Blessed Be & Radical Hospitality

Matthew 5: 1-12

An Excerpt from Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love by Lonnie Collins Pratt with Father Daniel Homan, OSB

Catherine had never felt accepted. You know the kind of kid; you went to school with a few of them. It was as if she had been selected the very first day of kindergarten to be always on the outside. Maybe she was wearing mismatched mittens one day, or she still had peanut butter on her breath from breakfast. Maybe she wore the same shoes her sister wore last year. Father Dan never knew the reason for her being the social outcast she was. By the time he met her on retreat, she was firmly in place as the target for the teenaged sport of ridicule.

Without knowing the details, you can be sure that Catherine spent a lot of very tough nights growing up. She must have wondered if her life meant anything and wondered if anyone would ever listen to her. She probably did not dare hope that she would ever be loved. It is hard to imagine, if you’ve never been the one on the outside, what it can do to you. Just getting out of bed each morning becomes an act of courage.

On one of the worst nights of her life, Catherine called Mary Cummings, Father Dan’s partner in retreat ministry. She called Mary because once, when Catherine had dropped books and whatever else she was carrying, Mary stopped and helped. Mary extended the simplest of courtesies to this girl that had known only contempt. By taking a moment to look into her eyes, say a few words, and help in an awkward situation, Mary demonstrated to Catherine that she could be counted on to care. On that night when Catherine honestly did not know if she wanted to see another sunrise, she called Mary.

When we speak of hospitality we are always addressing issues of inclusion and exclusion. Each of us makes choices about who will and who will not be included in our lives. To make such choices is inevitable; we do not have time to be everyone’s best friend. The reasons we include and exclude are very personal. You and I probably can’t even say why we become close to some people and have no interest in getting to know, or include, others. We only know that we prefer some, and others are harder to like.

Issues of inclusion and exclusion, while personal, are not just personal. Our entire culture excludes many people. If you are in a wheelchair, for example, you are excluded because there are places you can’t go. If you are very young, if you are very old, you are excluded. In high school you can be excluded if you don’t wear the right shoes or listen to the right music. Women are excluded, as are people of color and those who practice a religion different from our own.

In our idealism about American life the poor are always excluded; they are our embarrassing little American secret. The American dream has failed the one in six children living in poverty. These children will, most likely, grow up to a lifetime of exclusion. Somewhere, sometime, you were excluded. Remember what that was like. Some people live with the experience constantly.

There was a common saying in Germany just before the Nazi reign: “The human body contains a sufficient amount of fat to make seven cakes of soap, enough iron to make a medium-sized nail, a sufficient amount of phosphorus for two thousand matchheads, enough sulfur to rid one person of fleas.”

The Nazi view of humanity reduced us to nothing more than the usefulness of our physical components, and when that was used up it was fine to cast aside the human being.

But you and I are much more than what we appear to be. We are more than what we do. We are more than a social or economic class. In the movie Elephant Man, actor John Merrick is chased through a train station and cornered in a bathroom by a mob that sees only his deformity, his difference from them. He cris out, “I am not an animal…. I am a human being ….”

This is the sound of every single human heart. It is the cry we make against all that would make us less human, the cry of the darkest night of our lives, the cry of the abandoned and the misunderstood and the excluded. “I am not an animal. I am human.”

I am not a street person.
I am not a token of my race or creed.
I am not a statistic.
I am not a divorcee.
I am not an AIDS patient.
I am not a sex object.
I am not a laborer.
I am not an “at risk” kid.
I have a mind. I have a heart. I have a soul. I dream. I feel. I care. I am a human being.

Hospitality has an inescapable moral dimension to it. It is not a mere social grace; it is a spiritual and ethical issue. It is an issue involving what it means to be human.

Radical Hospitality is NOT just a mere social grace. It is a spiritual and ethical issue. It is an issue involving what it means to be human.

We live in a society that elevates, praises, honors, and adores the successful. The wealthy. The attractive. The competitive. The hardworking to the point of work-a-holism. Those who pursue and obtain the “American Dream”. Who live “the good life”. We place value and status in the exclusive. The prestigious. The expensive.

But what about those whom the American dream has failed? The 1 in 6 children living in poverty. If one does not obtain or prioritize wealth and success, we tend to reduce them to the subhuman category.  We ignore them… we look through them… we avoid them. We hoard our time, talent, relationships, and hospitality for those whom we deem worthy. Those who are worth our time. Those who give us something in exchange.

When defining Radical Hospitality, Lonnie Collins Pratt states that:

“Radical hospitality refers to the activities and desires that inspire individuals and communities to welcome those who are unlike themselves. Rather than viewing any person in terms of how they benefit us, radical hospitality means accepting the person with no thought of personal benefit. Instead of seeking persons who will support the congregation, actively seek persons who need the support of the congregation. To become hospitable means finding ways to welcome the marginalized, forgotten, and misunderstood among us.”

The struggle to fully engage in radical hospitality is not unique to modern society. This has been an integral part of the human condition since the dawn of humanity. In our Gospel this morning, Jesus is teaching his disciples about radical hospitality and those whom are included in God’s kingdom.

The crowds of people are there, but he isn’t addressing them directly, he instead retreats up the mountain and is teaching only the 12. Maybe some in the crowds can hear him, maybe not. Perhaps, he pulls the 12 aside because the crowd is filled with the kind of people that Jesus is about to teach of. Those who are alienated and ostracized by standard culture and society. Those who were often ignored, looked through, and avoided.

Because Jesus, being the radical, counter cultural, unorthodox Rabbi that he was – did not associate with and bolster the rich and powerful. The strong and successful. The brave and the conquerors. He did not choose to spend his time, energy, talents, relationships, and hospitality on those who would somehow benefit him.

In a culture and community that deified rulers and generals who were all these things, Jesus didn’t say – blessed are the well-educated, for they will get good jobs or blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will be noticed, or blessed are you when you know what you want, and go after it because – God helps those who help themselves.

NO! Jesus reinforced a complete different set of people as those who are the recipients of God’s radical hospitality and blessings. Jesus didn’t do this shame or condemn those who had status and possessions (when he does that it is articulate and clear!), but to include those who do not. Obviously, the rich and famous are blessed and are the recipients of radical hospitality, but so are others. This is a very inclusive group. And it includes:

  • The poor in spirit
  • The mourning
  • The meek
  • Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • The merciful
  • The pure of heart
  • The peacemakers
  • Those persecuted for righteousness sake
  • Those reviled and persecuted in Christ’s name

Not the typical crowd that one then or now would think of as good company. Those worthy of relationship. Those needing our radical hospitality. It was important as Jesus grew and developed his ministry, that his disciples know that to these people God’s kingdom is given. It would have been easy for them to let status and notoriety go to their heads and to begin a ministry for the glory of themselves rather than the glory of God.

Jesus’ ministry didn’t favor those who had everything… it reached out and included those who struggled and had very little, if anything at all. He made sure that these people knew that they were loved, welcomed, and blessed by God. It was crucial that the disciples see this, recognize this, and understand this early in Jesus’ ministry, so that they could go and do likewise. So that they could be the extenders of radical hospitality to the world around them.

It is crucial that we see, recognize, and understand this as well – so that we can go and do likewise. So that we can truly live into our call to show God’s radical hospitality to the world around us. That we can spread the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to all of God’s blessed children.

So, who would this encompass today? Who should we be extending radical hospitality to? It’s easy for us to think that it is us – and people like us… but like Lonni Collins Pratt stated – it actually includes welcoming those who are unlike us. If Jesus were here teaching this lesson today, I’d imagine the lesson would go something like this:

Blessed are the poor in spirit – the agnostics, the atheists, the doubters, those who have been hurt by and walked away from the church, the Christmas and Easter Christians, those who feel that they have nothing to offer. It’s okay to be in these places and spaces. God’s Kingdom is for you as well. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who morn – those who have lost a loved one. Those who have loved and lost. Those who have family members who are missing. Those who are alienated or estranged from their families. Parents who have lost a child. Those who must keep it all together for others around them. Those who continue to mourn weeks, months, years, and decades later. It’s okay to be in these places and spaces. God’s comfort is for you. Blessed are those who morn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek – the invisible people that no one sees. Those whom the world has forgotten. The ill-treated waitress who cannot defend herself for fear her tip will suffer and so will her ability to survive. The janitors. The shift workers. The single parents. The youth who sits alone in class and at lunch. The low-socio-economically disadvantaged. The homeless. The friendless. The unemployed. The marginalized. It’s okay to be in these places and spaces. We are all in this together and this world that we live in wouldn’t be same without you. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – the wrongly accused. The rightly accused. For those who struggle. For those who have no advocates. For foster children. For special needs individuals. For people who struggle through life and can never seem to get ahead. For the abused, the victimized, the marginalized, the oppressed. It SUCKS to be in these places and spaces. It’s lonely, and isolating, and empty. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness – for you will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful – those who put people above profit. Those who give food and water to the homeless man sitting on the corner. The teachers, the social workers, the coaches, the pastors. Those who have a forgiving nature. Those who gently correct. Those who give constructive criticism with kindness. The runners who sacrifice their own win or personal best to help an injured fellow competitor across the finish line. You who are in these places and spaces are amazing. You get it. And the world is a better place because of you. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart – those who refuse to bully or slander or gossip. Those who call out social media trolls. Those who stand up and defend the defenseless. Those who are gifted and cursed with a prophetic voice and unabashedly proclaim truth. The Martin Luther’s. The Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s. The Ghandi’s. The Dr. King’s. The Malala’s. The world needs you in these places and spaces. You help manifest the inbreaking of God’s kingdom. Blessed are you who are pure of heart – for you will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers – The Peace Corp. The Red Cross. The U.N. Doctors Without Borders. Counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Mediators. The peaceful demonstrators. The Missionaries and aid workers. Those who take their vacations to go on mission trips. The Mother Theresa’s and the Aung San Suu Kyi’s. The world needs you in these places and spaces. Working to spread peace and justice and love for all of God’s children. Blessed are you peacemakers – for you will be called children of God.

Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness sake – the honest. The whistle-blowers. The litigated Good Samaritan’s. Truth telling journalists in China and other countries where the government controls the press. You who stand up for others, who stand up for what is right, who speak truth, and suffer because of it. The world needs more people in these places and spaces. People who are unafraid and noble. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who are reviled and persecuted in Christ’s name and who have all kinds of evil uttered against them falsely. The Christians in countries where Christianity is illegal. The Christians in this country who are persecuted by fellow Christians because they have different understandings of theology and Gospel. Non-Christians who are persecuted in the name of Christ. These are horrible places and spaces to be in. Places and spaces that no one should have to encounter. But those who do are blessed. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad – for your reward is great in heaven.

Just as it was important for the disciples to learn how to extend radical hospitality, it is important for us to as well. These, and so many others, are the people we should be looking to.

If we are truly going to love our neighbors as ourselves, if we are truly going to live into Vision 20/20, then we must understand who those neighbors are. We must reevaluate our ideas of who has value and benefit and begin to extend radical hospitality to everyone.

Jesus teaches us and challenges us to live a life of radical hospitality. This is not a life that can be lived alone because it is not an easy life… so, God places us into communities of people who love, support, and encourage one another.

This life requires community, vision, and intentionality. It requires bravery, the ability to let go, and the willingness to open ourselves up to vulnerability. It requires a willingness to grow deeper in our faith and to broaden our reach to the world around us as we shower radical hospitality to all. As pastor Emmanuel stated last week – it requires people who boldly proclaim: Here I am, send me! I’m in!

I am IN for the growth and development of your will and your kingdom. I am IN for the sharing of your love, grace, and mercy. I am IN for this life of radical hospitality. I am IN for this life as your disciple! Here I am, send me! I’m in!

Are you in?


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