Sermon May 14, 21017  Risky Hospitality   by Rev. June Fothergill  Acts 17: 1-15

A man’s wife was in labor with their first child and suddenly she began to shout, “ Shouldn’t, couldn’t , wouldn’t ,didn’t , can’t”  He asked the nurse what was wrong with her. The nurse said, “ She’s having contractions.”

It being Mother’s Day and all,  I was thinking about being a mother  and the process of welcoming a new baby.  It’s exciting and fulfilling but there is also an underlining risk- will I be up to it? What sort of person will he/she be?    Any act of hospitality- welcoming a new person into your sphere involves stretching our hearts and minds. It can involve risks.    I think of Jason and those women of high standing who not only welcomed Paul and Silas but welcomed the word about Jesus and became believers.  They welcomed a new person with a new perspective into their lives.  And it changed even disrupted their lives.

How do you deal with disruption in your life?  Are you one that is good at going with the flow?  Or are you more apt to get distressed and worried about things?   Or maybe you’re one who plans and anticipates possible pit falls and “be ready” is your motto.  Or maybe you’re someone who runs away and hides at the first hint of trouble or the one who stands up and fights.   Maybe some of us have done all those things at different points of our lives depending upon the situation.    One of the things we learn as we read the book of Acts is that the early church was not immune to disruption and troubles, internal and external.   The coming of Jesus the Christ has brought something new and life giving to the world- but the world has not always been able or ready to receive it.  And even among the disciples themselves the way forward wasn’t always agreed.

Yet this story of disruption and conflict is also a story of growth.  The community of believers grew in numbers and places. It grew in faith and  commitment.  It grew beyond its own comfort zones to reach a wider world with the good news of  Jesus Christ and his love and grace.   Choosing to be a believer and a disciple meant a new spiritual relationship and hope but also it could shake up your life!

For example,  Jason.   Imagine what it might have been like to invite someone to your home and then to have the local authorities arrest you for harboring that person.  I would be scared and shocked. Even though they were soon released,  Jason and the other believers still discovered that  following this way of Christ Jesus was not always going to be easy or without risk.

This is a big part of the story of Acts.  The narrative over and over describes experiences of getting in trouble with the local authorities.   The message about Jesus was good news to some but an act of disturbance to others.    Paul usually went first to the Jewish community and spoke at the local synagogue.   Some people listened to his interpretation of scripture and his story of Jesus and believed.  Others did not.  So the community was divided.   The Jews in the Roman Empire had enjoyed much tolerance of their religious beliefs and practices as they spread across the empire.  The coming of the believers in Jesus brought a new element to their lives.  Some were concerned that this view divided and harmed the community.   Others were excited and inspired that Jesus was the messiah and the coming of his kingdom would be soon.

Acts tells us in this passage that the accusers shouted. “ These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also and Jason has entertained them as guests.  They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor saying that there is another king named Jesus.”

Eugene Peterson his  message version of the tale puts it this way, “ These people are out to destroy the world and now they’ve shown upon our doorstep, attacking everything we hold dear.  And Jason is hiding them these traitors and turncoats who say Jesus is king and Caesar is nothing.”

In other words Jason and the other believers had opened the door to all kinds of disruption of the status quo!   Paul and Silas and those who believed in Jesus because of their words were a threat to what these folks valued.    Whether they realized it or not, naming Jesus Lord and king could be seen as going against the Roman Emperor.

So Acts shows us how the new disciples of Jesus experienced not only the saving grace and power of Jesus but also the suffering and persecution of Jesus.   Following Jesus in the book of Acts and being part of the church was not an act of custom or upholding of the status quo, it was an act of disruption, an act that turned the world upside down, that garnered resistance.

Can following Jesus disrupt our lives as well?  Has it?  Ought it?   Lisa Fithian as social justice activist has said that “ Crisis is that edge where change is possible.”   Almost by definition change disturbs something.   The sprout coming up out of the soil disturbs the ground around it.  The new baby in a household can certainly turn everything topsy turvy.

Maybe it’s strange to talk about disruption on Mother’s Day.   Yet,  I remember when my children were born- how excited and happy I was to greet them and to have them part of my life.  I eagerly offered hospitality to this new person.  Yet, the truth is also that having a new baby changed our lives all around.  We had another person to take care of.  I had to come home every two hours to feed my first born.  Everywhere we went came along a whole truckload of baby paraphenalia.   I had to learn the new vocabulary of day care and school and what to feed baby.     Becoming a mother or parent involved me in risky hospitality.

When it was a new baby , despite the disruption,  I believed with all my heart, that it was God at work in our lives- bringing new life.  It was a change that I had chosen and anticipated.   This is the change we like best.   When it feels rooted in what we want from life and what the society affirms as well.   For example, what a wonderful flow of change it is when our children grow up  and join us at church and then have children of their own and bring them to church!  That is a natural flow of events we want and anticipate.   It may bring changes – some new toys for the nursery or the need to organize a Sunday School, but we can handle that!

But what happens when the change isn’t want we anticipate? Or it doesn’t flow like we expect? What if instead of our own children’s children coming to church it’s the children of immigrants who speak a different language, or the children of the homeless family with no place to call their own or the family with a parent in prison  or…  What if the welcome of someone feels disruptive and challenging our own comfortable lives?

This is the dilema we face in many of our churches.    What we thought of as a natural flow from one generation to another is not happening.   We have to discover how to reach out to new people we sometimes don’t yet know or understand.   I remember a  young man who came to one of my little churches.  He came with his grandma.  He struggled to have a sense of place and home.   Yet he was interested in church, came to one of the Council meetings with lots of ideas and energy. He sang in the choir.   The church seemed to welcome him.  But one day I discovered that one of the well meaning grandma types had suggested to him that it wasn’t appropriate for him to wear his piercings when he sang in the choir.   Not too long after that he went away.

Acts teaches me that the spreading of the good news and love of Jesus isn’t a simple easy process.  It can lead to disruption and change in our lives and in the world.    Welcome can be risky.    I know it’s worth it when it’s  something wonderful like a new baby.   I’m less  sure when the disruption  is a lost job or a misunderstanding at work  or an uncomfortable encounter with someone.    Yet, when I really pay attention, I realize that even the tough disruptions, the ones that made me uncomfortable had in them a kernel of growth, an opportunity to learn .

Jason didn’t know that inviting Paul home after Bible study would lead to a knock on his door that night and a trip to the courts.  Yet, that night  he and the others learned that following this Jesus meant a real commitment that would change their lives. They would know the love and grace of Christ but also just might follow him to the cross.  The word and truth that was evident to them was not always so with their neighbors.  In embracing Jesus and his messengers, they were starting out on a new adventure of faith and life.    Through Paul’s letters we hear of a church meeting at Thessalonica, which leads me to speculate that despite the disruption to their lives, these believers kept meeting and believing.

Finally, reflecting on these things makes me very appreciative of the people who have welcomed me into their lives down through the years, starting with my parents and inclusive of all of you here today.  Perhaps I have a heart for the stranger in our midst because I have been a stranger so often in my life.

And I am also so grateful for all the people I have welcomed into my home and heart over the years.  Some of them are still part of my life as friends who live far away but stay in my thoughts. Some are people who touched my life but  we haven’t  or were not able to keep in touch.  I think of the pedicab drivers in Varanasi, India who invited me to eat at their home, who traveled with me on various adventures. They truly touched my life with their welcome but because they did not read or write, it has been impossible to keep in touch.   I think that in some ways each of us has been formed by  the persons we have welcomed into our lives and those who have welcomed us.   Sometimes the welcome experience was full of joy and love, other times it involved hurt and loss.   Yet, In each case, our hearts expanded and took a risk.  We grew.

Acts show us that this kind of risk taking hospitality is at the center of our lives as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. For when we welcome him into our lives- we encounter the world and the all the ones he loves and our lives are changed forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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