Sunday, July 25, 2021
“Living 24/6” Sermon Series
Scripture: Ruth 2:1-13 & Luke 22:14-23
Rev. Dr. Troy Hauser Brydon

One of the best aspects of attending seminary was the chance to be in community with really interesting people. My family lived a few miles away from the campus, but in every apartment in every building there were seminary students and their families. Early on we realized that it was hard to have enough time to study and to cook, so we formed what we called The Supper Club with three other households. The concept was simple. Each household cooked for and hosted the others once a week. This was helpful because I knew that I had three nights of dinners already covered. It was even better because we had some really great cooks for neighbors. And, perhaps most importantly, it gave us some regular time to share life around a table with each other. These meals were a bit about convenience and a whole lot about growing hospitality.

It is no coincidence that the biblical practice of Sabbath begins at sundown with a thoughtful meal. In the Jewish tradition, Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday night and ends at sundown on Saturday. A household meal, sometimes with guests, is prepared and presented. Candles are lit. Prayers and blessings are said, and then, of course, they savor a meal. As an outsider to this tradition, I am envious of this practice. How wonderful it would be to have a thoughtful, thankful meal once a week with others!

An intentional meal connected with hospitality accomplishes so much. It creates space for mutuality. Think about meals where you have asked others to share time and space with you. At their best, it gives space for conversation. It provides a chance to understand each other. It gives space for a deepening of relationship. This type of hospitality also provides the opportunity for slowing down. On those occasions when we do have people over for a meal, we block out the entire evening. There is no set time for departure. The normal evening routines of reading or watching the TV just go away. We eat. We talk. We come to know. Sometimes we even play a game. There is time and space to delight – in the food and drink, in the growing relationship. There is also room for new openness. When we make space for hospitality, we don’t just spend time with people who think like us, work like us, act like us. Some of the best moments of hospitality are when our lives intersect with others who are different than us. It is in that space that we come to know that our differences aren’t as big as we assumed and that we have a lot in common.

One of my professors at Calvin had a gift for inviting students into community. Dr. Pollard broke down the wall between students and teachers, between work and home with hospitality. Every class he taught had the opportunity to come to the Pollard’s home for a meal over the course of the semester. The draw for many of us was to eat something – anything! – that didn’t come from the dining hall. Particularly for those of us who did not come from the area, all of our meals came from the dining hall. We missed home cooking. Yet, the gift of the evening was the hospitality of their family. Sure, the food was good, but our hearts were warmed because it was clear that we were more than his students to the family. We were people with interesting lives to be shared. Over the lasagna (it was always lasagna), there was space for becoming more fully human with each other. We became more than just students and teacher, more than young and middle aged. This happened because the Pollards were committed to the practice of hospitality, a practice I remember with fondness over twenty years later. What an impact such a simple act can have!

The Bible readings we heard today can be interpreted in many ways, but today I want to use the lens of hospitality for each of them. I’ll start with Ruth. The story of Ruth is such a beautiful one. It’s the rare story where all the main characters are good. Some of them do more good than others, but there is not a bad person in the lot. The story begins with a famine in Bethlehem, which drives the family of Elimelech to leave their homes to seek food in the neighboring land called Moab. The people of Judah and the Moabites do not get along, to put things mildly. Yet, Elimelech’s family settles in Moab. His two sons marry Moabite women, and within a few verses, Elimelech and his two sons die, leaving Naomi a widow with two Moabite daughters-in-law. The word comes that the famine is over, so Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem in Judah. Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi. In Bethlehem, Ruth is an outsider.

You’ve heard our text today. To get enough to eat, Ruth gleans the heads of grain behind the harvesters, a laborious practice to get enough to eat, but one for which the Jewish law made space. Boaz finds out that Ruth is doing this and tells his men to allow Ruth more – not just the heads of grain, but entire sheaves. Near the end of the text, Ruth asks Boaz a pointed question. “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?” she asks. Common custom would hold that Boaz really shouldn’t bother with such hospitality. After all, there is great hatred between his people and the Moabites. In Deuteronomy 22:3 this bitterness is put into law, “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.” I’ve seen some brokenness in families and communities, but this is something else. This would be similar to the Americans still being at war with the British because they taxed our tea!

Yet, the way that Ruth treats Naomi and the way that Boaz treats Ruth takes all of their differences and consumes they with welcome and hospitality. Think of all the lines they cross. Naomi is welcome in Moab. Ruth is welcome in Judah. Those are national lines, each one a refugee welcomed with hospitality in a foreign land. Ruth and Naomi are poor and at risk, yet Boaz sees their humanity and welcomes them. Age can mark territory too, and it does not here. Ruth is loyal to Naomi. Ruth sees Boaz as a kind man, not her elder. Ruth’s circumstances have put her in a compromised situation. She is a woman in a man’s field, surrounded by male harvesters. Just on a cursory reading, we can see that hospitality transgresses lines of race, class, age, and gender.

This is a story of what the beloved community looks like, and when we make space in our own lives to welcome those who are different than we are, we open ourselves up to God’s blessing, to the Kingdom of God in our midst. Hospitality takes these dividing lines and erases them. That’s how the Kingdom of God works. The end of Ruth’s story tells us that her great grandson was King David. The gospel of Matthew names Ruth as one of five women in its genealogy. Four of those women are foreigners.[1] I think God is saying something to us by this ever-widening circle of inclusion. Making space for hospitality, particularly with others who are different than us or who challenge us, opens us up to God’s work in our lives.

Jesus’ final meal with his disciples offers us another glimpse the meaning of hospitality. Jesus knew that Judas would betray him, yet Judas gets to sit at the table with Jesus anyway. Jesus says, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:16). He doesn’t add, “Except for you, Judas.” This is such a familiar story because of our practice of the sacrament of communion that I think we can be blind to how Jesus welcomes even those who are hostile to the table. There is such a strong subtext of hostility in the text. Judas has decided that Jesus doesn’t belong and is willing to wreck what they have. Of course, Judas is spurred on by others outside of the disciples who think the same of Jesus’ disruptive ministry. Yet, Jesus keeps Judas right there with him, showing him one more time the welcoming love of God. This time it’s centered around a meal of love and hospitality where Jesus is the host.

Our word “hospitality” comes from a Latin word that includes all parties. It means “host” and “guest” and “stranger.” Hospitality is about all involved, not just a gracious host. Not just a willing guest. All. There is mutuality in hospitality, a mutuality that allows space for difference while still legitimately sharing life. Think about some of the words in our language that relate to hospitality – hospital, hospice, hospitable, hostel, and hotel are a few. All of these are descriptors of healing, wholeness, nurture, and welcome. We’ve lost some of that in our world, and practicing hospitality as a part of Sabbath is one way we can reclaim some of what we’ve lost.  Matthew Sleeth observes, “Entertaining is about the host; hospitality is about the guest. These are two different things. Hospitality allows us to enjoy the company of those with whom we may have little in common. Much in our culture panders to the lowest level of human interaction: finding our differences….Hospitality asks us to put aside differences. Hospitality demands that we find common ground.”[2]

What we see Jesus do is a glimpse into how God relates to humanity. Our sin has created division between us and God, yet God invites us to the table and makes room for us. God creates the opportunity for healing. So, I want to close with one final point about how vital the practice of hospitality is to abundant living. Hospitality is not just about healing brokenness person-to-person; it is also about creating space for hospitality between us and God.

In Living 24/6 Matthew Sleeth offers a good analogy to describe this. When we’re with someone new, we engage in polite conversation or small talk. When we’re with friends, we talk to each other about things of importance. “The same happens with God. When I don’t have much time to spend with God, I get started with small talk. I let God know what I’m worried about and what I’m thankful for. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, nor do I see any advice counter to this in the Bible. But just as with family, it’s the part beyond the small talk that restores my soul. It’s not small talk but God-sized quiet time that defines my intimacy with the Lord. You need quality and quantity time to make intimacy happen.”[3]

Sabbath creates space to practice hospitality, and hospitality is a vital part of life as it relates to God and others. Hospitality triumphs over hostility, and when practiced with intention, hospitality heals. Over the past year, hospitality has been difficult because sharing space was a risk. Now that vaccines have diminished that risk and that the weather makes outside gatherings possible, I hope that you’ll be intentional about hospitality. Invite others to share life with you. Consider inviting someone you don’t know well or who doesn’t see eye to eye with you. Hospitality heals. It’s a gift from a God. It’s a way to practice Sabbath. It’s a sign that the Kingdom of God is drawing near.

[1] Evans, Rachel Held. A Year of Biblical Womanhood, 119.

[2] Matthew Sleeth, Living 24/6, 138.

[3] Ibid., 124.