A reflection on Philippians 2:1-13 and Matthew 21:23-32 for Proper 21A
A young woman approached the check out line at a grocery store. With a thick accent she asked if the person standing near by was in line. The person could not understand her and got a little exasperated. The woman was embarrassed by her inability to communicate. She left the store in tears and hurried back to her home. To soothe her sorrow she decided to make a cup of tea. Pulling a mug from the cabinet, she thought of her grandmother. Her grandmother was known for her hospitality, always offering someone a cup of tea. Why not invite my neighbors in for a cup of tea, the woman thought. And before she could lose her courage she went to her neighbor’s homes and invited them over. Six people were available to join her for tea. Before long her house was known as a place of hospitality, where a cup of tea was always offered, along with a listening ear, and lively conversation.
Hospitality is an expression of gratitude. Hospitality is the key point in many Bible stories. Jesus’ entire ministry was about hospitality. Hospitality is the foundation of our mission. As a Community-Centered church our mission is to nurture and nourish people in all walks of life as we share our building and grounds. Among the many expressions of hospitality offered here are: AA, feeding the homeless and the hungry through our food pantry and Blessings in a Backpack, Chapel Day Preschool, providing organizations like the League of Women Voters and Creating Hope International with office space for their ministries. We provide space for music, voice, dance lessons and recitals, and martial arts and a stretching class.
In 2010 Christ Church was the recipient of large bequest - a portion of someone’s estate - given to the church without any restrictions. Undesignated gifts are allocated by the Vestry according to our policy: 25% is distributed between the operating budget, a property reserve fund, and the diocese. The remaining 75% is placed in a restricted fund called the Undesignated Gifts Fund. The policy invites parishioners to make proposals for the use of the money in the undesignated gifts fund. To date we have had a number of proposals approved. The criteria for granting a proposal states that the request must fit the mission of the church and be either a new project or an outreach project. Thus far we have used this fund to support “Opportunity Resource” an organization that provides loans for homes or small business ventures to people in SE Michigan who do not quality for a standard loan. We have used the fund to help build the school in Liberia. We have used the fund to provide each of you with the opportunity to Grace It Forward, by helping anyone you wish. And we are using the fund to help pay for the exterior plaza.
I wrote to the executor of the estate for the family who gave us the bequest, to let him know how we are spending the money. He responded by saying how pleased the family would have been with how we are using the money - and - if they had known that we would spend the money with such grace and hospitality and so expansively, they would have given us more money.
We are Nurturing our Attitude of Gratitude with Acts of Hospitality that are transforming the world around us, near and far.
No doubt the SCHOOL project in Liberia was a risky act of hospitality. We anticipated the construction of the school would take years, but now, only one year later, it is more than 50% built. In it’s partially completed state the school is already being used for Sunday School classes and community events. It is already transforming lives. Certainly it has had an impact on us, for we have tangible evidence of what can happen when we “Grace It Forward” and take a risk with God’s generosity.
The exterior plaza may be our boldest initiative yet. At Christ Church we struggle with the idea of spending money on our selves. We tend to think that spending money on “outreach” has the greatest value. There’s truth in that thinking. We certainly do no want to become so focused on ourselves that we lose sight of the world around us. So how is the exterior plaza an act of hospitality and not just “self” focused?
At the end of every funeral or wedding people pour out the front door and gather to greet the family or the couple. Have you tried to do this? Have you noticed the effort it takes to not lose your footing, to not trip on the uneven ground between sidewalk and grass? Offering hospitality during times of celebration and grief is a primary way we nurture an attitude of gratitude and grace it forward.
The church grounds offer several beautiful spaces for people to come for respite. People walk the labyrinth, sit in the benches and read or reflect, spend time in the memorial garden, or wander around our community vegetable garden, admiring our crop. People come with dogs, letting their animals run the back part of the land. Our property is community-centered and offers respite and hospitality to many. The exterior plaza will expand and extend the acts of hospitality that come from our Community-Centered church. It will afford people additional places to sit, read, reflect, gather, and even provide a drink of water for humans or pets with an outdoor water fountain. The opportunities for gathering on the exterior plaza are endless - from music concerts to parties, to outdoor worship. The exterior plaza will be an act of hospitality to friend and stranger alike.
We all were strangers once, before each of us took a risk and found our way to Christ Church. Do you remember the first day you came to here? For some of you, that was not too long ago. For others, it was many years ago. And for a few, there has never been a time when you were not part of this church, born and raised in it. Regardless, God has welcomed each one of us into this place and through growing in relationship with one another we have been transformed from strangers into friends.
The spirit of hospitality we form in this place, through our care for one another, spreads beyond these walls. The sprit of hospitality is shared with every person who walks through our doors and in this building. The spirit of hospitality reaches out into the wider Dearborn community as we fill backpacks with food. The spirit of hospitality reaches across the globe as we partner with our sister church in Liberia to build a school. The spirit of hospitality given to us by the family who left us the bequest reaches beyond their wildest dreams and ours, too. This spirit of hospitality is risky and transformational - it can be none other than the Spirit of God, working in and through us. May we continue to enable the same mind that is in Christ be in us, as Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, and may we be willing to go out into the vineyard and do God’s work in the world, offering acts of hospitality to friend and stranger alike.
Nurtured by An Attitude of Gratitude as we Grace it Forward may we be the Community-Centered Church known for acts of hospitality whether a meal shared or a place to rest or a helping hand.