April 30, 2017
+ Now, I know by this point, you are all starting to groan when I start talking about our stained glass windows again. I apologize for that. But, I am really excited about our new windows. And we should be too. These windows are, as you are probably coming to see, like great big mirrors on our walls. They are reflecting in many ways what we do here at St. Stephen’s.
But I am not going to mention today the windows we already have, or even the window that will be coming up in the next few weeks—St. Cecilia—or even the one after that—St. Stephen. I’m going to talk about the window that is going in in the last spot on our east wall—Sts. Benedict and Scholastica. And more importantly, what that window will represent. That window will represent something we have worked hard to do here at St. Stephen’s. That window will represent that very important—the incredibly VITAL—ministry of hospitality. RADICAL Hospitality. And if you want to know what real ministry is about, then this is IT.
Real ministry, as we have all discovered, is not about the almighty ME—the individual. It is about US—all of us, the children of God. Radical Hospitality is not easy. Ministry is not easy. Sharing our time, our energy, our physical building, is not easy.
Because being radically welcoming means welcoming people we, personally, might not want to welcome. People who irritate us, or rub counter to our own views of what church should be.
This isn’t a judgment, mind you. I am preaching to myself here.
There have been moments in my time here at St. Stephen’s when I have had to deal with people whom we’ve welcomed here who have taken advantage of our hospitality. And that’s one of the pitfalls of being radically welcoming. Being radically welcoming does not mean being a radical doormat. It’s good to have good boundaries in being radically welcoming.
But, through trial and error, through good experiences and bad, radical hospitality is what we do—and do well—here at St. Stephen’s. And we should be glad that we are that kind of congregation. That is what that window represents. But we’ll talk about all of that in a moment.
In today’s Gospel, we find hospitality as well. We find this beautiful story of Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple encountering Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Cleopas and the other disciple are, essentially, already in a strange time in their life in following Jesus. The long week of Jesus’ betrayal, torture and murder are behind them. The resurrection has happened, although, it’s clear from their words, they don’t quite comprehend what’s happened.
Of course, who could? We still, two thousand years later, are grappling with the events of Jesus’ resurrection.
But as these two walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus, they are kept from recognizing their friend, the person they saw as the Messiah, until finally he breaks the bread with them. Only then—only when he breaks that bread open to share with them—do they recognize him. It’s a wonderful story and one that has many, many layers of meaning for each of us individually, no doubt.
But for us Episcopalians, for us who gather together every Sunday and every Wednesday to break bread together, this story takes on special meaning. In a sense, we are the disciples in this reading. We are Cleopas and the unnamed disciple, walking on the road—walking, as they are, in that place on the other side of the cross.
They are walking away from Jerusalem, where all these events happened—the betrayal, the torture the murder and the eventual resurrection of Jesus from the tomb—back to Emmaus, to their homes. Like them, we go around in our lives on the other side of the cross, trying to understand what it means to be followers of Jesus on this side of the cross.
What this story teaches us is that, even when we don’t recognize Jesus in our midst, we should always be cautious. He might not make himself known to us as he did to Cleopas and the other disciple.
Rather, he might remain cloaked in that stranger who comes to us. And as a result, it’s just so much better to realize that everyone we encounter, everyone we greet, everyone we welcome, everyone we make room for, truly is Jesus disguised.
Which brings us back to our forthcoming St Benedict window. As many of you know, there are many Benedictine Oblates at St Stephen’s—James, Emily Woolwine and your truly—and there are many others of us who are truly Benedictine in spirit. I have the good fortune of celebrating my 25th anniversary this year of being an Oblate. Benedictine Oblates and other Benedictine-minded people strive in our lives to follow the Rule of St. Benedict, an ancient, though very amazing document.
In that Rule, there is one particular amazing reference: In the 53rd Chapter of the Rule, St. Benedict writes:
All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
That is very, very powerful. And that’s what that forthcoming window will represent. Because it’s most definitely what we do here at St. Stephen’s.
But, for a moment, just imagine what an incredible world this would be if everyone could do this—if everyone could practice radical hospitality like St. Benedict. What an amazing Christian Church we would have if we could do the same, if we could welcome every stranger—and every regular parishioner as well—as Christ.
Imagine if we welcomed even our very enemies as Christ. I think many Christians forget this. We are called to welcome all people as Christ, because we do not know when we will encounter him, in whatever guise he might choose to come to us.
Now, of course, that’s not easy. In fact, sometimes it’s downright impossible. Without God’s help, we can’t do it. Without God’s help—without the Holy Spirit—we first of all can’t even begin to recognize Christ in our midst. And without God’s help, we can’t seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
And, let’s face, it’s just easier to choose not to. It’s much easier to grumble and mumble and complain. It’s much easier to backbite. It’s easy not to see Christ in those people who drive us crazy, who irritate us, who say things to us we don’t want to hear. It’s much, much easier for us to see the devil in people, rather than Christ.
But for us who gather together every Sunday at this table—at this altar—we can’t use that excuse of being unable to recognize Jesus in our midst. Jesus IS in our midst.
In our liturgy, we find Jesus in a multitude of ways. Jesus speaks to us in the scripture readings we hear in the Liturgy of the Word. The voice we hear in these sacred words is truly Jesus’ voice, speaking to each of us in our own particular circumstances, and to all of us as whole.
Jesus is present with us—in ALL of us—as we gather here. We—the assembly of the people—we, all of us together, are the presence of Jesus here as well.
And when we break this bread at the altar, we find whatever spiritual blindness we come here with is lifted at that time. We see Christ truly present with us—in the bread and the wine, and in one another.
Radical hospitality DOES make a difference. Greeting people as though Jesus were present in each person who comes through that door has incredible results—not in only in our collective life here at St. Stephen’s, but in the lives of each of those people coming among us.
We are showing them that, despite the occasionally somewhat ugly reputation the Church has at times—and sometimes deservedly so—we, as the Body of Christ in this world, can do much good as well. We can truly love. We can truly be accepting—of all people, no matter who or what they are. We can truly see clearly that Jesus does still walk beside us. We can see that he is with us here as we listen to the scriptures and he is here with us that this table in the breaking of the bread.
So, today, let us hear—truly hear—his words in the scriptures we have just shared and in the scriptures we will read this week. Let us allow Jesus to speak to us with words that are familiar, with a voice that is familiar. Let us allow him to take away whatever spiritual blindness we might have so that we can truly and completely see him in those people who share our life with us. Let us allow him to take away that spiritual blindness that causes so much harm in the world so that we can fully experience him and show love and respect to everyone we come in contact with.
And when we break this bread this morning, let our hearts sing, as it no doubt did for Cleopas and the other disciple,
“Be known to me, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of bread.”
And recognizing him here, as we come forward to be nourished in body and spirit by his Body, Blood and Spirit. may we also go out into the world, able to recognize Jesus as he walks alongside us on our journey.
We are living, in this moment, on the other side of the cross. We are living here, with Jesus in our very midst. It is truly a glorious place to be.