March 3, 2010
“What Is The Narrow Door?”
Luke 13:22-31

Diana Butler Bass and I are nearly the same age. Ok, she is a few months younger than I. So that is why when she said that her home church failed at hospitality, I knew what she was talking about. Both of our churches failed because, “there were no wayfarers to welcome! We entertained those we knew. And, in my neighborhood, everybody knew everybody else. New people entered [the church] only through birth – and there were lots of births.”(Diana Butler Bass, “Christianity for the Rest of Us,” p. 79) Diana and I are both ‘baby boomers.’ We grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s where we didn’t have to think about Hospitality. Going to church on Sunday morning was the thing to do and we did it.
You may not believe me, but let me tell you that Hospitality is an ancient Christian Discipline. It is something that you did as part of your faith: you welcome the stranger.

This is not a custom isolated with the Christian experience. You might remember with me the story of Abram and Sari who see 3 strangers traveling near their camp, and unwittingly play host to angels. I was thinking of a more recent example. In 1992, Greg Mortenson attempted to climb K2, the world’s second highest mountain. After more than 70 days on the mountain, Greg and three other climbers had their ascent interrupted by the need to complete a 75-hour life-saving rescue of a fifth climber. After getting lost during his descent, he became weak and exhausted, and by chance alone, instead of arriving in Askole, where his porters waited, he came to Korphe, a small village built on a shelf jutting out from a canyon. He was greeted and taken in by the chief elder of Korphe, Haji Ali of Korphe. As a way of saying thanks to the people of Korphe, Mortenson has endured all kinds of hardship himself (including being kidnapped by the Taliban) to build schools for the people.

The title of the book describing Mortenson’s experience is “Three Cups of Tea.” “The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family…” (Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Penguin Books, NY, 2006, p. 150.)Since his rescue by the Korphe, Mortenson has dedicated himself to building schools for children (mostly girls) in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His story reminds me of words Jesus himself said, “when you have do so to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done so to me.”

What you will also notice about Mortenson’s story is that his hosts did not serve him because he was ‘one of them.’ Nor did Abram and Sari serve those three wanderers because they were of his tribe. “The point of hospitality is not to receive something in return, nor is it something to be done out of a sense of obligation; true hospitality is not a recruitment strategy. It is a central practice of the Christian faith – something Christians are called to do for the sake of that thing itself.”(Bass, ibid, p. 81.)

Ok, so how do we do it? I suppose it begins with something as simple as passing the peace. Do you offer the peace to people in the pew you don’t know? (Ok, so no one sits in your pew you don’t know). But if someone did, would you offer the peace to them? How about when we go down to the Ronald McDonald House in Hershey and take a meal. Isn’t that showing hospitality, even when we are at some level both host and guest? Or when we serve a meal downstairs after a funeral. Maybe it is when we offer our space to community groups to use, like Boy Scouts or AA. Isn’t it hospitality to invite people to the Anne Gaul concert series?

Do you really welcome people at our church? Is that welcome more than giving them a bulletin and saying good morning? With no expectation, do we reach out to those who stumble across our doorstep here?

An essential piece of true hospitality is our ability to accept diversity. See hospitality is a function of community. Community involves people who gather together out of a shared sense of ‘center,’ not out of uniformity. The community offers hospitality to strangers. By definition, Hospitality involves the known hosting the unknown.

This is not some sort of political correctness. This kind of behavior, or welcoming the outsider, the different, was around long before it was popular or self-righteous to do so. This also isn’t a way of losing the distinctive nature of our own community. It is about transforming it. The earliest Christian communities were gatherings of Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, and Africans who worshiped and served God together.

In tonight’s reading from Luke, verses twenty nine and thirty, describe a host of people coming from every direction, sitting at God’s table, surprised by who is there and who isn’t. See, we are not talking about a uniformity, a cookie cutter replication, we are talking about a wide way, yet a centeredness upon God that directs us home. This is not about prescriptions for a circumference, or boundary line. Nor is it about building a wall along the border to keep “those people out.” It is about managing to regulate the course of those whose center of life and hope directs them to this narrow chute. It is about understanding that the rangy and mangy have as much a right to this door as we do.

If the beginnings are small and the ending is great, will a few be saved or many? The answer is strange, The door is narrow: the owner will turn away those who assume they are invited, but at last many will come from far and wide. It is about acceptance of diversity. It is about hospitality.

This is the good news of the Gospel.