Readings appointed for Easter 5C can be found here
As a newly sprung college graduate I moved to Cleveland--I’d like to say that it was some greater calling that drew me there, but at the time I was broke and I had good friends who were happy to have me live with them (in their two bedroom apartment that already had three people in it) until I found a job and a place of my own.
Thankfully, the job came...and I found myself serving as the youth outreach worker for four struggling inner city parishes in Cleveland.
And, it was in one of those parishes that I found myself transformed.
St. Luke’s..., the door was open, no security, we knew and were known. At the hot meal program we started, everyone got a name tag, everyone was invited to make an offering, everyone was asked if they had a prayer request. Meals were tasty, and volunteers, along with the cooking and the serving, were tasked the job of sitting and eating. So they did, the same food, the same plates, the same chairs. Relationships were built and lives were transformed. The congregation gave over their front yard for an urban garden, and the sweat equity came from everyone--lawyer, college kids, the homeless, the children--all of them equally committed to the life and ministry of the church. Not only has St. Luke’s survived it has thrived...
And, five years or so after I had last served St. Luke’s as their youth outreach worker, I had the privilege to join them as a priest. As was the custom at St. Luke’s, the entire congregation gathered around the altar for the Eucharistic prayer and the distribution of communion. As I moved from person to person, I placed a single, thin, wafer in each palm. Eventually, I noticed a small boy--perhaps three years old--following me about, “more chips, please.” “More chips please”...I knelt down in front of him and kindly said, “no one gets seconds until everyone gets firsts”. This was one of the cardinal rules of our hot meal, and the boy smiled as he understood--everyone would get the same, and if there was more, everyone would get the same again according to their need.
My experience at St. Luke’s is what I have come to think of as “Radical Hospitality”...the kind of hospitality in which the folks offering it are willing to be transformed by it. St. Luke’s today looks very little like it did 13 years ago...it has quadrupled in size. It hasn’t been easy, by any stretch of the imagination, and there were times when it was painful (and I am sure folks continue to be challenged to make room for others at the table) but it has happened and continues to happen as room is made and outcast, sinners, saints and prophets gather together, sharing the same prayers, eating the same bread and drinking the same wine. Where else in the world can this happen, but the church?
Another way of talking about this kind of hospitality is the concept of holistic ministry--ministry in which our love for God fuels our service to others which in turn fuels our love for God.
In the great commandment we are first told to love God and then to love our neighbors. In the new commandment we are told to love each other just as Jesus has loved us. Jesus loves, so we love, we love God, so we love our neighbors, in serving our neighbors we encounter Christ and in loving Christ we serve our neighbors.
And so it is and in loving God, truly and heartily we move beyond a passive welcome into a new place of radical hospitality. Radical in the tearing down of walls, radical in the risk taking of building relationship with those who seem so utterly unlike us, radical in giving everyone the same, radical in that there are no favorites, and radical in the willingness to change and grow because when we encounter Christ we cannot help but be transformed by the experience.
I think it was this kind of radical inclusion that drew so many to the musician Prince. And, it is in honor to his life and witness to such an inclusion that have left so many mourning his death. A colleague, Paul Lebens-Englund, at St. Mark’s Cathedral described the musician as a “border bender”. By this, I take it to mean that Prince’s ability to be so fully himself—standing at the crossroads of identity—allowed many who felt alienated and estranged to see, in Prince, someone proudly proclaiming liberation from the expectations of the usual.
And in this proclamation, Prince created a place for those that had been cast out of other places.
The church, at its best, can create such a place—a place for everyone in the fullness of their being. Whether misfit or fitting in, the powerful or the vulnerable, those who’ve found a welcome everywhere and those for whom a welcome here is the only welcome ever shared.
When I think of Christ in all persons, and I think of the musician Prince, I think of Jesus the Christ’s radical inclusion of everyone.
In the account from Acts we hear today, Peter explains that in this new way of being, this following of Christ, is one in which all are welcome, no matter where they come from or who they are. Within the love of God there are no unclean people--all are invited to gather at the table and it becomes our job to move over and make room in this thing we call life.
This life lived fully, this life lived with an awareness that to be Christ in the world is to go, as Jesus did, amongst the outcast and even those who would betray us.
The portion of the Gospel we read today is the close of the last supper and foot washing narrative and immediately follows the moment in which Jesus washes the feet of all of the disciples--even Judas.
Because while Judas does leave the room, missing the instruction to love—he did not miss the gift of full inclusion in that love. His feet were washed and by washing Judas’ feet, Jesus includes him in the circle of love. And, in his commandment asks his disciples to learn to love in this way--this way that includes even the most broken...
The folk who repulse us, the folk who have betrayed us, the folks we have lost...the table is set and they are all invited and in that invitation God sees no us and them. In the invitation to the table, all are welcome and all are equal. The cry of “more chips please” serves as a reminder that we all get the same. That the portion for one is the same as for another. The same portion of love, the same portion of grace, the same portion of forgiveness...all the same, each to each.