"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2)
Hospitality is a faith practice. And while some have entertained angels unawares, in showing hospitality to strangers, most have not. In Luke's Sermon on the Plain, Jesus clearly instructs his followers to go beyond common courtesy, beyond common sense in extending hospitality.
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same." (Luke 6: 32-33) Although these words come right after Jesus articulates what we now call "the Golden Rule," ("Do unto others as you would have them do to you."), hospitality according to Jesus is not a quid quo pro. It is not a zero sum game. It is in fact a faith practice that goes far beyond anything Miss Manners would dare advise.
Hospitality is serving the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the needy, housing the homeless, visiting the imprisoned. Hospitality is seeing Jesus in the face of the suffering child, the bum on the street, the undocumented immigrant. Hospitality is going way beyond our comfort zone because that's what Jesus did, and that's what Jesus taught. And that's what Jesus lived. And died.
We are regularly reminded of Jesus' radical hospitality in the bread and the wine, his body and blood, given and shed for us. There is no more profound act of hospitality than this-of giving his life for us, and then inviting us to be part of it.
Hospitality means much more than putting a sign in front of our churches that says, "All are welcome." The March (and final) issue of The Lutheran magazine features several stories about what welcome is and isn't. Take a look. Hospitality is deeper than welcome. Hospitality takes off where welcome ends. Hospitality isn't just something we do. It has to be who we are.
Hospitality involves risk-risk of rejection, risk of loss. Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina practices hospitality. When a troubled young man came to their Bible Study, they welcomed him. And when after an hour together he shot and killed the entire group minus a designated witness, they continued their hospitality by publicly forgiving him. It boggles the imagination.
The early church tried to practice hospitality. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes they didn't. Paul had to admonish the Corinthians for their lack of hospitality:
"For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those how have nothing?" (I Corinthians 11: 21-22)
The early church in Rome practiced a kind of hospitality to the sick. When epidemics hit the city, everybody who could leave did so. Christians stayed and cared for the sick. Yes, some of them died. But not all of them. And they got a reputation for what they did. And a tradition of caring for the sick has been carried on to this day.
Today our church practices hospitality in many ways. Some congregations are involved in efforts such as Family Promise, providing hospitality to homeless families. For many congregations it has been a stretch of the imagination-could they really invite homeless people to spend a week in their church? And the answer has been yes.
Our church supports Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, who have been providing hospitality since 1939. We are working with migrant children from Central America. And we are working with refugees from Syria and other war-torn places across the globe. We do this as a whole church. Yet there are many other ways that individuals and groups within our church engage in hospitality that passes all understanding. Thank you.
Radical hospitality. It is what Jesus taught. It is what Jesus lived. And died. So that we might live for others.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
"Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen." (Luke 24:5)
Resurrection is a faith practice. On Easter we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, a history-making, history-breaking event in first century Palestine with implications for all time. We sing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today," and "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," and "Now the Green Blade Rises," and all our favorite Easter hymns. We fill our churches with symbols of new life, renewed life-flowers and greens, butterflies and rainbows. And if we are not careful, our craft enthusiasts will fill in with bunnies and chicks and eggs and chocolate.
Easter is the high feast, the high holy day on the Christian calendar. And it remains so, no matter what the sentimentalizers and the merchants come up with. In the northern hemisphere spring dovetails so beautifully with Easter that it is easy to forget that it is not a pagan rebirth holiday. I have written in my calendar "Easter is not spring." And maybe some day I will spend this holiday with one of our companion synods in the global south.
Actually, we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus every Sunday, the day of his resurrection and of his appearance to his followers. Resurrection is central to our faith story, our understanding of what it means to be Christian. When we recite the Apostle's Creed we say, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." It is a central doctrine in Christianity. Resurrection is an event, and it is a doctrine.
I want to think about resurrection as a faith practice as well. In 1973, Wendell Berry coined the phrase "practice resurrection" in his poem, "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front," in his book The Country of Marriage. It is a phrase that has intrigued many authors, including Eugene Peterson in his 2010 book Practice Resurrection; A Conversation on Growing up in Christ.
Melanie May, in her book, A Body Knows: A Theopoetics of Death and Resurrection, writes:
"Resurrection has been terribly tamed or relegated as one more relic of a religious worldview long since worn out. Too many of us are dead while we breathe: dead to feeling, to imagination, to truth telling. Too many of us live satisfied with a shallow seriousness-sanguine or sober-since we assume what we now know all there will be."(p. 15)
Peterson writes: "The practice of resurrection is an intentional, deliberate decision to believe and participate in resurrection life, life out of death, life that trumps death, life that is the last word, Jesus life. This practice is not a vague wish upwards but comprises a number of discrete but interlocking acts that maintain a credible and faithful life, Real Life, in a world preoccupied with death and the devil." (p. 12)
May writes: "I practice resurrection, for God who came to be with us in the One who went to the cross, went down to hell, and then to glory, is the God of surprises by human reckoning. Amid the mysterious and often tragic mingling of grief and ecstasy, dying and rising, God brings down the mighty and lifts up the lowly. God's surprises are most often more unsettling than settling reversals of the road on which we have set out. The more I have to lose the harder it may to be alive, to let go what is, to leave the predictable 'as a sign to make the false trail' and thereby to awaken to new life abundant." (p. 19)
And finally, from Wendell Berry:
"Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Jessica Crist, Bishop
"So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation." Genesis 2:3
Observing Sabbath is a faith practice. It permeates who we are. Sabbath is a biblical practice, a discipline. It is a given in scripture, from day 1 (OK, day 7). In Genesis 1, we read about God's creation of everything, day by day. And we read about God resting. Sabbath is already a practice in the wilderness, even before God gave the 10 commandments including: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." (Exodus 20:8) God gives the manna and instructs people to gather only enough for the day, except for the sixth day. "See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are and do not leave your place on the seventh day."
The Ten Commandments did not create the Sabbath. They simply regularized it and made it applicable to the whole community, not just the believers. Everyone got a rest. Martin Luther, in his Large Catechism describes it this way: "You are to hallow the day of rest." He writes:
"We observe them (holy days), first, because our bodies need them. Nature teaches and demands that the common people-menservants and maidservants who have gone about their work or trade all week long-should also retire for a day to rest and be refreshed. Second and most important, we observe them so that people will have time and opportunity on such days of rest, which otherwise would not be available, to attend worship services, that is, so that they may assembly to hear and discuss God's Word and then to offer praise, song and prayer to God." (Kolb and Wengert, p. 297)
Luther reminds us of the 2 functions of Sabbath-rest time and holy time. Because of the influence of Calvinism in the United States, some people have associated Sabbath more with the "thou shalt nots" than the "thou shalts." Growing up in Pennsylvania, I remember "blue laws." Stores were not open on Sundays, nor were movie theaters. And I can remember reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books in which Sundays were days in which you were supposed to have no fun at all.
I think it is fair to say that our society as a whole no longer sees the Sabbath as a time to forbid fun. But I also think it is fair to say that by and large our society ignores the Sabbath as a time for rest and as a time for the holy.
Brita Stendahl, in her book: Sabbatical Reflections: The Ten Commandments in a New Day, describes how a sabbatical influenced her understanding of Sabbath:
"For us the greatest and loveliest result of the sabbatical year was that it gave us our lives back. In small measure that is what the Sunday service is supposed to do every week. It gives us back the week for judgment and forgiveness. The purpose of worship is not to hear a sermon, to sing a hymn or two. It is something much larger: to come in contact with the world as it is and as we want it to be. Both, and at the same time. That's why it looks so silly to an outsider and observer who objects to the seemingly easy transition, not knowing that it is not easy at all. It is an ongoing process, Sunday after Sunday. It is not habit; it is discipline and discipleship. In one short hour to moan and to mourn and then to forget oneself and join with joy the others in a mock-up banquet reminding us of bread-hunger, wine-blood, life-death, and resurrection-the hope that defies despair. You don't do that in an hour-the hour becomes only a manifestation of what it takes a lifetime to realize."
Sabbath is a precious gift in our overprogrammed and over secularized society. Remember.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
"Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing." (Psalm 100:2)
Worship is a faith practice. As Christians, we center our life in word and sacrament. Our constituting documents emphasize in the Statement of Purpose the centrality of worship:
" To participate in God's mission, this congregation as a part of the Church shall: Worship God in proclamation of the Word and administration of the sacraments and through lives of prayer, praise, thanksgiving, witness and service." (C4.02.a)
The Augsburg Confession states: "It is also taught among us that the one holy Christian church will be and remain forever. This is the assembly of all believers among whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel." (Article V)
Worship is central to a lived faith. Christianity is not a solo endeavor, and it is not an intellectual puzzle. We follow a crucified messiah, who lived among the crowds and gave his life for all. God could have chosen any number of ways to become known among us. By choosing the incarnation, the word made flesh, God chose to be fully embodied. By his baptism in the Jordan River, and by his giving us the bread and wine as his body and blood, Jesus set out for us an incarnational practice.
We do not live in our heads. We do not reject the body and prefer the spirit. We see them as inseparable. Worship is where they come together, where that together is solidified. It is a whole-body experience. The introduction to the Evangelical Lutheran Worship book states: "The Holy Spirit gathers the people of God around Jesus Christ present in the word of God and the sacraments, so that the Spirit may in turn send them into the world to continue the ingathering mission of God's reign." (p.6)
Worship is about relationship-relationship with God, relationship with one another. While deep thinking is always important, it does not take the place of worship. While contemplation of nature is uplifting and inspiring, it does not take the place of worship. While serving the neighbor is crucial, it does not take the place of worship. Included in the baptismal charges is: "bring them to the word of God and the holy supper." The actions of worship are not outdated rituals. They are expressions of relationship, using some ancient and some modern forms.
We worship in many ways-traditional and contemporary, abbreviated and long, casual and formal, but we never worship alone. Worship is a communal faith practice. In the second creation story (Genesis 2), God creates Adam and then comments, "It is not good for the man to be alone." From the beginning, God created community. One was insufficient. At least 2 were needed. Jesus said, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." (Matthew 18:20)
The ELW introduction connects worship with mission: "Through liturgy and song the people of God participate in that mission, for here God comes with good news to save. And through liturgy and song, God nourishes us for that mission and goes with us to bear the creative and redeeming Word of God, Jesus Christ, to the whole world." (p.8)
It comes down to this: "We are united in one common center: Jesus Christ proclaimed in Word and sacraments amidst participating assemblies of singing, serving, and praying people."
(Use of the Means of Grace, p. 9, 4B)
"All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him." (Psalm 22: 27)
Jessica Crist, Bishop
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1
Christians are a people of the book. Along with Jews and Muslims, we are identified amidst the world’s religions as people particularly guided by our holy scriptures. Lutherans have a tradition of reverence for and familiarity with the Bible. It was Martin Luther who translated the Bible into the people’s language (and got away with it. Others had tried before, and were executed!) Luther insisted that the Bible was to be read, not just by scholars and ministers, but by ordinary Christians. The Protestant Reformation produced an expectation that Christians would be biblically literate. The ideal was that families would read scripture together daily.
Our church’s Confession of Faith includes:
“The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written word of God. Inspired by God’s spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s Revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them, God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.” (2.02)
In other words, Jesus is at the center of our lives and faith as Christians, and the Bible is one of the ways we learn more about Jesus, our faith and life.
A pastor recently wrote to me asking how we might revive the common practice of daily Bible reading and prayer in our congregations. It is a good question. When a child is baptized, the parents and sponsors are charged, among other things, to “place in their hands the Holy Scriptures.” Implied in the charge is to open the Bible, read it, reflect on it, study it, teach it. Regularly. It is not a once-and-for-all thing. Baptism is. But reading scripture is not. It is an ongoing process.
The ELCA’s Book of Faith Initiative, started in 2007 to encourage just that, has a slogan: “Open Scripture—Join the Conversation.” It is a conversation—with the book, with fellow readers and seekers, with teachers, with learners, with God, with self.
In the Service of Ordination, the candidate is asked by the Bishop: “Will you be diligent in your study of Holy Scripture and in your use of the means of grace?” It is understood that the pastor will lead by example. Scripture reading is not just for pastors, and it is not just for sermon preparation. Scripture reading is an end in itself, a faith practice. And there are many ways to read Scripture respectfully.
Some people like to follow the lectionary, and daily readings set up in our worship resources. Some like to follow a devotional book that may or may not be lectionary-based. Some like a chronological approach—reading the Bible from beginning to end. Some like to focus on a particular book of the Bible for a particular season. There is no right or wrong way to read the Bible. Read it by yourself, but also read it with others. That way you will not get off track with an interpretation that really isn’t there in scripture.
The Book of Faith Initiative recommends reading Scripture in a four-fold way: devotionally, historically, literarily, and theologically (Lutheran). Devotional reading is bringing your questions and experiences to the text. Historical reading looks at the original context of the text—when it was written, who was the audience, why was it written. Literary reading takes a hard look at the story, the form, the literary details. And reading with a Lutheran theological slant brings Lutheran principles and questions to the text.
In the Introduction to the Bible in the Lutheran Study Bible (Augsburg), Hans Dahl writes:
“The Bible can also be described as a book of faith. That means three things. First, the Bible comes from faith. The Bible is a product of communities of faith who gathered the writings of authors inspired by God and regarded them as having authority as sacred Scriptures. Secondly, we are invited to read and study and listen to the Bible in faith. That means that we approach the Bible as a book of faith. Through it we are connected with all the people of faith—today and in the past. Finally, the Bible is written primarily for faith. The great story of God’s love and the promises of new life found in the Bible ae meant to be heard and shared. That means the Bible creates individuals and communities of faith for a purpose—so that the good news of God’s love will be shared in both words and actions.”
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA