Radical Hospitality: Covenant

It was a snow day for us...we worshipped, but we were out of our regular routine, so we didn't get a sermon recorded. I have attached it in print form. Prayers for spring and sunshine abound in this cold part of PA!

Psalm 89:1-14

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
    with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
2 I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;
    your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.

3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
    I have sworn to my servant David:
4 ‘I will establish your descendants forever,
    and build your throne for all generations.’”Selah

5 Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Lord,
    your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones.
6 For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord?
    Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord,
7 a God feared in the council of the holy ones,
    great and awesome above all that are around him?
8 O Lord God of hosts,
    who is as mighty as you, O Lord?
    Your faithfulness surrounds you.
9 You rule the raging of the sea;
    when its waves rise, you still them.
10 You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
    you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
11 The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours;
    the world and all that is in it—you have founded them.
12 The north and the south—you created them;
    Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
13 You have a mighty arm;
    strong is your hand, high your right hand.
14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
    steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.

Genesis 9:8-11

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him,  “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Radical Hospitality: Covenant

On Wednesday, a 19 year old killed 17 people at a school in  Florida. He was adopted. Both parents now dead; his mother in November from complications of the flu.

A family whose son knew Cruz took him in after his mother died.  "They cared about this kid. They took him into the home," their attorney said, "but, as the mother told me, if they had any inkling ... that this kid was capable of something like this, they never would've brought him into their home."  

Makes sense. 

But fortunately or unfortunately, it is Lent…a season of contemplation and self-examination. And God, in God’s wisdom, offers a text today that reveals who God is and asks us to take a good look at who we are. 

Sigh here, because what makes sense now may not make sense when God gets through with us.

In Genesis, we see God look at the overwhelming wickedness of the people God has created and basically say, “If I had known the people I created were capable of something like this, I would have thought twice. I’m going to send a flood to cleanse the earth but save Noah and his family. They are the only righteous folks to be found.”

And, the story says, God did just that. And when all was said and done, God put God’s bow in the sky and promised that never again would a flood destroy all creatures on the earth. And this promise would depend on God, never on what humanity would or wouldn’t do…

That was a good thing. If you haven’t read the next part of Noah’s story after they are off the ark, you might give that a Lenten read. Right living didn’t last long with Noah and his family. 

We might imagine a television interview with God after Noah sinned in the biggest way. It could have gone, “If I’d had any inkling that Noah and his family were capable of something like this, I wouldn’t have made that covenant.”

But the covenant, the promise, was made. And God keeps God’s promises. Remember Bill Cosby’s famous parenting quip?…”I brought you into this world, I can take you out.” In making this covenant, God chooses to self-limit—gives up some of God’s freedom to say, “I brought you into this world, 

I will never take you out…regardless.”

One commentary put it this way, “The self-limitation and investment [in all creation] introduces a new and distinct facet into the character of God as portrayed in scripture.” 

A definition of radical hospitality.

God isn’t just nice to us, providing us a beautiful creation in which to live, putting chocolates on our pillow at night, inviting us to sit back and put our feet up and relax. God has a different vision for us, then and now—a vision of growth and healing and wholeness. 

To accomplish this kind of relationship, God changes. God limits God’s freedom and invests in humanity. And that investment is even more remarkable because God knows exactly what humans are capable of doing and being.

On this first Sunday of Lent, with yet another mass shooting

in our heads and hearts, is God asking if we are willing to self-limit, to give up some of our freedom and invest in the brokenness of the world. 

Every one of us in this room has 19 year old children. A few of us have 19 year old biological children. We made a promise to these children, most of whom were infants when they were baptized. Parents promised and we promised…it was the same type of one sided covenant. 

Even those children not baptized until they were confirmed, received our promise—not as dependable as God’s covenant, but our best. We limited our own freedom and invested in those kids...             until...

You fill in the blank…God is asking where the line is when we stop giving up our freedom or our preferences and say in words or actions, “Well, if they are capable of this….”

Having a number of connections in churches, here are some real lines people have drawn…

  • Why should we be concerned about those kids when they don’t show up anymore?
  • That girl was arrested for attempted murder. She doesn’t belong in youth group.
  • They shouldn’t ever come back to the retreat after sneaking out of the house at midnight to meet boys.
  • Stay away from him. He’s using drugs.
  • She just causes trouble arguing that Buddhism is better than Christianity. Isn’t that heresy?
  • They want to sing that music?!

Every one of those a time that a church said in so many words, “Well, if they are capable of this…”

After the flood, God seems to look at humanity and ask how do I nurture them, help them grow, move them toward the people they were created to be. 

God’s answer is the radical hospitality of covenant—

We seem to always be looking to see what people are capable of before we limit our own freedom and invest in relationship with them. Then, it seems, we can always find a reason to not invest. Either our freedom is to precious to give up, or the person is not valuable enough to invest in. 

God self-limits and invests first…and always. 

We are invited to do the same.

A elementary classroom teacher who believes that violence begins with disconnection, resolved to make a difference after the Columbine shooting. Every Friday afternoon she asks her students to write down names of four children with whom they would like to sit the following week and identify the good citizen of the week.

But her question is not about seating or awards; it’s about patterns. Who is not getting requested? Who can’t think of anyone to request? Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated for class awards? Who had a million friends last week and none this week?

She looks for lonely children, children struggling to connect, children falling through the cracks of the class’s social life, …children whose gifts are going unnoticed. 

Do you know how much a teacher just wants to go home on a Friday afternoon?

That’s the radical hospitality of covenant.

In 2012, calls came into the police department of a Danish town from parents who were frantic because sons and daughters had disappeared. After investigating, the police learned these young, Muslim kids had gone to Syria, answering a call put out by ISIS to help build a new Islamic state. 

The rest of Europe and the US had come down hard on people who made this choice. If they came back, they were designated enemies of the state, jailed, or ostracized as traitors. The Danes made a different choice.They made it clear to Danish citizens who had traveled to Syria that they were welcome to come home, and that when they did, they would receive help with going back to school, finding an apartment, meeting with a psychiatrist or a mentor, whatever they needed to fully integrate back into society.

It was an approach so unexpected, the shock opened angry minds. People expecting to be treated harshly were so surprised they became open to thinking they were wrong to see their own society as the enemy. 

The radical hospitality of covenant.

God’s radical covenant hospitality…it’s nice to know God has limited God’s freedom by removing the smite button and investing in humankind for the health and wholeness of all creation.

It’s world changing when God’s people answer the call to do the same. 

Ask Nicholas Cruz if it would have made a difference.