In the Psalm we read this evening, we are promised a God of revenge and justice. It’s a tempting vision of God. One that comes in a mighty cloud, wreaking havoc on those who persecute the innocent, “He saves them from the hand of him who is hating, and redeems them from the enemy.” Reading the news this past week, seeing images of children wailing without their parents, dazed and in shock and with the thick irony that yesterday was the international day of the refugee in the church prayer cycle, it’s hard to see God’s Justice anywhere. This is the eternal question–how can God allow such terrible things to happen?
I don’t have an answer. Better people than I have struggled for centuries to come up with an answer to this question. The most common answer is that it is people who create evil in the world, that it is our flaws that mess up God’s perfect creation–and this does seem to ring pretty true to me most of the time. God didn’t make the Earth and then see a need to draw a bunch of lines on it and decide that nobody should cross them, or put mothers and fathers and children into separate cages if they did.
In the words of an old cartoon, drawn during World War II–another time of great evil on our fragile beautiful planet “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”
I still have to believe the core message of the Gospel. In the horror of this world, to do anything else would drive me straight to uncontrollable madness. I have to believe, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu states: that “love is stronger than hate, that goodness is stronger than evil, and that life is stronger than death.” But there’s another call in the message of the Gospel that I have to believe in. That Jesus calls us to be merciful. That the Gospels command us to practice hospitality.
Biblical hospitality is something I’ve thought a great deal about. Beginning a ministry that serves coffee to my church’s neighbours seemed bizarre to a lot of people in our larger congregation–but to me, from the very beginning, it made perfect sense. Hospitality, which for over twenty years of my crooked paths had been my trade, isn’t just about commerce. Although I have been trained at the Ritz Carlton and through a prestigious management program at the world famous Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan–it was my training in Sunday School and working for churches that was more important in this job.
The process of Biblical hospitality is a ritualistic practice that transforms the stranger into the guest. When the disciples were told to go out into the world, they’re told to “take nothing for their journey” because they needed to rely on the hospitality of those they intend to preach to. If they weren’t offered hospitality, they were told to perform the ritual act of “shaking the dust” of the town off of their feet– an act of great insult to those proved unworthy of hearing the message. Hospitality during the first century was serious business. Hospitality was a ritual practice known to first century people as well as the breaking of the bread and the blessing of the wine. Failure to practice it was a sin that rendered people unworthy of the presence of the Apostles– it rendered them unworthy of hearing the message of Christ. Hospitality should still be serious business for any Christian. Any Christian, anywhere, should still carry as one of their strongest mandates the mandate to welcome the stranger and to transform that stranger into a guest.
Part of our mandate, the most important commandment according to Christ, is to love our neighbour as ourselves. Christian love is a verb– and one of the ways we as Christians should act it out is by offering hospitality to strangers. All strangers. This is the Biblical commandment that Christ tells us strikes down all others. Loving our neighbours takes strangers into our buildings and our homes and turns them into our guests. To love our neighbours commands us to see the face of Christ on our neighbours– and they are all our neighbours– the children, the parents, the refugees.
Again and again, I’m frustrated that I am so small. That I can’t change the world. I can write letters to my MPP, emails to senators, and make phone calls to government officials. I can make donations to organizations that I believe work for positive change. But often, we must realize that the smallest things make the largest impacts in the lives of those around us. The small acts of hospitality we can do in our daily lives are impacting the world– making ripples of justice out into God’s mighty streams.
If we look to the Gospel, we see that Jesus commands us to do the small things: “I give you a new commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you.” Practice hospitality, urge others to do the same, do what you can, in your tiny corner of God’s big world. Make ripples, and pray like hell for tidal waves.