Epiphany 5B February 5, 2018
Some years ago Lucy and I had a friend visit for 10 days recovery after an automobile accident. It wasn't all that easy. The first few days she mostly slept, but then she was up and around, and on the phone making arrangements, and a fourth person at the table when you are accustomed to three takes some getting used to. Everything went well, and Lucy did almost all the work, but I have to admit some feeling of relief when our friend left. Nevertheless, hospitality is a Christian virtue, and friendship includes caring about each other, and I am glad that we were able to offer our friend hospitality.
Hospitality is a Christian virtue. In today's gospel after Jesus preached in the Capernaum synagogue and healed a man possessed of an evil spirit Peter took him home for dinner.
At Capernaum archaeologists say a group of low stone walls are the remains of a 4th century church surrounding a first century house. The house is barely 20 feet on a side. You can imagine how hard it was for Peter's mother-in-law to be sick with a fever and have these extra men arrive, particularly because you don't cook on the Sabbath day; all the food has to be prepared the day before. Husbands who have, once, brought an unexpected guest home to eat will appreciate Simon's situation. His mother-in-law was sick. It took her some effort to be gracious and hospitable. But Jesus responded to her need and to her hospitality. "He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she served them." They ate together.
St. Paul in Romans (12:13) commands us, "practice hospitality." St. Peter's first Epistle (4.9) says "practice hospitality ungrudgingly," and the Epistle to the Hebrews (13:2) reminds us, "do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
The Greek word here translated "hospitality," is philoxenia (like Philadelphia, love of the brother) literally "love of the xenos,” the stranger who becomes a guest. Anthropologists tell us that strangers are always viewed with suspicion and even fear. All people, put in a strange situation, with strange people, are fearful, cautious, and timid. Test this against your own experience; think of a time when you were a stranger, whether it was the first time in a foreign country, or a new town, or a new school.
Strangers are viewed at first with suspicion, even fear, but every society has developed a way to move from suspicion and fear to knowledge and affection - and that is the common meal. A stranger, received into table fellowship, becomes a guest, perhaps even a friend.
Jesus, at table with his disciples at the Last Supper took bread and wine, blessed and gave them, "This is my body and blood; do this in remembrance of me." At Emmaus, Easter evening, "he was known to them in the breaking of the bread." You can appreciate how important the Communion has been in the life of the church as an effective sign of God's love and hospitality.
At the communion rail we enjoy the Lord's hospitality. Here we can cease to be strangers and become friends together. Here we receive new spiritual life. Here Jesus takes us by the hand to lift us up from our beds of fever to serve the living Lord.
We serve, among other ways, in hospitality, by greeting one another, by concern for one another, by friendly encouragement, by inviting our friends and family to join us at the Lord's Table.
As in church, so in the society. Our national government shut down briefly over immigration . The Congress is negotiating over the “dreamers.” I offer some history and invite you to pray.
We are a nation of immigrants. Henry Rightmyer came from Baden in southwestern Germany to Reading, Pennsylvania, in 1743. He made wheels for a living. His children and their children stayed there for 120 years; it makes family history easy. My mother’s people came from northern Ireland, some in the 1850’s, some in the 1880’s. Until 1891 there was no national immigration policy; the states dealt with immigration issues. Some were more welcoming than others. My mother’s family remember signs at construction sites, NINA – No Irish Need Apply. Through most of the 19th century immigrants came from the British Isles and northern Europe. In the late 19th and early 20th century more immigrants came from southern and eastern Europe, Italians, Poles and Hungarians, and Jews from western Russia. Resistance to immigration led in 1921 and 1924 to national immigration acts imposing quotas for each country, quotas based on the percentage of immigrants from each country. Since most immigrants had come from the British Isles and northern Europe, immigrants from those countries had an easier time than people from other countries and other continents. We’ve been tinkering with a quota system ever since. A 1934 immigration act allowed American citizens to bring in foreign spouses and minor children. War brides were admitted in 1945, and the door has been nudged open and nudged closed ever since.
I ask you to pray about immigration and to let the members of Congress know what you think.
And as you pray, remember Peter’s mother-in-law who was healed by Jesus and got up to serve her son-in-law’s friends. Give thanks to Jesus who welcomes us to feast at his table. Amen.