An Economy of Hospitality

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 8
July 02, 2017
The Rev. Morgan S. Allen
(Rector, Church of the Good Shepherd, Austin, TX)

St. Paul’s Within the Walls

Come Holy Spirit, and enkindle in the hearts of your faithful, the fire of your Love. Amen.

Good morning!

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ! I bring you greetings from your brothers and sisters at The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd way over in Austin, Texas, those fair United States of America. My name is Morgan Allen, and I have with me, my family: my wife, Missy; my son, Michael; and my daughter, Mary Virginia. What a privilege to step into the very big shoes of my friend, Austin Rios, and welcome you to Saint Paul’s Within The Walls!

As those of you who worship here regularly may know, the Rector of Saint Paul’s began a sabbatical yesterday, and this Sunday begins a ten-week partnership between the parish and convocation I customarily serve, and this community…your parish. My family and I will be here to serve you this week and next, and, then, four of my colleagues will follow me in succeeding, two-week blocks. We hope that our common setting from back home will lend continuity to your experience, while, at the same time, we hope that our several voices will keep your pulpit vital until Austin returns.

By way of happy synchronicity for this intercontinental affair, then, we receive today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew’s “Missionary Discourse.” This chapter-long treatise of inspiration and direction begins with Jesus summoning the twelve disciples; granting them authority over the unclean spirits; and empowering them to cure disease and heal sickness. After cataloguing these disciples by name, the discourse begins, “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions…” (Matthew 10:5).

The instruction that follows has comprised our Sunday-morning lessons for the past several weeks, from the familiar commendation regarding their proclamation (“As you [travel], proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’); to their provisions and dress (“Take…no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff”); and including Jesus’ encouragement about how these new evangelists should handle both gracious receptions of their ministry, as well as the more challenging engagements in which they will find themselves (“As you enter [a] house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but, if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not listen to you, shake the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”)…that is, do not carry others’ ill will with you or let others’ condemnation stand in judgment of the Good News you share (Matthew 10:7, 9, 12-14).

From the outset of their commission, then, Jesus makes clear that he has hewn no perfectly smooth path for their future roads, and the traditional histories we inherit of the twelve’s post-Easter lives and deaths narrate both the blessings and burdens Jesus’ words anticipate.

This morning’s short appointment concludes the Missionary Discourse, and with its explanation of evangelism’s rewards, Jesus reiterates and connects his conclusion with the Discourse’s opening. At the open, Jesus explains, “You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold or silver or copper in your belts…for laborers deserve their food” (Matthew 10:8b-9). That is, trust that those to whom you go will provision you practically with what you require, even as you, spiritually, seek to provision them, granting you and those you serve meaningful opportunities to support and serve one another.

Now, in today’s lesson, Jesus echoes that system of exchange: “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward” (Matthew 10:41-42). In this way, Jesus establishes Christian evangelism as a reciprocal endeavor, an economy of hospitality within which everyone has ideas and gifts to offer; vulnerabilities to be honored; and needs to be attended. Hear that again, for when Jesus finally punctuates his disciples’ commission, he establishes Christian evangelism as a reciprocal endeavor, an economy of hospitality within which everyone has ideas and gifts to offer; vulnerabilities to be honored; and needs to be attended.

Like many travelers to The Eternal City – indeed, perhaps like some of you today – when we Allens arrived, we strategized to schedule ourselves fully enough that our itinerary would require us to stay awake and, hopefully, reset our bodies’ clocks to the seven-hour difference in time zones between Texas and Italy. Therefore, we booked a three-hour walking orientation in the early afternoon – and, again, as may sound familiar to some of you – that three-hour tour soon became a four-and-a-half-hour tour. From this nave, we started with our guide and made our way along the usual tourist paths: to the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain; over to the Pantheon and the Piazza Navona; and, finally, back here again. Hungry for our first Roman pizza, we returned both wide awake with amazement and utterly exhausted.

Every step of our orientation bore witness to Rome’s long history of practically and spiritually building upon this city’s ancient inheritances, its citizenry recognizing the value of the community’s past, even as each successive generation becomes an evangelist for new ideas and opportunities. As Jesus commended his disciples two thousand years ago, Romans have so long cultivated an economy of hospitality – and I don’t mean the simple exchange of hotel and travel fares, I mean the posture of generosity and humility posture that warm welcome requires, while at the same time, claiming and celebrating the gifts that the city has to offer – so long have Romans cultivated this economy of hospitality, that this reciprocal endeavor seems intuitive.

From the syncretism of crosses atop obelisks, to the Catholic altar in a temple for many gods, at its best, Rome presents faith not as a competition to be won, but as a shared wonder…and a shared joy…and a shared experience…raising signs that we are in this together, not at odds, but as partners and fellow ambassadors, from whom we can learn much and, more faithfully, serve many.

Standing before you this summer, I pray that my colleagues and I will present ourselves as both evangelist and evangelized – prophet and pilgrim, alike – bringing with us the tradition we share, as we inherit and nurture it as members of Good Shepherd in the Diocese of Texas, and receiving from you these lessons of antiquity and examples of fidelity to which your community bears witness.

“Truly I tell you, [may] none of [us] lose [our] reward.”

Amen.

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