Rev. Loren McGrail
April 20, 2008
The Hebrew Bible tells us: "The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19: 33-34)
In the New Testament, Jesus tells us to welcome the stranger for "what you do to the least of my brethren you do unto me" (Mathew 25:40)
The Qurían tells us that we should "serve God...and do good to...orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer that you meet, and those who have nothing. (4:36)
The Hindu scripture Taitiriya Upanishad tells us: "The guest is a representative of God."
Diverse faith traditions teach us to welcome our brothers and sisters with love and compassion. Bienveindos companeros y companeras. brothers and sisters in Christ. In the traditions shaped by the Bible, offering hospitality is a moral imperative. There is an expectation that God's people are people who will welcome the stranger. The hospitality imperative emerges from knowing the hospitality that God has shown us. Just as God protected the people of Israel, God insists on proper care for resident foreigners, treating them like citizens. God's people will be a people whose just hospitality flows from gratitude and from God's past care and from their own painful memories of refugee life.
In the Hebrew Scriptures there are many examples and exhortations about how we are to treat the stranger but it is the story of Abraham and Sara that we just heard where the practice of hospitality is most clearly described as an experience of transformation, of mutual gift giving. Abraham's warm welcome to the three men who visited the tent is a wonderful example of how strange ones, the guests, may bear gifts and may indeed be holy ones. The three turn out to be angels who have come to give a blessing, the good news that Sara will indeed be a mother after all and there will be descendants. To offer hospitality means to welcome something new, unfamiliar, and unknown into our world.
Hospitality not only welcomes strangers but also recognizes their holiness and receives their blessings. In Greek the word xeno means stranger, guest, and host. We make one another guests or hosts by how we treat one another. Jesus was not the host at the table of the sinners, tax collectors, or prostitutes. He let himself be loved by those who had become strangers relative to the religious communities of his day. He accepted their invitation. Jesus, Lord God of Hosts, was and is also the perfect guest, the welcomed stranger.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, for I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, for I was a stranger and you took me in. (Mathew 25: 34-35)
This is a call to let ourselves be invited or chosen to share God's hospitality with others. Catholic theologian Joan Chittister, in writing about Benedictine Spirituality, reminds us that to become whole ourselves we must learn to "Let the other in, if for no other reason than to stretch our own vision, to take responsibility for the world by giving it our own abundance, to make the world safe by guarding its people ourselves."
This is the hospitality of the heart and it begins here with us when we accept that we are all wanderers in exile, all sojourners or peligrinos, as the Celtic Christians say. And we are all invited into the tent, all welcome at the table or in God's Beloved Community.
Like Chittister, I believe that hospitality of the heart could change American politics, that it could make a world of potential friends rather than a world of probable enemies. It certainly could help us reform how we treat the strangers among us, our immigrant brothers and sisters, our migrant and undocumented workers. This hospitality of the heart must be at the center of our peace and justice work, especially when it comes to immigration reform.
This hospitality of the heart would help us to understand and support the cry, "No human being is illegal" because we would understand that we are all made in the image of God and that all workers have value.
This hospitality of the heart would urge us to ask our media, like the Pioneer Press, to stop using words like "Illegal aliens" when talking about our immigrant brothers and sisters.
This hospitality of the heart would help us to see that capital can exploit people only after it has successfully dehumanized them, criminalized them.
It would help us understand that when immigrant workersí wages and working conditions are depressed so are all workers.
It would enable us to join in when they shout, "Injury to one is injury to all." We are all members of the body of Christ and all members are important and necessary.
Hospitality of the heart would help us to reject legislation for guest workers because it denies workers' their rights to organize, because it sees people in terms of their parts, "braceros."
Hospitality of the heart would encourage us to support the Dream Act for not only the sake of immigrant children's right to education but for the sake of all of our futures.
Hospitality of the heart would demand that we work to put a halt to free trade agreements that push people out of their homes and countries because they can no longer make a living.
Hospitality of the heart would demand that we stop paying for the militarization of our border which forces people to cross the desert and sometimes die when all they wanted to do was make a living.
Hospitality of the heart is also a form of resistance. It aligns us with God's preferential option for the poor, "opcion preferencial por los pobres". It calls upon us to become living sanctuaries for God's abundance, protection, and love. In the Book of Numbers, local shrines and whole cities functioned as places of refuge for people who had committed a crime especially manslaughter, killing without intent. The sanctuary provided a break in the cycle of vengeance. The religious community offered a sacred space until a person could get a fair hearing.
During WWII in France, the small village of Chambon became a city of refuge for Jews fleeing the Nazi persecution. Its citizens took risks and suffered persecution themselves as they sheltered and helped thousands of Jews.
In the 1980s, during Regan's Regime, when death squads were killing Catholic leaders and lay leaders in Central America, refugees started to come to the US to escape persecution. They asked for political asylum and were denied because they were not fleeing communist countries. Cities and churches took pledges to protect these people in an act of solidarity. People were sheltered literally in churches and spoke out about their experiences often behind masks to protect their identities. I know that many of you here were part of this movement now called the Old Sanctuary Movement.
Today, all across our country there is a revitalization of this concept of offering sanctuary. The New Sanctuary Movement is an interfaith movement that seeks to provide prophetic hospitality for undocumented immigrants caught in our broken immigration system. Its main focus is to make visible people who are caught in the system so that we can begin to see them not as faceless border crossers but as children of God, people with dignity and rights. And when they are ripped apart by raids and deportations, we see them as the suffering strangers within our gates in need of sanctuary. In Minnesota, the Workers Interfaith Network is coordinating this movement, a group our church is already working with on worker issues. It is my hope that next week, during our last adult education session, we will explore in more depth becoming a solidarity church in this growing network.
"The sanctuary as sanctuary celebrates the sovereignty of God in history and our lives, marking the limit of civil authority" says the theologian and activist, Bill Wylie-Kellerman. It is an act of resistance that draws a line in the sand; it says no to the powers and principalities, and yes to the hospitality of the heart. It is a form of extravagant welcome.
I close with this reading from Ephesians 2: 18-22 as a reminder that this call is a call to not only open our sanctuaries but to become living sanctuaries:
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself, being chief cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you are also built for the dwelling place for God in Spirit.