Year A; Proper 17; 8.30.2020

Romans 12:9-21


Good morning, friends!  Good morning, saints!

I had a very restful vacation, but I’m extremely glad to be back with you.

Many of you know that I took my dog Sophie to stay at a cabin on Flanders Bay Down East for two weeks. The cabin was advertised as “Rustic.” “Rustic” meant that I heard scratching sounds on the cabin walls at night and that the signal for the TV didn’t work. But that didn’t matter because the area is so beautiful. Nearly every day, I took my folding chair and my little folding side table, put Sophie on a long lead and went places to just sit and be in nature. Thanks for the time away.

As I said, the TV in the cabin did not work, but the WiFi did.  So, in the evenings, I listened to podcasts. BBC offers one on topics of history. Several scholars are interviewed for an hour on people or events of world history. I listened to one podcast on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The scholars told the story of Bonhoeffer speaking out against the Nazis very publicly and very early on.  But later, when he realized that the Nazis were systematically incorporating the churches under their flag, the Roman Catholic Church and the German Protestant Churches, he knew he couldn’t stand against that effort.

So, that’s why he and Martin Niemoller founded the Confessing Church. They kept themselves separate from the National effort that distorted the faith of Christ, and quietly started small fellowship groups and worship groups that refused to be anything but a community in Christ; under no one but Christ crucified. There was nothing grand about their worship. They sang together, prayed together, heard sermons together and studied Scripture together seeking the godly life against the pressure of the regime.

In a way, that’s how we have been managing to be church right now during the dangerous pandemic. We are gathering in small fellowship groups, worshiping on line in Morning Prayer (you can’t get more low-key than in Zoom, Facebook Live coming from our homes on Sundays into yours), and, even in the heightened hysteria of the upcoming election, many of us are resisting the temptation to wrap ourselves in nationalism.  Many of us are practicing the godly admonition to love our neighbors and our enemies as ourselves.

I just read an article of current research that in the last few weeks, there has been an increase in confrontations between people who are from different political “camps.” Not only are there arguments, these arguments are escalating into face-to-face confrontations. It’s a frightening trend.

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good;” These first verses in Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 12 in the reading for today impel our faith community as St. Paul’s namesake to “hold fast” to the godly life, even as confrontation and provocation in our country escalates.

In a powerful way, we are moving forward as God calls us out to be Church, to live a godly life in our homes and in our community. St. Paul describes the godly life in comprehensive detail in Chapter 12. I read just the first three of St. Paul’s imperatives, but there are 23 and they all are a call to Christians everywhere.

“Love one another; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; (YOU CAN’T have enough love!) outdo one another in showing honor;” are the first five.

But let me skip to my favorite! Number 13,

“extend hospitality to strangers.” Now, it’s easy to extend hospitality to friends and loved ones. But strangers? Especially if they look or talk in a different way than the dominant culture. How do Christians extend hospitality and hope in our confrontational and fraught nation right now? How does our care go beyond our own faith community to our neighbor, honoring someone we don’t know and offering the affection, humility, solidarity, peace and harmony that we want for ourselves?

Theology professor Eleazar Fernandez characterizes Christian hospitality “…as the practice by which the Church stands or falls.” He goes on to write that “Extend [ing] hospitality to strangers” is a godly act and is an act of justice; of living an ethic of gathering equally around the table; of creating hospitable acts in an inhospitable climate; to say “yes” to so many in our country who are demonized, to make an opening to carry out justice.

To remove the systems of hate and racism that encourage 17-year-old white boys to carry an assault rifle to a peaceful protest and march right by police to shoot someone. To remove the culture that causes police to shoot unarmed Black people first, and ask questions later.

This summer, the people of St. Paul’s have discovered our “sweet spot” of small group in-person gatherings outdoors. Our deep desire for fellowship and conversation has been nurtured by the hosts who have offered their homes for these small groups. Thank you.

Thank you to Patsy Oehl, Charla Spann and Susan Tyler for organizing the invitations. In these gatherings we are nurturing friendships and creating new ones. We are nurturing Christian hospitality to strengthen our faith community.

You may know that on Wednesday mornings I sit at the parking lot door between 10 and Noon to greet our neighbors who ask for food cards. With your contributions to my Rector’s Discretionary Fund, I purchase food cards and gas cards. As I distribute the cards, I always give my name and ask theirs. I write down their names and say a blessing over their names.

Some of the more vulnerable people are the older single women. Word at the nearby apartments where one of the women lives got around about the cards and now about five older women bring their shopping carts and ask for a card on the way to the store. I asked one woman if she needed a gas card. She laughed, looked at her shopping cart on wheels and said, “This is MY car!”

One woman said she has lived in the apartment down the street for ten years. She is ten years sober and stable. She turned 62 last month and described how she had moved from a bad marriage in Aroostock County to Connecticut to be with her sister and now is our neighbor.

I wonder about God’s call to us that impels us to reach out to others in hospitality, even in a pandemic. Here we are, giving out food cards. Here we are working swiftly turning around the renovation of the Barnes building for a family of nine New Mainers who were desperate to find housing in July. The Vestry quickly discerned and decided to move forward. Nancy Whitehouse and Hugh Savage, the Holy Stitchers, the Men’s Group and many from the Brunswick community and YOU have made it possible for the family to move in today. Thank you!

While I was on vacation, I dreamed about how God was calling us to live more deeply into hospitality and service, even in this dangerous time of a pandemic, even in this time of political division and confrontation.

What might St. Paul’s imperative to “extend hospitality to strangers” look like for our community as the future unfolds?