Becoming a Host
October 28, 2018
Ruth; Good Samaritan; Wedding Banquet
During my year abroad in college, I was snorkeling on the Red Sea in Egypt with a friend from Amsterdam. At the time, the Sinai desert was occupied by the Israeli Army after the 6 Day War. There weren’t any tourists, so we had the coral reefs at Ras Muhammed all to ourselves, something my grandchildren will never believe if they ever get to go there themselves.
We were traversing the Sinai, heading to the Gaza Strip on a Triumph Motorcycle, probably 50 miles south of the Gaza strip. I remember watching the needle on the gas gauge edge past E as the sun set behind us. The motor sputtered, it sputtered again and we slowed to a stop in the middle of the highway.
We didn’t need to go anywhere because we hadn’t passed a car all afternoon. The wind picks up right at dusk in the desert. That summer I learned that the actual temperature outside is not as significant as the percentage of temperature variation across the span of the day. The Sinai was about 115 degrees during the day but it fell to 45 at night with wind. To your body, it felt like 20 below zero, because our skin does not have scales like almost every animal that actually lives in the desert.
We scanned the horizon and decided to leave the bike right where is was because there was literally no place to hide. We knew we were in trouble, big trouble, as the last light faded over the dunes in the distance and the bright canopy of the night sky opened above us.
In the distance, we saw the headlights of a truck, no doubt the only truck that would pass us that night. Do you hide? Nowhere really to hide. Do you ask for help? We decided to ask for help.
We flagged down the truck.
It stops about 50 yards from us. Two guys emerge, both with guns. They are Bedouins. They walk towards us as we raise our hands in a gesture of peace. As they get closer, I notice that they also have swords and knives. They are speaking Arabic to each other.
We both say two of the only words in Arabic that we know. “Salaam Alekuum” and they respond “Wa-Alaikuum Salaam”. I use my body language to explain that we are out of gas.
And then my Dutch friend says another couple lines in Arabic. I turn in amazement. These Dutchmen know a few lines in almost every language. Phenomenal.
Turns out he was quoting the Koran on the virtue of showing hospitality to the stranger.
The guys go back to the truck. I’m thinking to myself, “This is where we get shot to death and my poor Mother has to identify me in a pool of blood.”
The truck lurches forward and pulls next to us. The two guys help us load the really heavy Motorcycle in the bed of the pick-up truck. We both hop in the bed of the truck.
The truck drives forward about 300 yards and stops. I’m thinking to myself, “Now that we have loaded this free Motor cycle into their truck, this is where we get shot to death and my poor mother has to identify me in a pool of blood.”
One of the guys hops out of the truck. He pulls the Keffiyeh back that he is wearing and I can see the really large scar on his neck, proving that he has actually used the sword that he is wearing in the past. He hands me a bottle and a brown paper bag, gets back in the truck, and we are moving. I turn to the Dutchman and open the bag. It is yogurt, cheese and a hunk of bread.
The Dutchman laughed. He, too, had wet his pants.
There is something divine about those moments. When you are a stranger in a strange land, you feel stupid about not knowing what you don’t know… like not knowing that there are no gas stations in this area. You can’t speak the language. You don’t have anyone to ask. You don’t have anyone that is familiar; no one that can help you. You have no connection to the local people. You have no idea what their customs are, whether they are as afraid of you as you are of them.
You can feel all this in your body, this physical change that comes over you that makes you cautious, unsure, doubtful, hyper aware of your surroundings, anxious, ready to react, potentially filled with aggression.
How wonderful are those people that see you in distress, stop what they are doing, engage their compassion, and come over to ask you if they can be of help. That alone is so gracious that we experience it as bit of a small miracle in the actual moment. We can’t believe that this guy finds two teenage Europeans and decides not only to stop and help these idiots out of their danger, but actually shares some of his dinner to take care of them. It is Divine moment and we have that sense of being blessed instead of abused, that sense of being cared for rather than being taken advantage of.
We are all on a life long process of learning to become hosts to other people. That is the divine way, to take care of other people. It is one of the fundamental spiritual dimensions of our lives. It is one of those things that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all agree on. We all have symbols to remember it and keep it central in our lives together.
In Judaism, the central celebration for the year is the Seder, when Jews remember that they were once enslaved in Egypt but by God’s gracious hand they were saved from slavery and delivered by God to freedom. And they have this symbolic meal together, where they eat bitter herbs to remember the bitterness of their life when they were enslaved, they eat bread without any yeast to remember how quickly they had to put their basics together when they had to flee from the Egyptians. And they eat something sweet and they drink a glass of good wine to remember how wonderful it was when they first stepped out in freedom, when they entered the Promised Land.
And this symbolic meal is accompanied by a real meal, a big feast. And the tradition is that you are supposed to invite your extended family, your friends, and people in need. We are supposed to bless those around us to remember that God has blessed us with strangers who welcomed us when we were in need. We remember that ‘God provides’ and we become divine-like towards people around us.
In Islam, one of the 5 Pillars or practices of the faith is the celebration of Ramadan, a month long celebration that remembers the giving of the Koran. Muslims fast during the day, in the month of Ramadan. And the fasting is to remind us to be self-reflective during that month, more aware of what we have to be grateful for.
Less work is done in this month. In gratitude for the blessings of God, you gather with your extended family. In gratitude, you are supposed to make gifts to those that are in need, to donate to charitable work that you are involved in.
In the evening of every night, you break the fast with your family and friends. You invite people in need. Especially for the feast of Eid-Al-Fitr that ends the month of Ramadan, these feasts are usually held in the Mosque of some other public place and people go out to where the homeless live and directly invite them to come and eat together in gratitude that God wants all of us to be part of the community, that we all count as children of God.
In Christianity, we have a story that is told in all of the gospels about Jesus. The crowds came out to hear him teach about the spiritual life. They day is drawing to a close and all of these people need to be fed. The Disciples grumble and worry about what to do.
Jesus asks them to collect together such food as they can find among their volunteers. It turns out they can only rustle up 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. The crowd numbers in the thousands. What to do? Jesus prays over the food. He doesn’t start complaining about what we don’t have. That is the human way, the small way. He starts by giving God thanks for what we do have, which is more than we know.
He breaks it into pieces and puts the pieces into 12 baskets and has the disciples start distributing the food.
They keep distributing and distributing and distributing. And somehow, miraculously, there is food left over. It is a miracle. Somehow blessing is just like that. It keeps giving and giving and giving and everyone gets included. That is the divine way, the spiritually blessed way.
Christians ever since have gathered shoulder to shoulder to watch this miracle in worship every week, not the miracle that the bread and the wine are transformed, but the miracle that we allow ourselves to become transformed as we pray for one another, support one another through the ups and downs of our lives, that we gather here not as competitors in the market place, not as partisans in a bitter political landscape, but as spiritual brothers and sisters, each of us invoking the ‘higher way’ of reconciliation, forgiveness, understanding, and love.
The miracle is that we can invoke the divine transcendence in our midst and allow ourselves to become transformed to the ‘higher way’ so that we can realize the more profound reasons for which we were born. However troubled our families are at the moment, however broken we may feel in the midst of the fracas of our lives, we call upon the spirit of reconciliation.
We do this in each of these traditions because God wants you to become a host. God wants you to become divine like. Who is it that you take care of? Who do you nurture? Who do you mentor? Who is it that you take responsibility for?
I read a piece this week from 8 different women who were asked to identify the moment when they realized that their marriages were over. One of them said she was at work and one of her co-workers got a delivery during the day with flowers and a cake and some other goodies from her husband on the occasion of their anniversary. It had a little note with it that said, ‘the best decision I made in my life’.
And this woman watched her co-worker celebrate and she realized that her husband never celebrated her, never surprised her. She just didn’t feel cared for. That is such a lonely feeling, such an un-loved feeling.
But call to mind when you felt loved? When you felt cared for? When you felt included and respected? Understood, appreciated. How powerful, spiritually primordial that can be.
I remember as a child the way my grandmother used to hold me in her lap after a big family meal that she had prepared with all those superb foods that we used to make in the deep South that ended with a dessert so wonderful it would give me a small heart attack right then and there.
She would pull me up in her lap, wrap her arms around me and pull me up like she would never let me go. I was certain that she loved me more than any of her other grandchildren. I bet they all felt the same way. That love would not let me go.
To this day I call it to mind when things aren’t going well because I am sure that God looks pretty much like my grandmother. I’m sure of that.
God wants you to become generous with your blessing like that. God wants you to take care of people around you, to celebrate them, to appreciate them, to respect and understand them. God wants you to help them find the higher way.
And we need you to invest yourself here with your spiritual community. We need you to commit your talent and your money here to keep us vital and thriving. We need your grateful selves, your generous selves to step up and pledge yourself to be involved with each other and take responsibility for each other.
Christ Church is a catalyst, a community that miraculously multiplies the goodness that we receive and makes more goodness happen all around us. I think of this month, how Amanda Bloch became inspired tackle the problem of food insecurity in our area among the working poor that are falling between the cracks.
She has taken a small amount of seed money, multiplied it, taken a couple volunteers, multiplied them so that they are a growing cadre. This week 62 families came to Christ Church on Tuesday afternoon to get groceries.
I can guarantee you that one day, a generation from now, we will have someone that joins Christ Church and tells a story about coming to Christ Church as a child with her mother, seeing Miss Amanda and her smiling volunteers, feeling cared for when her people were vulnerable and under-resourced.
We do what we do as a spiritual community, full of leaders in our world, is bring inspired leaders together so they can develop some synergy around a good idea and find other partners in the community, and somehow, miraculously multiply the resources that we have so this conspiracy of goodness is unleashed in the world and we are better for it. And it will come back to bless us in ways we cannot see from here.
We need you to make a commitment with your family. We need you to pledge. This year, it will take us $320 per family per month to balance the budget. We need you to do your part out of your gratitude, out of your generosity because you can.
Live out of your higher self. Be grateful, host others around you. Bless them. Let the divine transcendence course through your soul and may your life become a blessing quite in spite of yourself. Amen.