Sunday June 28, 2020
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Old Testament - Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
New Testament - Matthew 10:40-42
The First Sign of Civilization
INTRODUCTION: The theologian Siobhan Garrigan tells of visiting a Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland around 2010.
Writing a book on the peace process after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, which brought an end to much of the violence in that long troubled spot, Siobhan was traveling the region doing research.
Approaching the entrance to the Presbyterian Church, she was pleased to be met by two women at the door. Inviting her into conversation, Siobhan, however, quickly deduced the two women were being more than just friendly.
Asking Siobhan her first name, as well as the names of other newcomers they didn’t recognize, the two ladies were actually doing reconnaissance work. You see, their job was to try and figure out who were the Catholic worshippers and who were the Protestant ones.
Those folks that gave traditional Protestant names were warmly welcomed and shown seats in the church. Those with Catholic names, the Marias, the Catherines, and the Patricks, well, they were politely told they had come to the wrong church and were gently sent on their way. (Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3)
And so while things are better in Northern Ireland than they have been for a long, long time, there is still need for improvement, right? For even now, there are times when it is hard for Protestants and Catholics to be welcoming and hospitable with each other.
Of course, what’s odd about such behavior, especially from people of faith, is that the Bible is actually packed full of talk about the need for us to be hospitable and welcoming. Yep, from the Old Testament to the New, the notion of hospitality is a predominant one.
From the Old there is that famous passage from Genesis we actually read last week. You know, the one where Abram welcomes and feeds three total strangers who mysteriously show up at his tent one afternoon - two of them seem to be angels while the third appears to be none other than God.
And then there is Moses’ charge from chapter 10 of Deuteronomy. He gets to passing out God’s commands and one of them is for the people of Israel to love the strangers in their land. And why? Well, because the people of Israel were also once strangers too in the land of Egypt.
And then what about in the New Testament? Well, it too is loaded with talk about the need for us to be hospitable. Among the long list of passages, there is that well known one from Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel involving those sheep and goats. The sheep, the good disciples, are ones who provide clothing for the naked, food for the hungry, and drink for the thirsty, while also welcoming strangers. Jesus, in fact, actually goes so far as to say doing such things for others is the same thing as doing them for and to him.
And then there are Jesus’ words from our reading for today. Sending his disciples out to be his emissaries, he echoes the talk from Matthew 25. “Those who welcome you, welcome me,” says Jesus, “and those who welcome me, welcome the one who sent me.”
So the Bible is full of passages exhorting us to be welcoming and hospitable.
But even more importantly than all those passages from the Bible encouraging us to be welcoming, there is Jesus’ very life.
For he did more than just talk about the need to be welcoming, right? He also practiced what he liked to preach. So no wonder many consider hospitality to be one of the cornerstones of our faith.
After all, last time I checked the Gospel stories Jesus, when welcoming others, repeatedly failed to pull out a list of qualifications to make sure folks were kosher enough to receive the invite. He didn’t ask Matthew the tax collector his particular political party affiliation before picking him up as a disciple.
He didn’t ask Zaccheaus what side of the tracks his house was on before inviting himself over for dinner. Nor did he allow the shabby and lowly social condition of that ostracised Samaritan woman get in the way of reaching out to her. And when that hated Roman military officer came begging for help because of his ill servant, well, Jesus didn’t turn him away either.
Nope. Jesus had this strange way of sort of living his life boundaryless. While the world around him was certainly chock-full of boundaries, Jesus hardly seemed to take notice of them.
When told he wasn’t supposed to be talking with certain people, Jesus went and struck up a conversation with them. When told he was eating and partying with the wrong crowd, he stayed until that bell for the last call was rung. And when he came across a line drawn in the sand, he had a horrible habit of scratching it out with his feet as he trod over it.
So Jesus did more than just talk about being welcoming. Shoot. He lived that way too.
And while it’s never a bad time to be reminded of the need to be hospitable and welcoming, we live in a time when such remembering is especially needed, right?
After all, we live in a society currently overwhelmed by lines and boundaries. Any sense of a shared common life is simply overshadowed right now by the assorted boundaries used to divide and separate us.
Yep. These days we live so splintered being hospitable is almost a prophetic act, isn’t it? For rather than be generous and welcoming with each other, we seem to mostly see enemies everywhere. And enemies, as we all know, are always easy targets for a person’s hate, cruelty, and indifference - I know they certainly are for me.
Now please don’t get me wrong. To be hospitable doesn’t mean we have to agree with a person’s views or even approve of their behavior. We can have deep disagreements with other people for sure. But, it seems to me, we can’t allow those disagreements to make us indifferent to those very same people. We have to figure out a way to still love people even when it might not be easy.
Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist, was once asked during an interview what she considered the first sign of civilization in any culture. And surprisingly, she failed to mention many of things one might assume would be top possibilities.
She didn’t say it was the domestication of plants and animals, or the development of metalworking, or the manipulation and use of fire. Nope. According to Margaret Mead, the first sign of civilization was a healed femur - that large bone which runs between the knee and the hip.
For as Mead explained, healed femurs aren’t found in societies where “the law of the jungle” is the norm, or where people lack a common life and a shared destiny. A healed femur shows someone cared.
A healed femur shows someone looked after the injured person and probably even took on his or her assigned tasks within the tribe during recovery. A healed femur, in other words, showed evidence of compassion and concern, which Mead said is always the first sign of civilization for any culture.
CONCLUSION: Well, being hospitable is like so many of the other things Jesus asks us to do. It isn’t really conditional, is it?
It’s not something, in other words, that we only have to do when convenient. Since it’s a principle for living as a disciple, it’s something we have to work at all the time - even when hard, especially when hard.
And so now more than ever, it’s important to be hospitable, right?
And now to Jesus Christ, who loves us and freed us from our sins and made us to be a kingdom, priests of his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.