This road we are called to walk with Jesus is not an easy one: being countercultural never is. Christians throughout time and around the world have been met with violence; persecution; lack of hospitality, safety, shelter, and comfort. We hear this in the first vignette of the Gospel as James and John go to the Samaritans. We hear Jesus say this to his followers: “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Even for us today, here in the United States, we can find our lives of faith at odds with the standards set for us by society. This is not a new revelation, but a consistent theme of Christian life for more than 2000 years. So why bring it up again?
The point of this is to remind those early followers, and all of us, of what living a Christ like life entails. This Gospel passage takes away all the fine print and puts the risk out in the open. But, with great risk comes great reward. The reward of unending joy, blessing, love, grace, mercy, and everlasting life with God.
The sole purpose of our call to this life is the profound love God has for humanity. No violence is brought down on the Samaritans as James and John wish, because such an act is absolutely incongruous with the mission, identity, purpose, and life of God as lived out in Jesus Christ.
God loves us with a sacrificial love – a love that seems contrary to all the ways society says we are to love. We are called to live into, with all of our being, the countercultural love of God. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, no matter if you’ve been the Samaritans or James and John, whether you think you deserve it or not, we are all recipients of God’s love. That gift of love is the greatest gift we could ever ask for or imagine. Now, above all else, we are called to share that love with this broken and hurting world.
In October 2012, The Pew Forum released a survey of Americans and their religious belief. The Pew study revealed that one in five Americans have no religious affiliation: For people under thirty, that number is one in three. Figuring out how to connect and reach out to these religious “nones” has been the topic of conversation for Christian leaders for the past several months. But, unlike some of the other buzzwords and topics, I think this one is very, very important.
At its last meeting, the hospitality council began to ask some really fascinating questions. My favorite is; how do we show hospitality to the wider community? As our conversation has begun to unfold I wondered about the “nones” in our community. How can we connect with them? How can we reach out to them? How can we listen to their stories and learn from what turned them away from the Church in the first place? But, I wonder about more than just the “nones,” I wonder about all the people in our community. I wonder about how we can reach out to everyone around us? How can we share the abundant gifts we have? How can we build relationships with those outside our walls?
In Sunday’s epistle from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we hear a well-known piece of scripture. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Here Paul is speaking about the divisions of his time, but we can just as easily come up with all those things which divide us today: race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, political affiliation, education, sports team, etc. We are reminded that these things don’t matter, that we are all called to be one in Christ – to be in community with one another.
When we hear Paul’s words on Sunday, may they enliven us and inspire our discernment as we try to find new ways of being community and building relationships with all those around us. May we be strengthened to listen to how they have felt unwelcomed. And may these words encourage us to put aside our differences and recognize the presence of Christ in all people – whether they see the presence of Christ in themselves or not.
The word Eucharist comes from the Greek word (eucharistia) meaning “thanksgiving.” We come week by week to give our thanks and praise to God as we celebrate the Eucharist together. This is our principal act or worship and the core of who we are as Christians. As such, we are then called to go forth from this place to live lives rooted in that same sense of thankfulness. In this Sunday’s Gospel, we see a profound example of it means to live this life.
Jesus has been invited to Simon’s home, and we are told that a woman in the city, who was a sinner, bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears and dries them with her hair. She kisses his feet and anoints them. Jesus says to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” and “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” This woman showed abundant welcome and hospitality to Jesus in her act of thankfulness. Her faith – lived out in her act of hospitality and thankfulness – has made her whole.
May we come to the altar this Sunday, and every Sunday, as an act of great thanksgiving for God’s presence in our lives. No matter where we are on our journey of faith, in good times and challenging times, we must come and share our holy meal together. For when we do, we are strengthened and nourished to go out and show abundant hospitality to friend and stranger. Just like this woman showed to Jesus.