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Isaiah 56:1-8

CCI: Hospitality includes God’s care for those on the edge of society and must not be ignored.

Intro: On the front page of Thursday’s Intelligencer was an article titled: “Walking the Line, National Guardsmen are helping the Border Patrol keep out the illegal immigrants, but many feel torn about it knowing that many seek a better life.”  The problem of illegal immigration has become one of the hot button issues in American politics.  Who comes in, how are they treated, where can they go, how do we control the flow?  Legislation has been passed by the house that would make all undocumented aliens felons.  The president has proposed creating a path by which those who are undocumented can become citizens.

How should we respond to these strangers within our borders?  Do the teachings of Scripture give us any guidance?  Do the teachings of Jesus shed any light?

For the last two weeks we have been exploring the implications of hospitality for us as followers of Jesus Christ.  Some of you have experimented with hospitality in your homes, and some of you are still making plans to do that.  Last week we began to ask questions about what it means for our church to practice hospitality.  Today, it is time to consider what it means to practice hospitality as Christians living in a secular society.

I. Biblical Overview

In the book, Making Room, Christine Pohl examines the history of hospitality in the scriptures and in the church.  While hospitality in our society is understood as being the same thing as entertaining, and the hospitality industry has been built up around entertaining, in most ancient societies and still in many cultures, hospitality is “welcoming strangers into a home and offering them food, shelter and protection.”  In fact, hospitality is “a highly valued moral practice, an important expression of kindness, mutual aid, neighborliness and a response to the life of faith.”

Beginning in Genesis and continuing through the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament, strangers in our midst are given special attention.  One of the first examples of hospitality in Genesis is the story of Abraham giving shelter to three angels without even knowing it.  It was as he hosted these men and provided them with food that he received the promise of the birth of Isaac.  In the very next chapter, we see how important and how dangerous hospitality to strangers can be when two of these angels go to Sodom and after Abraham’s nephew Lot gives them welcome, the men of the city look to do them harm.  Because of their wickedness, the city of Sodom is destroyed.  And the prophet Ezekiel said, “‘this was the sin of Sodom: She and (she was) arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.’”

When God led the people out of Egypt, the people were told in Deuteronomy 10 “(God) defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.  And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.”  In that time, the person who was different in speech or appearance or language was often pushed to the edge of society.   The stranger often became a slave.  But God forbade that kind of behavior.

Many centuries later, after the nation had gone into Exile, as people were beginning to return to the land, the rules concerning foreigners and others on the edge of society changed.  In Ezra 10, a command goes out to all the exiles who had returned.  The new order said, “You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, now, separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives.”  Ezra commanded a separation and divorce of leaders who had married women from Babylon.

The passage we just read, is from the same time in Israel’s history.  People are beginning to return to the land and Isaiah writes, “foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant  these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.  Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

While one party in Israel is calling for the deportation of the immigrant, Isaiah is calling for the inclusion of the immigrant.  In fact, this passage focuses on two of the most ignored classes of people in Israel.  Foreigners and eunuchs were excluded from the life and worship of Israel for as much as 7 generations.  But Isaiah says, the house of God will be a house for all nations and no eunuch is to say they are worthless and no foreigner is to say, “I don’t belong.”  Rather every one is valuable, and every one belongs.

Jesus picked up on this theme in his teaching.  The sermon on the Plain in Luke begins with the beatitudes, those statements blessing the poor, the hungry, those who mourn, and the hated and insulted.  Jesus reaches out to the edge of society and welcomed, poor people, tax-collectors who was seen as traitors to their people, Zealot who were rebels and would sooner kill a Roman than look at him.  There were people with tempers, there were prostitutes, and those who had been demon-possessed.   He called women who were married many times, he welcomed those known as untouchable, the lepers.  He even promised eternal life to a man being executed for being a thief.

And then, just before his ministry came to and end, Jesus told his disciples that when they welcome the stranger, and visit the lonely and sick, and give water to the thirsty, and food to the hungry, and clothes to the naked, these were acts of kindness to the Son of Man.

When we come to Acts and the writings of the apostles, we discover the importance of hospitality to the early church.  Last week we looked at the practice of sharing one’s belongings.  Paul, while practicing tent making, often depended on the hospitality of local congregations.  In Hebrews, Christians are encouraged to practice hospitality the way Abraham did.

While hospitality in many cultures has always included family, friends and influential contacts, the unique contribution of the Gospel was the emphasis on including the poor and the neediest, those who could not return the favor. Throughout the history of God’s dealing with His people, God has reached to the edges calling and using the drunken Noah, the liar Abraham, the murderer Moses, the adulterer David, the whining Jeremiah, the disobedient Jonah, the coward Peter, the thief Augustine, the depressed Luther, the greedy Jim Bakker, and the unfaithful Doug.

II. Called to Embrace the Outcast

So if God calls and uses outcasts, then we can not turn our backs on the outcast.

As I worked on this sermon this week.  I kept hearing about the visit of Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla.  Throughout our community people prepared for their visit.  A tea importer was interviewed as she prepared to serve the Prince and Duchess tea.  A florist talked about the flowers he was collecting for the visit.  A white tie gala was planned for the couple.  The favorite foods were prepared, the streets were closed.  The historic sites in the city were emptied of tourists.  All to welcome the future king of England.

As I watched that, I could not help but think that God was calling us to extend that kind of welcome not to the king of England, but to the woman who pushes a shopping cart in the city; and to the child who plays with sidewalk chalk in Kensington; and the man who has lost his legs to diabetes; and the child who has been abused by a cousin; and the woman who has been beaten by her boyfriend; and Mexican citizen who is thirsty as he crosses the desert to work in a chicken processing plant; and the elderly man who can not afford his prescriptions at Moreland Tower.  These are people on the edge of society.  These are the aliens and the strangers.

In Deuteronomy, when God said, “you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens.”  Peter said we are strangers and aliens who do not belong to this world.  So we too, are to love those who are on the edge of society.

Over the years, the church has responded to this challenge in many ways.  In the 1980’s a group of churches began providing sanctuary to people who were fleeing repressive governments in Guatemala and El Salvador.  The sanctuary movement was praised by some and hated by others, but for those involved it was a faithful response to the gospel call to hospitality to the poor.  In 1976 Millard Fuller founded Habitat for Humanity in Americus, Georgia.  To date Habitat has built more than 200,000 homes in almost 100 countries providing housing to over 1,000,000 people.  While I am here this morning from 7-1, 15 habitat homes will be completed world wide.  This is a response to Christ’s call to hospitality.

Family Promise, the parent organization of the Interfaith Housing Alliance was founded in 1986 in Union County, NJ.  Since that day more than 11,000 volunteers from 4,500 congregations have been trained to provide shelter, housing, meals and job placement to over 20,000 people a year, 58% of whom are children.  This is a response to Christ’s call to Hospitality.

Here in Pennsylvania, American Baptist Men have purchased and stocked two trailers for disaster relief.  One is a semi that has been on site for relief work during midwest flooding in 1993, clean-up efforts in New York after the attack on the World Trade center, and most recently in Wiggins MS after Hurricane Katrina hit.  The second trailer is still being stocked and is small enough for a pickup truck to pull it at a moments notice to any place of need.  The men who travel to these sites depend on the hospitality of others and provide hospitality to people who have lost everything.  This is a response to Christ’s call to hospitality.

The immigrant is a person in transition.  They may be political immigrants, they may be financial immigrants.  They may be life stage immigrants.  They may in transition because of addition or disaster.  Maybe they are in transition because of their lifestyle or their skin color.  But most of the time, people in transition are pushed to the edge of society.  As followers of Jesus, how will we respond?

Immediately following the service, if you are interested in looking for answers to this question, I want to invite you to join me in the narthex for a time of questions, seeking answers and looking at possible ways for us to respond to the stranger and alien in our midst.