stories of radical hospitality and boundless healing
Forth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B
Sermon Delivered by The Reverend Jodi L. Baron on February 1, 2015
Well, here we are on the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany of our Lord and we get to talk about Jesus, the exorcist.
Sounds fun, eh?
Now, as tempting as it may be to stop there, or even go there, to the notion of exorcism and “unclean spirits” of our day, I don’t think that’s the invitation God has for us today, at least that doesn’t seem to be where my meditations went.
My hunch is that the invitation today is to speak to Grace about hospitality and healing.
Those are words we know about.
That’s what Grace is known for in this town. The place where people go if they are hungry or seeking healing. Even in a town saturated with churches to choose from you came here.
And we’re grateful.
Because we know what we are good at. We have confidence that we are good at inviting the stranger in, feeding people, and creating a space where healing can begin!
And knowing what your gifts are is, in and of itself, a good and noteworthy thing.
Not for boasting or bragging rights, but because it helps shape the vision and direction a body of believers can go for its next steps. We’re good at Hospitality and Healing through the food we offer the world.
Last week we had our annual meeting where the Vestry and Stewardship Commission hosted a feast for our community. We laughed, ate, and reflected on all that was Grace over 2014. Jen lifted up for our attention those parts about our common life that are worthy of celebrating.
And at Grace we have much to celebrate.
I can’t wait to see what the Holy Spirit has in store for this place, for our people, in the coming year.
I count myself the luckiest to be invited to walk with you and discern together what God’s mighty invitations are for hospitality & healing & feeding God’s people in Holland and beyond might be.
And as great as all this is, we are a part of something even bigger. That transcends Holland or even Michigan’s context.
That little red book in the holder in front of you, the Book of Common Prayer.
I fondly remember it as the book of hospitality and healing.
Because that is what The Episcopal Church offered me when I was hurting and hungry for something deeper than my previous seeking had turned up.
Something that transported me back to the beginning and forward to the end.
That first moment when I sat in the pews of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, halfway through my second pregnancy, desperate to find that experience that would catch my family before we left church altogether. That was the moment I was confronted with The Episcopal Church’s hospitality & offering of space to come and heal in the presence of our Loving God.
And all I did, all I could do, was follow the leader.
I opened to the pages and tried to keep up (futile attempt).
It was ok, though.
For the first time ever I felt like I was doing something that mattered. I was praying something in unison with my brothers and sisters all over the world and across the centuries. The pages were tattered from being touched by so many people. The pews were worn with the impression of holy people gathering in common prayer to offer their thanks and praise throughout the years.
I was invited into something mystical.
And in that mystery I found radical hospitality and boundless healing.
They too, like so many of us, stumbled our way into the Episcopal Church mesmerized by her ancient liturgy, lack of political polarization, and audaciously unifying focus on the Eucharist.
Maybe you have your own story. Maybe you’re one of those nostalgic folks, like our Rector Jen, who are “cradle” episcopalians.
I bet if we did a show of hands we would see the reasons we found Grace ultimately falling into only a few categories.
Hospitality & Healing.
You see, we here at Grace are what Jen calls a Eucharistic community.
Eucharist means thanksgiving and it involves feeding our minds, bodies, and souls with the knowledge of the love of God.
That is a powerful and jarring concept for some to think about.
But that, to me, is exactly what this story we heard in this morning’s Gospel was about.
Temple hospitality and Jesus’ healing.
These passages have something profound that begs reflection.
Jesus, upon being confronted with a man with an “unclean spirit” threw out that spirit but not the man. Jesus recognized it wasn’t the man who was unclean but the spirit that occupied his body. He freed the man so he could be in God’s Temple, where all of God’s children come home to.
Jesus knew what he was good at. He was good at knowing God’s word and healing people.
And so those are things he did, the things he offered the world. Knowing what we’re good at reflects a confidence in the authority Jesus has given our community to be our unique selves, in this place, at this time, with these people.
Grace is good at Hospitality and Healing through the food we have to offer.
We invite everyone to God’s table, in God’s house, with God’s people.
Our feeding is different and that’s a good thing.
Last month, during our Feeding America program, I was helping an Elder around the tables by pushing her cart and chatting about life. There was a young mom behind me who wanted to be sure I knew something that she noticed.
You see, she’s one of those Hollanders who lives on the edge.
She doesn’t make enough to keep the food in her house to feed her kids and so she depends upon these programs at the various churches to help them get by.
She said that she comes every month.
But Grace is her favorite.
She said we’re “different.”
We help people, she said.
We feed people, she said.
I suspect that what she noticed was a Eucharistic community bound by a baptismal covenant.
An agreed upon set of guiding principles that we say together… and a way of praying that forms what we believe about the world.
And there are many more stories like that, of people who come to our doors because of the hospitality and healing we have to offer: PFLAG, BNI, cub scouts, Hope College, an ecumentical beer & bibles group…
Folks who come here to breath, and heal, and learn how to be in the presence of a loving God.
In a way, I guess you can say we have been given the authority to cast out the unclean spirits of church hurts that so many come to our doors with.
The challenge for us, then, seems to be a matter of healing and hospitality.
For us to look out at our neighbors and ask the tough question of who most needs our hospitality?
We live in a community that has an estimated 25%, or more, of Hispanics (1st, 2nd, and 3rd generations)…do we have hospitality and healing to offer them?
Who is most in need of Grace’s healing balm?
When you find someone, invite them in.
Share your story with them.
It’s a good story.
And one more people are in need of hearing.