time, that Martha time that opens up the opportunities for us to sit as Jesus’ feet and listen to Him. In the Eucharist, Jesus is our gift from God in the Wine and the Bread, prepared before the world began. Our time together today was prepared by our diligent and detail-oriented Altar Guild, enabling us to simply come for the gift of Jesus, and to sit at His feet, as our worship symbolizes.

 

In the Old Testament, bread was a gift of God – there was ‘bread of blessing’ and ‘saving bread’. The former was made by the people; the latter was received by the people as a gift from God to save them from hunger. Saving Bread included the Manna from Heaven when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and the bread at the Feeding of the 5,000.

 

Our worship is centered around Saving Bread: The Bread of Life, Jesus’ Body and Blood of the Sacrament. The Sacrament – the Saving Bread – is offered to us from Jesus Christ. The Sacramental Bread – Christ’s Body – is Jesus offering hospitality to us. We arrive at His altar and receive His food, shelter and safety. So, our hospitality to one another and to others, our welcoming one another another’s into this worshiping community, is welcoming them into Jesus’ hospitality of the giving of Himself to God’s People:


as the St Stephen’s Family, our
mise en place is the living out of
our Mission Statement of
Welcoming, Worshiping,
Working.


We are Jesus’ guests, once strangers and now companions at His banquet, our Eucharist Feast – “companions” meaning “bread fellows” or “bread sharers”. Next summer is when we will hear the Jesus as the Bread of Life passages in John ch6. No doubt you will be hearing more from Father Dominic then.

 

The bread which Abraham and Sarah share with the 3 Visitors, with God Himself, is a precursor of Jesus’ offering of Himself as the Bread of Life. The hospitality which Abraham and Sarah offer the 3 Visitors, and which Martha and Mary offer to Jesus, are models for the attention we are to give God in our daily lives. God shows up unexpectedly, God sometimes feels like a stranger, but God invites us into a deep relationship of love through the Image of the Invisible God, Jesus, our Companion, our Bread Fellow.

 

Our worship this morning began with the arrival of strangers and ended with companions; it began with God in the visage of 3 humans and ended with the Image of the Invisible God, Jesus, with Mary at His feet. As we share in the Body of Christ, the saving and sacramental bread that we will eat together, we quickly go from being strangers, and we become companions, sharing in that

 

“virtue of a great soul that cares
for the whole universe through
the ties of humanity”.

© 2019 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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