Attending to Your Guests
At the end of 2017, there was an average of 269 million emails sent per day. Based on projections, we should arrive at an average of 320 million emails per day by 2021. Currently, Americans average seven social media accounts with that figure also increasing. The average American currently spends more than 11 hours per day consuming media. The majority “time suck” is still television, but use is growing fastest among smart phones, tablets, game consoles, etc.[i] Now, since most of us either work or attend school and all of us have to eat and sleep to live, this has some pretty clear and grotesque implications for distraction. We live in a distracted, inattentive, multi-tasking age.
[i] These statistics were all found surfing various online sites which, surprisingly, were in agreement on the data.
This morning we continue our Stewardship series “Setting the Table for Trinity: How Table Talk Shapes our Generosity and Hospitality” by looking at yet another meal story. As I’ve mentioned throughout this series, according to the gospel of Luke, Jesus’ mission was to seek and to save the lost. His mission strategy, his plan/his process, involved meals. Shared table fellowship and (stories about shared table fellowship) was the primary situation or context through which Jesus communicated the message of the seeking, saving grace of God.
Now, when we think about church stewardship – when we think about giving and contributions – we often focus on cold, hard cash. But, if we want to transform our monetary contributions, if we want people to give deeper thought to their giving, that begins with the gift of attentiveness. Consider in your own life your personal giving. You may drop a couple bucks into the fireman’s boot at the intersection as your driving by. You may drop a $5 in the Salvation Army kettle on the way out of the store at Christmas time. But, when someone in your family whom you love expresses a need to you – or even just something that they’re excited about or curious about, I’m guessing you spend more than $5 to purchase gifts for your closest family and friends. And why? Well, obviously you love them. But you are also attentive to them. You care and you’ve noticed what they need, what they enjoy, what they get excited about. To “give” well, there must be love and attentiveness. So the first gift we must give if we are to be good stewards… The first gift we must give if we are to express sincere generosity and hospitality is the gift of our full (and undivided) attention.
This morning’s gospel story is one I have frequently preached. Now, it’s important not to isolate this story. It follows the parable of the Good Samaritan; a story in which the one who is praised, who is upheld as a model character, is the one who does something. While others pass by, the Good Samaritan attends to the needs of the man who was beaten and wounded. The Samaritan does something but what he does begins with attentiveness. Jesus tells us the Samaritan saw the man and, in his seeing – his attentiveness – felt compassion; and responded from that place of compassion.[i]
Yet on the heels of that story is this story of Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha; a story in which Jesus advises Martha that Mary’s posture of simply sitting and listening and being attentive is of greater value than Mary’s many tasks, her busyness. Now, it’s important for us to recognize that Jesus is not disregarding hospitality… which was an enormous value in ancient Mediterranean. Rather, Jesus is redefining hospitality. It does not begin with food and drink… as important as those are. It begins with attentiveness to one’s guest.
Friends, over the past couple years, we’ve made some dramatic changes here at Trinity. Our Care Fund has been redesigned and re-named as the Caring Fund. It is more than an emergency financial assistance program. Today, the vast majority of people impacted by our Caring Fund are folks who we engage in projects here at the church and in our community. And here’s why we are doing that: first, no one wants to feel like a charity case. When people work on projects here at the church, they have contributed; they are doing meaningful work. But, just as importantly, we work together and in doing that, get to know one another. We hear people’s stories and they hear our stories and we discover ways that we can help and show hospitality to one another. We pay attention to each other in a world that is increasingly distracted and impersonal.[ii]
Another thing we’ve changed at our church is to transform our parlor into the GREAT Room so it’s used for fellowship, for community gatherings, for our monthly Fusion, for next Sunday’s neighborhood movie night. The first Sunday that our Great Room was complete and the new furniture in there, people stayed way longer after church just sitting in the Great Room, sipping coffee from the new coffee cart, and talking with one another. On our way out the door I said to Britt, “no one wants to leave.” And that, friends, is perhaps the best PR a church can get. Last Monday we held our second Fusion. Fusion ends, officially, at 7:00. There were people, once again, hanging out and talking until after 8:00.
At age 44, Mary Brenner Clarke, a Beverly Hills socialite, felt a call from God and became Mother Antonia, a nun now in her 80’s who not only volunteers but lives at La Mesa prison in Tijuana, home to 6,000 of Mexico’s worst criminals. Even the most hardened among them, upon seeing Mother Antonia, cry out, “mama, mama” and push their hands through the bars when they see her. She spends her days with these criminals: praying with them, holding their hands, counseling them, and advocating on their behalf; giving special attention to those who are most vulnerable to abuse (like the elderly and the transvestites). She spends her days simply being present and attentive to the prisoners. At day’s end, she goes to a tiny cell to sleep in the same compound inhabited by “her sons.” Once, when she was gone from the prison, a riot broke out. When she returned, electricity had been cut off at the compound, fires had been started, hostages taken, bullets were flying everywhere. Mother Antonia approached the police begging to go inside. They resisted, concerned for her safety. But she insisted, saying, “When you love you don’t have anything to be afraid of. Love casts out fear, the Bible tells us… I can go into the cells… and try to calm something down.” Eventually, the police relented and Mother Antonia went inside. Finding a prisoner, she said, “It’s not right that you’re locked up here, hungry and thirsty. We can take care of those things, but this isn’t the way to do it… I beg you to put down your weapons.” The prisoner responded, “Mother, as soon as we heard your voice we dropped the guns out of the window.” Guards at La Mesa say that it is simply Mother Antonia’s presence, her attentiveness, and her love that transform the prison and its prisoners.[iii]
All of us have opportunities every day to be attentive to those around us. Skye Jethani writes that “life in silent solitude with God [like Mary in this gospel story] is what fuels an engine of love within us.”[iv] Friends, this morning, worship will end early and you have an opportunity to go from here down the street to the women’s domestic violence shelter for a service day… which will include us sitting down and eating lunch with the families at the shelter. We won’t be nosey and pry into their lives, but we will break bread – and soup – together and be present to share ourselves (I hope) and to receive whatever of themselves they are comfortable sharing with us. We will be attentive to the gifts of their presence, their stories, their experiences as we fulfill our church’s vision of “growing in love and service through relationships with God and community.”
The most basic expression of hospitality – the most fundamental expression of generosity – is our attentiveness to others. It is an expression of the grace and love of God. As I said last week, when you financially support Trinity, you’re doing more than funding a budget. You’re funding relationships. You’re funding relational space; you’re funding relational programs – ways for people to connect with God and each other; ways for us to grow in our attentiveness because, as Jesus reminded Martha, that is the better part, the one thing that matters most in a distracted and chaotic world. Friends: before we can give in any meaningful way, we must pay attention. The gift of our attentiveness in a chaotic, distracted world is a touch of grace that opens the door to generosity and hospitality.
[i] The parable of the Good Samaritan is found in Luke 10:30-37. I believe our gospel writer was intentional in placing the parable and Jesus’ visit with Mary and Martha back to back to emphasize the needed balance of inward contemplation/prayer/reflection with social action (the social gospel), a distinguishing feature of all Christian renewal movements through the centuries, including Methodism.
[ii] To learn more about the changes to Trinity’s Caring Fund and mission go to http://www.trinitylafayette.org/trinity-voices?utm_source=Trinity+United+Methodist+Church&utm_campaign=6f41084fc1-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_10_18_03_45&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ba5d6c0c1d-6f41084fc1-35179319
[iii] Story from With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God by Skye Jethani; 2011; Thomas Nelson; pp. 157-159.
[iv] Ibid., p. 163.
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