Antiracism is a hospitality value. A Sermon for The Fifth Sunday of Pentecost, Year A.

This sermon was composed and preached at The Lutheran Church of Martha and Mary on the 5th of July 2020.

The First Reading: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’

“I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O LORD, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also” –let her be the woman whom the LORD has appointed for my master’s son.’ “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshiped the LORD, and blessed the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”

And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her, “May you, our sister, become thousands of myriads; may your offspring gain possession of the gates of their foes.” Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

The Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

[Jesus spoke to the crowd saying:] 16“To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

  At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The Sermon:
I want us to take a couple moments with some deep breaths. Think about a time when you received hospitality when you needed it.  Take a couple breathes to do this,

then think about a time when you needed to receive hospitality and did not receive it.

Take a moment. Pause here, then Continue.

 How did these times feel?

Did you feel unfairly judged?

Did cultural understandings or mis-understandings play into what went wrong (or right?)

Do you have ideas about how you might have liked them to go differently?

Have they influenced how you offer – or don’t offer – hospitality in the present?

Keep these stories in mind while we look at our scripture today.

Our lessons today show us how sometimes our actions and inactions have consequences, even unintentional consequences, and encourage us as people who follow Jesus to be aware of our actions and inactions and take steps to ensure that what we do and don’t say and do and don’t do are received in the same ways that we intend for them to be received.

Our stories are filled with ways that intentions and impact did not match, and still there were consequences whether that difference was intended or not. Today, our impact and intent can be different than we hoped for and still as humans, as people who hope for justice in the world, and as followers of the one named Jesus the Messiah, it is part of our calling and commitment to the kindom of God to pay attention to our own perspectives and those around us.

The first section of this first lesson gives us the background information that sets the story up to happen. None of the characters, except Eleazar, the unnamed servant, gets this information until Rebekah reaches Isaac at the end. The unnamed servant, named Eleazar in the Jewish commentary, understands himself to be on a mission from God to fulfill the promise God made to Abraham and passed on to Ishmael and Isaac. Sarah has just died, and the new generation is coming – but Isaac needs a spouse to have children. This story bridges the generation between Abraham and Isaac; Abraham wants Isaac to stay in this promised land, so he sends Eleazar to his ancestral home.

So, throughout the biblical text – from Genesis through the gospels, when someone was thirsty, they went to the well. In the modern connotation, when thirst references someone who feels desirous of  a particular romantic or intimate connection, they went to the well to meet someone.

So, in the second section of the passage where the servant I have named Eleazar goes to the well, there are two cultural norms at play here. First, he is a visitor in need of hospitality. By going to the well and resting, and praying Eleazar positions himself as a visitor in need of hospitality. By praying, he opens up space for the divine to work and be and become with everyone who is, was and will be in the situation.

Secondly, Eleazar being at the well can operate from a place of thirst, by which I mean the well would likely have functioned as the Tinder, Grindr, Growlr, personal ad space of its day. It was a place for people seeking connection to find it. Even as Eleazar was functioning as a proxy, he knew where to go to accomplish his mission of finding a spouse for Isaac.

 Operating within the social norms of the day allows for the story to unfold as it did, and Rebekah to exhibit her incredible strength. In this moment, Eleazar as the guest is offered hospitality at the whim of those who lived in story pivots and she becomes the guest of the caravan – the power dynamic shifts, and for the last time in the narrative of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, we leave Abraham’s homeland.

The Gospel gives us a much more detailed look at social norms and how they cast light and shadow on biblical figures. First, John the Baptizer who is denied food and water because he has a demon, then Jesus, who is accused of being a poor host because of his extravagant sharing with people that were cast out from society, like tax collectors and others deemed unsavory. Jesus then prays and in his prayer he takes these social norms and throws them up into the wind and twirls them around and upends them entirely.

Jesus claims that the rules of hospitality, which society was using to exclude preachers like John the Baptizer and Jesus the Christ, were intended for everyone, and no one needed to be denied compassion, food, drink or whatever was needed.  Jesus reminds us with the words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Think back to the two moments I asked you to think about at the beginning. Both of those moments were likely embedded in story, because we do not live our lives as disembodied moments floating from event to event, but rather as a continuous stream of events and non-events that shape and form us. This line of thought is core to Process Theology. In Jim Wallis’s book America’s Original Sin we hear about the story of racism, the original sin of the United States. From the capture, kidnapping, murder and enslavement of African people for the benefit of White property owners to the ongoing ways that White privilege and racial inequity continue to keep black, indigenous and people of color down while benefitting white people. That benefit to white families and communities continued through generations of acquired wealth that grew, enhanced resources and access, the ability to do things that white families – families like mine – had. From something as simple as a band aid that roughly matches skin tone, to the ability to invest and have the hope of retirement, white people benefit. This is the opposite of the hospitality we heard about today in the scripture; this is the opposite of the commitments made at baptism when we renounce “the devil, and all the forces the defy God, the powers of this world that rebel against God, and the ways of sin that draw you from God?”  Even though those of us who are white will never know the horrors of living in a world plagued by racist policies, platforms, realities and systems, we can commit to learning more, engaging with racial justice more, and seeing where God is calling us in this movement for a more hospitable world. The burden of living in a racist society distorts every human person from their position as God’s beloved, and the commitment to learning about and dismantling racism has been one of the most life-giving, restoring commitments that any one of us can make.

 Process theology was helpful for me in making this commitment because it does not require perfection, or even strong intentions, just an desire to explore, and willingness to let that desire grow into thoughts and actions. Each shift changes the next outcome, which leads to the next decision which changes the next outcome. This is a way that God shows hospitality and allows us to join God in God’s work. Learning about, educating others and integrating awareness of racism into my work is where God is calling me, and where God may be calling you.

Listen.