Sunday, July 06, 2008

Living the Rule

The Rev. Linda Campbell
Matthew 10: 40 - 42

Proper 8A

The last couple of weeks, you have been treated to some great preaching. A couple weeks ago, Nancy Olson told us stories about what the hospitality and companionship of this parish and of other Christians meant to her as she raised her mildly autistic son and followed a call into ordained service. Bishop Marc told us stories of welcome and hospitality experienced by his father, when he was a young man in Saudi Arabia.

I have long thought that hospitality is the core Christian virtue, and have preached this in every parish I have served – every youth group I have led, every Sunday School class I have taught. I am firmly convinced of the accuracy of the Benedictine rule: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me”… Once a guest has been announced, the superior and the community are to meet the guest with all the courtesy of love. First of all, they are to pray together and thus be united in peace…. Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect.” Follow the Benedictine rule and you will find that it helps you slow down and pay attention. It will help you see God - in the young and the old. In the rich and the poor. In the people you know - and the people you don't know.

I've been in a funk recently and so I know it's time to renew my commitment to deliberately practice hospitality - to go out of my way, every day, to open my mind and my heart and my life to others. I invite you to reflect with me on what welcoming life looks like.

First of all, it means having an open mind. To get an open mind, it helps a lot to read Scripture and walk awhile with Jesus. Joan Chittester reminded me recently that "Jesus was an assault on every closed mind in Israel. To those who thought that illness was a punishment for sin, Jesus called for openness. To those who considered tax collectors incapable of salvation, Jesus called for openness. To those who believed that the Messiah had to be a military figure, Jesus was a call to openness." It is impossible to immerse yourself in deep and reflective reading of the Scriptures, and not be called to the hospitality of the mind that makes room for women in bright pink and shaved heads, or the love that blossoms and grows between people, regardless of gender, or the real need for the basic political will to safeguard our planet. When we make room in our minds for the ideas of the gospel - the barriers of fear and prejudice come tumbling down.

I was a bit chagrined last week when Bishop Marc reported that he had had an extra five minutes on his way here – and so when he saw the Code Pink house on Solano Ave., had pulled in to say hello. I pass by that house almost every day on my way to the church – and had yet to stop in. Even more to the point, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to stop in! With those faded pink banners hanging out front, and the large truck with signs all over it and the unkempt front yard, AND those women who do wacky street theater on behalf of peace – it was just a bit over the top for my basically conservative nature.

So, what I couldn’t do for myself – was done for me. The word from Bishop Marc to Code Pink was that they have allies right down the way – in us – and so, given this friendly push - I have crossed the threshold of their home and am ready to open my mind and meet these wonderfully wild women who give themselves so wholeheartedly to the cause of peace in the world.

Beyond an open mind, being welcoming means having an open heart. How does your heart open? It helps to practice being warm and gentle with others and yourself – when you answer the phone, when you are at the breakfast table, when you are walking the dog. It means treating others with respect. This past week, Bishop Marc gave us the story of his father, who worked in the Saudi Arabian oil fields when he was a young man – and made friends with the Bedouin workers - unlike the other oil men who ignored or made fun them. Bishop Marc’s father learned bits of the Bedouin language and treated them with respect. In return, they took him far out into the desert, into their homes that far removed from the modern world – a world in which hospitality was the central virtue. Heart connections were made and life time friendships resulted. Stories of those friendships were passed on to Marc and his brothers and sisters, as well as to the children born into the Bedouin camps – and those stories became stories that have since been on passed on in many places – including now, at St. Alban’s.

As many of you do, I have the habit of buying food for those who ask. I have walked into Gordo’s many times, to buy burritos for Quint and others who are often on the sidewalk out front. I don’t know about you – but I don’t regularly sit down and give them the food of friendship. Why? Because buying burritos and saying hello feels good and it’s easier. Sitting down and eating with them and having long rambling conversations means letting them into my life and that means change – and the truth is, when you let people into your lives – you cannot know in advance what kind of change that will bring.

The truth is that a heart that welcomes the prophet and the teacher and the little ones – is “a place where the truth of the oneness of all things shatters all barriers, a point where all the differences of the world meet and melt, where Jew and Gentile, slave and free, woman and man all come together as equals.” And that, my friends, is the beginning of revolution. When we let new people and new ideas into our hearts, we begin to shape a new world. The good thing is that it is a new world that is filled with a lot of potential friends rather than probable enemies!

But welcoming others doesn’t just mean thinking new things or feeling new feelings about people we were harsh with – or more likely, simply didn’t think about – it means opening our lives. And that can be overwhelming can’t it? The world – through the internet, the 24/7 news, magazine – is ever in front of us. We KNOW that the poor are poor, that the lonely are lonely, that wars are waged and that young people are dying, that honeybees and salmon and hundreds of other ubiquitous species are disappearing. We know – but we often don’t know why. But truly welcoming the little ones – the ones for whom food is becoming scarce and are extremely expensive, means finding out why – finding out the connections between how we live – as well as the larger question of government and corporate policies – and caring. Real hospitality to the prophets and teachers of our time – people who are telling us loud and clear that the planet is in trouble – and that the “little ones”, the poor ones – are the ones who are bearing the initial brunt – real hospitality means that we consider how to take these concerns into our lives.

Being truly welcoming means bending some efforts to change things, to make a haven for the helpless, to be a voice for the voiceless – it means stretching our ideas of home and family and church to others. What I don’t want for my family and friends and fellow church goers – I do not want for others. What I want for my children, I want for the children of Ecuador and Iran and Nigeria. So – when Ruth has out her table for Amnesty International, I will participate. When I get an email from Episcopal Public Policy Network that my senator needs a letter about the farm bill that affects American small farmers as well as millions of hungry people around the world, I will write that letter. I will pledge money to the church and to some ecology group that is working on climate change and global poverty. I will pay attention to recycling and take the extra time to figure out which can to put trash into. I will take public transportation as often as possible. I will, in other words, do something.

Nodding to your neighbor and shaking hands with newcomers when you pass the peace – that is all good and important but it’s not the kind of hospitality and welcome that Jesus called his disciples to practice. The kind of welcoming that he talked about, is not just about being nice. When you stop to give a cup of cool water to the little ones of the world – you have stopped long enough to notice a need and do something about it. That means being willing to be interrupted and inconvenienced – and it is THE way to come out of yourself – out of any funk you might be in - out of your limited world and into the much larger world of God’s hospitality. Indeed, into God’s welcome to you!

Resource: Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today, Joan Chittester, OSB