This summer, we have been looking to Scripture with our theme – “A Summer of Welcome” – in mind. We started by grounding ourselves in God’s expansive welcome – looking at how God chooses us – every one of us – as part of God’s choosing the whole world – God choosing to be Christ for the whole world. Then, last week, we looked at how God’s welcome shows up in us – in the welcome we extend to each other in loving relationship – how we are hard-wired for love and for welcome – each of us created in the image of a loving and welcoming God.
This morning, we turn to a couple scenes from Scripture that are... well, not so welcoming – scenes, really, of outright rejection – and we will ask: In these stories of rejection, what can we learn about welcome?
In the first scene in this morning’s Scripture, Jesus is the one who is rejected. It’s particularly striking because the story comes right on the heels of big success. In the early chapters of the Gospel of Mark, remember, Jesus is moving at a breathless pace – village to village –teaching and healing – announcing the reign of God – what Marjorie Suchocki describes as “a kin_dom in which love, justice, and mercy draw
a people into being a people, united in passion for their common well-being.” A Big New World. Big Good News.
And. Jesus has just performed two big, miraculous healings: He has cured a woman who has been bleeding for years, and he has raised a little girl from the dead. Crowds witness all of this. There’s quite a buzz...
...until Jesus returns to his hometown, and there, among those who knew him back when, he is rejected. Jesus begins to teach in his hometown synagogue, and the people say, “Who is this guy?” “Who does this guy think he his?” Isn’t this Mary’s son? The carpenter? His sisters and brothers are sitting right here” The hometown crowd questions his teaching. They question the miracles he’s done. They’re not believing any of this. So Jesus quotes a proverb at them, “A prophet is not without honor – except in his hometown, in his kinfolk, in his own family.” Jesus is turned away by his own. They aren’t welcoming of the message he brings, and he’s only able to heal a few folks. And Scripture says that Jesus is amazed – it’s Jesus’s turn to be amazed – he’s amazed at their unbelief, at their rejection.
And then Scene 2. Out of the experience of that rejection, Jesus turns to his disciples and prepares them now to go out into the world – a world that may not be so welcoming. One writer says this Scripture is the story of “Rejection and then Regrouping.” Jesus gives his disciples authority to heal and to proclaim the Good News, and then sends them out with very specific instructions. They’re to take with them only a walking staff. No bread, no bag, no money in their belts. There’s to be no question that they are in this for profit. They can wear one pair of sandals, and one shirt – but they can’t take two.
One writer notes that basically all Jesus lets them take is a stick “to help them walk around and to ward off wild animals.” Another notices that Jesus “allows them to take the means of travel, but not of sustenance.” For their living – for food and shelter and every basic human need, they will have to depend on the people they meet along the way. Jesus sends them into the world in “utter dependence on the hospitality of others.”
And, he tells them to expect some inhospitality along the way. When someone welcomes you in, stay there for the whole time you’re in town – accept with gracious gratitude the gift that is offered. But where they turn don’t receive you – don’t tarry long – shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them – and be on your way. Shake the dust off your feet. Some think this is something like a curse – a curse on your house – but the Gospel of Mark doesn’t go as far as the Gospels of Matthew and Luke do – there’s no cursing here – there’s no threat of violence or retribution – just the shaking off of dust – a renunciation. Renounce inhospitality.
In this world of rejection, renounce inhospitality. And keep moving. Keep moving toward hospitality. This story begins with an inhospitable scene – with the hometown crowd rejecting Jesus. Jesus takes the rejection he has experienced, and turns it on its head. And by the end of Scene Two, Jesus is the one rejecting – rejecting inhospitality. That is not The Way. My way is a way of welcome. In the face of rejection, shake the dust off your feet – and embrace welcome – embrace the welcome that you find, embrace the welcome that you create – embrace the practice of hospitality. Offer hospitality and receive it – and find your way to life.
Now, this practice of hospitality is not brand new with Jesus. Hospitality is a command that reverberates throughout the Hebrew Scriptures: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt: I am your Sovereign God.” (Lev. 19:34). Again and again, God commands the people to welcome the stranger in their midst. They are a desert people, at times a nomadic people – in the desert, hospitality is a matter of life or death. If you don’t welcome the stranger in the desert, the stranger will die. They know this in their bones. Hospitality is a command. It’s not brand new. What Jesus does is dust it off and put it front and center – a central pillar of this new world, this new era, this new kin_dom he is announcing. To follow the way of Christ is to embrace a way of welcome – a steady, life-giving, life-dependent practice of hospitality.
For centuries, Benedictine communities have lived out this practice of Christian hospitality as a central and defining part of their communal life. If you read the Rule of St Benedict – the communal agreement by which they structure their life – there’s much of what you would expect – a pattern for prayer, and for work, and for living in community. But at the heart of the Rule there is something that has come to shape Benedictine identity: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for Christ has said: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35).” 
For Benedictines, there is no separation between spirituality and hospitality, between worship and work. As Benedictine Joan Chittister explains – quoting a rabbi – “Hospitality is one form of worship.” In their practice of hospitality and welcome, she says, the message is clear: “Come right in and disturb our perfect lives.”
And then there’s the detail of their Rule: Guests are to be welcomed and fed and shown kindness. A member of the community should sit with them. Tend to their needs. If it’s a time of silence, you can break silence for the sake of hospitality. If it’s a time of fasting, you can break the fast for the sake of hospitality. As Chittister says, “Christian hospitality is the gift of one human being to another; it is not simply bed and bath; it is home and family.” Or as Jo Gross has encouraged us here when we hosted the REST shelter, providing shelter for those who are unhoused, the table is to be set with cloth napkins and good plates and real flowers, and we are to sit together and share a meal. All are to be welcomed as Christ – as Christ would welcome us, as we would welcome Christ.
Eric Law is someone who has worked with a lot of churches in thinking about how to embrace the practice of hospitality and inclusion. He suggests that churches who want to be hospitable first ask the question, “What are the barriers? What are the barriers that might keep folks from being fully welcomed here?” Now these barriers can take all manner of form. They may be things that are matters of courtesy – a warm greeting, following up with new visitors, making sure they have what they need. And, the barriers may be things that are keeping people out because of who they are – because of ability and disability, because of race, or gender identity, or who they love. “What are the barriers?”
That question makes me think of another that I learned from one of my mentors, Rev. Dr. Charles Marks, who served as Chaplain of the seminary when I was a student. I worked for Charles Marks as one of his Chaplain’s Assistants. From our very first day of orientation, he insisted that when planning worship, we always ask the question, “What does hospitality require of us?” What are the needs of those who come, and how do we help meet those needs?
1. What are the barriers?
2. What does hospitality require of us?
Those are important questions. Let’s bring those two questions and think some of how we might bring this practice of hospitality into aspects of our life.
We’ve had to do a good bit of that thinking about welcome and hospitality over the past year or so. When we were thrown onto Zoom for worship, we had to think fast: How do we welcome people into this new worship space? This new frontier? We had to help each other learn new technologies, and create ways in that new space that we could welcome each other, see each other, listen to each other. And, along the way, we discovered barriers that had been keeping people out before Zoom came along. Worshipping on Zoom allowed folks who, long before pandemic, had not been able easily to leave home, now to be a part of worship.
As we are building our hybrid platform – we are in the process of asking all those questions again. The Moving Forward Together Team, and the Worship Team, and an emerging Welcome Team have given a lot of thought as to how we welcome folks back into our in-person space and continue to welcome folks online. At first, they had to figure out what hospitality looks like in a world with health protocols still in place. Almost everything we do here has been considered and discussed and considered again
What are the barriers? What does hospitality require of us?
We are continuing to think of hospitality as we continue to build our hybrid worship platform – a community able to connect and worship across multiple places. In April, we took the first step toward hybrid worship, and here we are. We are continuing to build, particularly now as we think about how we can bring our music back into the sanctuary and share it back into Zoom. And we’re moving forward, only when we have figured out how to make the next step and make sure that no one gets left behind. I think of it like this – we are building this new home into which we will be able to welcome each other and so many more.
What are the barriers? What does hospitality require of us?
We can bring this practice of hospitality to our work in the world too. It’s the Fourth of July – Independence Day. As we celebrate our freedoms, it’s a good time for those who are American and Christian to think about how we can live into those freedoms as we follow in the Way of Jesus. Nationally, we’re not doing that great at welcoming the stranger. Our nation expresses welcome as a core value. The US Constitution has at its heart the promise of Equal Protection of the laws. In decision after decision, the Supreme Court has made clear that this right -- of equal protection and of due process – extends not only to citizens, but to any person in the United States, to the stranger who arrives within our borders. The inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty expresses this more poetically: “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
And yet, we continue to have a humanitarian crisis at our southern border, as we continue to detain children in substandard, unhealthy conditions. What are the barriers to hospitality? It’s a crisis of our own making. Decades of US policy have contributed to untenable conditions in certain Central American nations, that are now rife with corruption and violence, leaving many with little option but to flee. Just as importantly, administration after administration, Congress after Congress have failed to enact meaningful immigration reform that would provide fair and accessible approaches to immigration and to requests for asylum. It would be easy to fault the previous administration – to be sure, their immigration policies were marked by craven cruelty, particularly the family-separation policy. But the barriers we face – or more importantly that those arriving at the border face – reflect the failure over the years – and today – of equal protection, of the values of welcome that we claim undergird this nation, and of our collective imagination and will to do justice.
What does hospitality require of us? Nationally, it requires enacting – and advocating for – immigration reform that provides fair and meaningful paths for asylum and citizenship. It requires that we demand accountability of our government and leaders – Republican and Democrat. And it invites.. requires us to engage in local action. Here in Marin, the Marin Interfaith Council has an accompaniment network that some from our church are engaged in – that helps accompany and support migrating neighbors in this county. The practice of hospitality calls on us to be a part of that.[ Peter Anderson]
Those are two seemingly different, but intricately related examples, of how we can bring a Gospel practice of hospitality to our worship and to our work – to every aspect of our life – to the whole of our life. The practice of hospitality invites us to approach every encounter with another (in our families, our church, in our community, and nation) with a commitment to welcome: What are the barriers here? What does hospitality require of us?
God welcomes everyone. In God’s choosing to be Christ, God chooses you and everyone in the whole wide world. God has created us, all of us, to embody that welcome for each other. We are hard-wired to live life in love. In this morning’s Scripture, Jesus rejects all the ways we reject other, every failure of welcome. And then, Jesus empowers the disciples – empowers us – to bring good news, to heal, and to build a world that depends on hospitality. And then Jesus says, Shake the dust off your feet. Keep moving. We’ve got a world to build.
© 2021 Scott Clark
 See Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, Commentary in Preaching God’s Transforming Justice, Year B (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), pp.323-24.  See Ched Myers, Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988, 2008), p.212  See Ephrain Agosto, Commentary in Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol. 3 (Louisville, KY; Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), pp.217.  See Myers, p.213.  See id.  See Joan Chittister, The Rule of St Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2010), p.227.  Id. p.228.  Id.  See id. pp. 229-31.  Eric H.F. Law, Inclusion: Making Room for Grace (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2000), pp.15-27. There’s so much more to Law’s work than the first step mentioned here. He describes “exclusive boundary functions” that work – whether articulated or not – within a community to determine who is included and who is excluded. From there, he offers a process for seeing and naming those barriers, and moving toward inclusion.  For the full poem by Emma Lazarus see https://www.nps.gov/stli/learn/historyculture/colossus.htm  See BBC report, “Heartbreaking' conditions in US migrant child camp,” June 23, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-57561760  Michael Clemens, The Real Root Causes of America’s Border Crisis, Foreign Affairs, June 7, 2021: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/central-america-caribbean/2021-06-07/real-root-causes-americas-border-crisis ; Adam Serwer, The Real Border Crisis, The Atlantic, March 26, 2021: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/03/which-border-crisis/618420/ ; Charles T. Call, “The imperative to address the root causes of migration from Central America,” Brookings Institute, January 29, 2021: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/01/29/the-imperative-to-address-the-root-causes-of-migration-from-central-america/  See id.  See id.