The Radical Hospitality of Stewardship

,

, , , ,

James 2:14-26

Transcript

 

In today’s scripture we are reminded of the story of Rahab. Perhaps you remember the story from the 2ndchapter of the book of Joshua in the First Testament in our Bible:

The Israelites were preparing to take the land for their own, so Joshua sent two spies into the land, and to Jericho, to see what they would find there. The spies went as they were told and when they reached Jericho, they entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab in order to spend the night. Now the king of Jericho learned the spies were in Rahab’s home and sent orders to her that the men were to be turned over to him. But Rahab hid them on the rooftop of her home and told the king’s guards that the men had left the city, and encouraged them to go quickly for they should easily be able to catch them. Once the gates of the city were closed against the king’s guards, Rahab went to the spies hidden on her roof and told them of what she’d done. Then she said: “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you. … The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.” And Rahab asked the spies to promise to protect her family when the Israelites came to take Jericho. Then she let them down by a rope through the window. And she told them, “Go toward the hill country, so that the pursuers may not come upon you. Hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers have returned to the city; then afterward you may go your way.” All this the spies did. And after the three days had passed, they left the hill country and returned to Joshua telling him of all they had experienced and learned.

In the book of James we read that without works, faith is simply intellectual assent. Without works, faith is dead. Yet with works, faith is life and breath. An active, living faith demands a sharing of gifts that God has given and a providing of space to those whom God sends unexpectedly.

“The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below,” Rahab said, and then backed it up with her very life – harboring spies, lying to the king’s guards, aiding the spies in their escape and even, some might say, even having some advance knowledge of the Israelites’ plan to attack and not telling the king.

In Jewish lore, Rahab is celebrated as an example of hospitality – not because of anything she says, but because of the way her actions serve as a fulfillment of her faith.

Now, I think we all would agree that faith must be met with action. And I think we would all agree that the actions of our faith must be a priority. … Yet, there is something deep inside all of us which presumes that knowing the right things, that believing the right things will naturally translate itself into doing the right things. (I know this is true for me.) … How quickly it seems apparent to each of us that this isn’t so when we look at someone else’s life … yet how hard I find it to see within my own.

The question is whether we are paying attention to this in our daily living. The question is whether we are paying attention to this in our congregational living. … Do we make a practice of looking at our personal finances and seeing if our faith is reflected in how we spend our money? Do we make a practice of setting intentions for extending hospitality to others – being open and welcoming, inclusive and encouraging or even challenging?

The author of James reminds us: It is not enough to decry systemic injustices, while at the same time living those injustices through our actions.

When we trade on the privilege of our position or power; when we choose to opt out of conversations because they are difficult or make us uncomfortable, we are choosing to keep the oppressed and the oppressor in their current roles. The very action of opting out inflicts immeasurable harm.

To preach a love that is shallow, that keeps us secure and keeps things comfortable – gives the illusion of pursuing the sacred, but is not the love Jesus taught.

“The love of God is just – it disrupts and transforms oppressive power for the benefit of all.
The justice of God is loving – it heals and frees and makes new for the benefit of all.” (Anna Bladel)

A few weeks ago, in a conversation with several of our Board members we talked about the ways in which our congregation seeks to offer radical welcome, radical hospitality to all. For several years now we’ve been intentional in seeking to be accepting and affirming of one another. We are learning ways of non-judgment; and, more recently, we are beginning to practice the vulnerability of sharing part of our story, our life experience with one another.

Together in this conversation, we named that a step of radical welcome that is calling us now is looking together at the systems and practices that reinforce racism and poverty. Systems and practices in our society, in our congregation, and in our own lives that deny the worth of people of color; gay, lesbian and transgender persons; and persons living in poverty. Many of these practices, we know, are inherent in our society – we’ve literally grown up with them and no longer see them … and that makes God’s call to understanding and change all the more important.

I cannot change what I do not see.

I cannot see if I do not look.

This is not a conversation about guilt and shame. This is not a conversation about being bad people. It is an opportunity to look at life through the experiences of others, to identify where change is needed, to listen to where you are called to participate.

Over the next few weeks, I invite you to join me in using the book The Hate U Giveas a starter for our conversation together.

Read the book and join us for discussion.

Watch the movie – it comes out on October 20 – then join us for discussion.

[There is a flyer with dates on the narthex counter.]

Together we will listen and learn. Together we are invited to join the movement for change.

… The author of the book of James reminds us: It is not enough to decry systemic injustices, while at the same time living those injustices through our actions.

The love of God is just – it disrupts and transforms oppressive power for the benefit of all.
The justice of God is loving – it heals and frees and makes new for the benefit of all.

Stewardship isn’t simply a belief about giving, rather it is a way of living in the world – one which understands every action is a fulfillment of our faith. That means: faith isn’t fully-faith, faith isn’t fully-formed until it flows into action. Deeds don’t replace faith; they complete it. And for the author of James, that means and only means deeds done as “faith working through love.” For James: Every action we take has the potential to become a co-creating, a co-working-out of the image of God in the ordinary moments of our life – every action we take.

And the way in which we ‘are faith’ is seen in our welcome and inclusion, support and encouragement, nurture and challenge … of one another. In one sense, it is not simply anyaction that encompasses a ‘deed’ (or a ‘work’) for the author of James; rather, it is actions of hospitality which demonstrate the very image of God implanted in your soul. … Said differently: the way in which you welcome others – the actions that make up your life – demonstrate the unity (or dis-unity!) between the attitude and action of your faith.

In the biblical text, Rahab’s prostitution is an indication of her family’s poverty. She did not live in a house of prostitution, as we might assume. She lived, most likely, with her family; and her prostitution is an indication that the entire family was indebted and seeking to make recompense in whatever means available. Yet even in her poverty she dares to contradict the system in order to do what is right. Rahab’s faith takes priority in providing hospitality to the people God places in her path rather than ignoring them or doing the safe thing and turning them in.

Stewardship, we know, is not simply what we do with our money – it’s what we do with our heart and our mind, where we choose to spend our influence through our actions – and in so doing, our faith is made known to others. …

“The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.” Rahab believed; and through her actions made it so. Amen.