The Adventurous Lectionary – The Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 21, 2020
Genesis 18:1-15, Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19, Romans 5:1-8, Matthew 9:35-10:8
This Sunday’s readings connect hospitality, healing, and mission, whether we are in ordinary time, facing a pandemic, or in the middle of protesting injustice. They ask us and our congregations to expect surprises when we align ourselves with God’s vision for our lives. God’s energy and power move through all creation, however, when we are awakened to God’s presence, quantum leaps of energy, reflections of the energy of love, burst forth transforming our lives and the world.
In the encounter of Abraham and Sarah with three divine messengers, and perhaps the divine itself, hospitality leads to unexpected new life. Abraham and Sarah are childless, having given hope of God’s promise that they will be a parent of a great nation. God appears to them in the guise of three visitors. Are these the three persons of the Holy Trinity? Are they angelic emissaries? In any event, Abraham and Sarah set the table for them, and treat these strangers as if they are honored guests. Out of that strange encounter comes an amazing forecast, Sarah, long past menopause, will give birth to a child. She is appropriately amazed and scandalized by the thought. Yet, God’s promises are sure and certain, and within the year, Abraham and Sarah are parents.
New life bursting forth from hospitality. Meeting angels unawares, as the Epistle of Hebrews counsels. When we entertain unexpected guests, our personal and congregational lives are transformed. Moribund churches experience the breath of new life. The encounter of Abraham and Sarah begs the question:
What outsiders do we need to welcome in our congregations? What acts of hospitality will transform our congregation, giving it new life, when the future seemed dim? In the wake of the death of George Floyd, the protests and violence, pandemic limitations how do we appropriately go beyond our comfort zones to respond with hospitality and love? Ho will our hospitality lead to new birth in our lives and congregations?
Psalm 116 continues the spirit of hospitality, asking “what gift can I return to God for all the blessings I’ve experienced?” Abraham and Sarah welcomed the divine and were blessed. Perhaps they remembered the kindnesses they had experienced as strangers. Their hospitality was simply saying “thank you” for the gifts they’d received over the years. We, too, need to ask that question. We, who are blessed, need to bless God and bless others. Loving others and God fit together. We love Creator when we love God’s creatures. Our generosity, I believe, enriches God’s experiences and enables God to be active in the world. By doing something beautiful for God, we contribute to God’s reign of beauty.
God is not aloof and distant, unaffected by the world. God is the most moved mover, who receives every good gifts and uses our gifts as part of God’s redemptive activity. (For more on this vision of a relational God, see Bruce Epperly, “Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God” and “Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed.”)
Our return from our bounty must involve playing our part in healing the world. When we love the world, we love God. When bless others, we bless God. We love the Creator by loving God’s creatures.
Romans 5 describes God’s amazing grace. While we were yet sinners, God sacrificed for our well-being. Salvation is not something we earn, but a gift we receive. God loves us before we can earn God’s love. For Paul, grace is amazing, and far more than we ever deserve, and all we can do is say “yes” and let it flow from us to others. The experience of grace enables us to face the challenges of life, and even difficult situations, knowing that we are in God’s hands, and nothing in death and life can separate us from the love of God. As channels of grace, we must see God’s grace coming to Chauvin and Floyd, Trump and Biden, sinner and saint.
In this series of sayings, Matthew portrays Jesus as a healer and good preacher who commissions his followers to the same vocation. The twelve are to be Jesus emissaries of grace, first to the Jewish people. The initial exclusion of the Samaritans and Gentiles may not be not a concession to racism or xenophobia, but a charge to begin where we are. The message of the gospel will eventually go global, but it must start with people who will be initially most receptive and to whom the first followers of Jesus can share their message. While the world is our parish, as Wesley says, most congregations need to start mission and outreach programs where they are, in their neighborhoods and among their peers, both socially and geographically. This passage begs the questions: Are we ministering in our neighborhood or do we isolate ourselves from our most immediate neighbors? Do we take advantage of the culture in which we live in finding common ground for our message of creative transformation and healing? While we should not restrict our mission to “people like us,” it is a terrible oversight not to respond to the needs of those with whom we have much in common.
The first followers of Jesus are given a “great” commission, in fact, tasks well beyond their – our – abilities, left to our own devises, to restore life, to cure the sick, to challenge the demonic, and to share good news of God’s presence. This task may well beyond our abilities, but when we reach out, we should expect to claim our place as God’s healers, teachers, guides, and justice-seekers. We are always asked to do more than we think we can do, but God gives us the energy to do great things.
This Sunday’s readings awaken us to the life-transforming power of hospitality and faith. When we welcome God’s messengers into our lives, grace will abound, people will be healed, and congregations will flourish.
Bruce Epperly is a Cape Cod pastor, professor, and author of over 50 books including FAITH IN A TIME OF PANDEMIC and GOD ONLINE: A MYSTIC’S GUIDE TO THE INTERNET