3rd Sunday after Pentecost (June 29 • 2014)
‘God’s Hospitality is Our Hospitality’
ROCKINGHAM UNITING CHURCH
During ANZAC this year, I read an article in the Australian newspaper that featured David Williamson, one of the co-creators of the movie, Gallipoli, starring Mark Lee and Mel Gibson. At around the same time when the movie was released in the 1980s, there was a dramatic rise in the numbers of pilgrims who visited Gallipoli. The article argued that the movie was largely responsible for the dramatic increase of the Australian public interest in that failed campaign during WWI.
The movie itself is still considered, by many, as the best movie in the history of Australian cinema. One feature that made the movie such a huge success was its ability to expose to the public the way the military commanders in WWI seemed to causally and senselessly waste the lives of thousands of young Australians, represented by the two main characters in the movie: Archy Hamilton and Frank Dune.
This wastefulness of lives in war must be the reason why Gallipoli holds such a special place in our national psyche. Few countries in the world commemorate a defeat in battle, let alone allowing such defeat to shape their national identities. But we commemorate Gallipoli every year not to glorify our defeat or war, but to painfully remind ourselves of how wasteful and senseless war could easily become.
As we reflect on Abraham’s story today, we may wonder where is God’s providence when parents, in the past and present, have been forced to ‘sacrifice’ their children in the names of meaningless and senseless violence like war? Abraham’s story has often been interpreted as a story about God’s providence at the ‘eleventh-hour’. Abraham was about to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, when God stopped him from doing so. God then provided a ram to replace Isaac as the offering.
But where was God when Australian lives were sacrificed in the theatres of wars? Where was God when millions of Jewish people were slaughtered on the altar of fascism and Nazism during the Holocaust? Where was God during the genocide in Rwanda where hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were killed on the streets, in stadiums, in churches, and in schools? Where is God today where children in Syria are still dying senselessly by indiscriminate bombings and shootings?
There is no easy answer to these questions. God, in His freedom, is a Mystery that we cannot completely comprehend. But, I believe, we still can see glimpses of God’s presence and providence during these times of unspeakable terrors.
I believe that we have witnessed glimpses of God’s providence in Europe during the Holocaust when non-Jewish families, throughout Europe, opening their houses to hide hundreds and thousands of Jews, risking their own lives and the lives of their own families. I believe that we have witnessed glimpses of God’s providence in Rwanda, during the genocide in the 90s, when people like Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu who worked as a hotel manager, opened his hotel as a sanctuary for more than one thousand Tutsi refugees. I believe that we have witnessed God’s providence here in Australia when we opened our doors, in the 70s and 80s, to welcome Vietnamese refugees who ran away from violence and chaos back in their homeland. I believe that God is amongst us today whenever we welcome those who are fleeing from despairing situations in other parts of the world or in our own community.
Earlier this month, we heard the news of the death of a 34-year-old homeless woman, Michelle Losurda, in lake Richmond. Before her tragic death, for three weeks she and her partner had been sleeping rough in Shoalwater. Because they couldn’t find any affordable accommodations, they bought a tent from K-Mart and pitched the tent in the middle of lake Richmond, where other five people were also living. Michelle had been battling diabetes and mental illness, including schizophrenia; and, one night, within the tent she shared with her partner, she simply slipped into a diabetic coma and died.
People in desperate situations, like Michelle and her partner, would have experienced God’s providence when people like us had opened our hearts and our doors to them. People who are lonely today (and loneliness is such a acute problem in our individualist society nowadays) will experience God’s providence when people like us welcome them and make them a part of our family in our house or in the church. And when we welcome these vulnerable people, we will also welcome God Himself into our midst.
This is the heart of Jesus’ saying that we hear today in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus’s saying was part of his sending out his disciples to proclaim the Good News. Previously, Jesus asked his disciples to take a ‘vow’ of poverty: to take “no gold, or silver, or copper ... no bag ... or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff” (Matthew 10:9-10). He reminded his disciples that they have “received without payment” so they must “give without payment” (Matthew 10:8).
So Jesus asked his disciples to depend solely on the hospitality of the people who would welcome them in their journey. God would provide them with what they needed through the hospitality of others.
That was why Jesus called the disciples the “little ones”. The words “little ones” often referred to children. But, within the context of Jesus’ saying today, the words were used to refer to the “most vulnerable”, like the disciples who were asked to take nothing with them in their mission. Just like children need adults to care for them and look after them, the disciples needed the communities that they served to look after them. Those who received the disciples, the “vulnerable” people, would receive Jesus himself; and by receiving Jesus, they received God Himself who had sent Jesus to them.
Indeed, friends, when we receive the “most vulnerable” in our own society, we too will receive God in our midst. The other side of the coin is also true: when we reject the “most vulnerable”, we run the risk of rejecting God Himself.
Jesus once told a parable of the Son of Man who sits on the throne of judgment, separating the ‘righteous’ from the ‘accursed’. The Son of Man welcomes the righteous into His Kingdom because when he was hungry, they gave Him food; when he was thirsty they gave Him something to drink; when he was a stranger, they welcomed Him; when he was naked, they gave him clothing; and when he was in prison, they visited him.
Perplexed, the righteous asked the Son of Man, “But when did we do all these things to you? We cannot even remember seeing your face!” Must be with a smile of satisfaction, the Son of Man replies, “Everything you did to the least; everything you did to the most vulnerable, you did it to me, because the least and the vulnerable are members of my family.” (25:31-39) In ancient time, to welcome a person was to welcome the community that the person belonged to. So to welcome members of God’s family was to welcome God Himself! (Pause)
Friends, when we think about God’s providence, we often think only about the ram that God provided to Abraham in the mountain of the land of Moriah. When we think about God’s providence, we often think only about the manna, the bread from heaven that God sent to the people of Israel when they were in the desert (Exodus 16). Today we are reminded that God also provides through our hospitality.
God’s providence and hospitality are two sides of the same coin. God shows His providence in His hospitality; and God’s hospitality is embodied in our hospitality, especially our hospitality towards the most vulnerable in this world and in our own community. God cares when we care. God loves when we love. God provides when we provide.
Psalm 13, which we read responsively today, is the prayer of the people, in the past and present, who have looked and searched for God’s providence and presence in times of despair. For them, God seems hidden. It is our duty to reveal God’s presence to them by showing our hospitality to them. It is our duty to help them see God’s face by welcoming them into our midst. It’s our duty to help them experience God’s providence by showing to them our act of love and kindness.
God is known when we receive and give hospitality. God is revealed when we give and receive care. God’s love is experienced in our love and care towards one another.
Let us pray.
Loving God, you graciously welcome and love each of us exactly as we are, and you model how we should be with each other. May you be patient with us and help us, as we seek to understand what your true welcome and your hospitality really mean for how we should be in our communities. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen. 
- Claassens, Juliana, Commentary on Genesis 22:1-14, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (June 26, 2011)
- Johnson, Elisabeth, Commentary on Matthew 10:40-42, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (June 26, 2011)
- Seasons Fusion for Congregational Life -Pentecost 1, 2014, Seasons of the SpiritTM © 2013 Wood Lake Publishing Inc., New Zealand.
 Dalton, Trent, David Williamson Bit the Bullet, Took the Gallipoli Challenge, http://www.theaustralian.com.au (June 6, 2014 12.00 AM)
 Seeber, Elisia, Tragedy Breaks Heart, on https://au.news.yahoo.com (June 4, 2014 11.48 AM)
 Seasons Fusion for Congregational Life -Pentecost 1, 2014, Seasons of the SpiritTM © 2013 Wood Lake Publishing Inc., New Zealand (p. 48)