7th Sunday after Pentecost—Year C—July 7, 2013
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh Lord, our strength, and our redeemer.
As many of you know, I spent the last week serving as chaplain at Calumet, the Lutheran camp up in New Hampshire. The theme this year is Faith Alive! The verse that served as the foundation for the week was 1 Corinthians 16: 14 “let all that you do be done in love.” Each of the five full days of camp, we focused on a different community faith practice. These faith practices: reading the Bible, worshipping, praying, providing hospitality, and living a life of service to the world, are not a checklist of how to gain eternal life, but they can feed our belief and help us to faithfully engage the world around us, with an attitude of love. For “how we live out our faith matter, even if our salvation does not depend on it.”
On top of preparing for my chaplain-y duties, working on this sermon, and other routine church work, while at camp, I spent more time than usual reading. Before leaving camp, I finished “Take This Bread” by Sara Miles. The gist of this memoir is that a middle-aged atheist walks into a church randomly one day, takes communion, and it changes her life, ultimately leading her to start a massive food pantry program. Her hunger leads her to feed others, and she sees that same cycle happen over and over again, as recipients of food, pantry guests, eventually become volunteers and start hosting.
So as I’m reading the texts for today at the picnic table that was my office for the week, I had the curriculum for the hospitality and service days running through my head, along with Sara’s story of being fed, feeding, and being fed by feeding, and then a pastor friend of mine sent me a link to a YouTube video. It was of a TED talk by Amanda Palmer, an alternative musician, talking about crowd sourcing, which is a new trend of getting friends, fans, and even complete strangers to provide capital for any kind of project you might be doing instead of going on “Shark Tank” and trying to get some venture capitalist to fund your idea, business, product, or passion. She talks about the difficulty that many find in asking for help, and suggests it is because of the vulnerability that is involved.
So I’m thinking about what I’m going to say to campers, age 8 to 18 about hospitality and service as faith practices, and this book I’m reading, and this video, all while reading the texts for today. And immediately, they all converged—pointing to why Jesus sent the apostles off the way he did.
First of all, he sent them off in pairs. A reminder that we are not nearly as effective alone, especially when engaging in as difficult and dangerous work as spreading the gospel can be.
But Jesus also sends them out empty-handed. Their mouths are filled with the good news, and they are empowered to heal those in need, but they go out with nothing else, other than their partner.
Jesus sends the seventy out empowered, but vulnerable. They are going to have to rely on total strangers to sustain them. He does not mean to suggest that people will have to pay them for their services and their message, but that the healing and sharing will take place in the midst of an established relationship. A relationship initiated by hospitality. A reciprocal relationship where both parties have something to offer, are willing to give, AND are willing to receive. In other words, they share Christ in the midst of bearing “one another’s burdens,” within the pairs and between the pairs and their hosts.
That is the “new creation,” the relationship, the community—not some transformed individual that has it all—but pairs that work together, leaning more on the gifts of one sometimes, and at other times, depending more on the other.
This is not an easy thing to do. Being in relationship with one another, working in the midst of community is messy, but it is through the vulnerability of asking for or even just simply accepting help that we connect as humans.
I reminded the campers this week that hospitality is a two-way street. It is not just about welcoming someone into your life and expecting them to fit it your normal. Hospitality is a give and take, a mutual sharing, and a giving of yourself and openness to receive something from the other. It is eating “what is set before you,” letting the other person share as much about themselves with you as you share about yourself.
It is only when there is this mutuality in hospitality that we begin to honestly see each other. And Amanda Palmer says “when we really see each other, we want to help each other.” This is why she is not ashamed to ask for help, for money for her next album, or a place to hold a free gig, or a couch to sleep on; she recognizes that she gains so much more when she asks for help then just the thing she requests, she gains connection/relationship at the same time.
So with all this floating around in my mind, I began thinking about how any of this makes a difference in our lives: as individuals and as a community gathered in the name of Christ. We have been talking about the fact that every one here has their own gifts and talents and passions—their own ways to serve God—but we tend to stop there. What if, when we sing the hymn of the day, We All Are One in Mission, in a bit, we do only include those singing, those gathered right here, right now in that “we,” but we think of the “we” as the entire town of Framingham, or the entire community of Metro West, or even the entire USA. Instead of thinking how we, Christians/Lutherans/ the church-going types, can go out and serve others, what if we considered those “others” as partners, equals, serving with us?
How much more can we spread the God’s love and message of justice and equality to the world when we work with those we think are in need instead of just imposing our ideas for service on them? How much more can we connect, and on that level show them first hand that each human matters and is gifted and loved, when we realize that those who are different from us have something to offer to us in addition to what we have to offer them? We can go out on our mission: to serve and preach, but we also go out and get served and preached to, and then we, like the seventy, will surely return “with joy.” Amen.