Palm/Passion Sunday March 22, 2015 by Ken Dale

This morning concludes our series on spiritual practices. During Lent we have considered prayer, our common worship, keeping Sabbath, fasting, confession, and today hospitality. I was struck by the irony that on this Psalm/Passion Sunday hospitality would be the practice. Today we remember Jesus being hailed as he rode into Jerusalem ? a glorious welcome. And in the same worship we also remember how he was brutally killed just five days later.

Hospitality! When Kathy and I were out in California for Chuck Osicka?s service we met friends of theirs who had come over from England. We had a wonderful visit with them over dinner after the service. They told the story of a trip they made to New Zealand one time. They were renting a camper to travel about and see the country. When they arrived it was late and they were exhausted. They got their camper and started the long drive to the campground they were supposed to be staying at the first night. It was raining and they were tired and they pulled over wondering what to do. They were in no condition to make the trip. A car pulled up behind them and a man, a total stranger, came to their window and asked if everything was alright. They assured him they were ok and thanked him for his concern. He got back in the car and drove away. They resumed their pondering of what to do. After a short time the man returned to double check. They told him of their dilemma and to keep a wonderful story short ? he invited them to his home where they could park their camper for the night and invited them in for a nice hot meal. The man and his wife took in complete strangers. This couple had never experienced such wonderful hospitality.

Hospitality in the ancient Near East was originally offered to complete strangers. In fact if a sworn enemy showed up at your doorstep asking for food or shelter, you were bound to supply his request. It was sort of a social covenant, an implied commitment to transcend human differences in order to meet common human needs. Marjorie Thompson notes that in scripture hospitality mysteriously links us to God as well as to one another. An example is found in the story of Abraham and Sarah?s hospitality to the three angels at Mamre which unseals God?s promise of a son in their old age. The angels are representatives of God?s own presence. Echoing this story the author of Hebrews tells us, ?Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.? Along the same lines Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 25 that whatever kindness or neglect we show to one of the least of his brothers or sisters, we do to him.

Thompson says that hospitality ?means receiving the other, from the heart, into my own dwelling place? and ?entails providing for the need, comfort, and delight of the other with all the openness, respect, freedom, tenderness, and joy that love itself embodies.? Hospitality is the act of sharing who we are as well as what we have.

So what about this day?s celebration and the week that follows that we remember in the life of Jesus of Nazareth ? Jesus our Christ? Marjorie Thompson states that hospitality begins with God whose first act of hospitality was Creation. God made a home, a dwelling place. We were to respond with thanksgiving and blessing but, it could be said that instead we chose to provide for ourselves and even tried to become the Host in God?s place. On the heels of creation came the fall and the intended communion between God and humanity was lost. But God did not leave humanity in self-imposed exile. Christian faith declares God?s second great act of hospitality as the Incarnation. I whole heartedly agree with Thompson when she writes, ?It is a rather inconceivable thing that God should come among us in person to forgive, reconcile, and restore human creatures to the communion God intends.? She continues, ?God-in-Christ enters ?enemy territory,? a society of people so immersed in rebellion and delusion that they no longer recognize or acknowledge him. Into such an estranged world the Holy One can come only as stranger ? one unrecognized, unsought, and unloved by most of those to whom he came.?

As we remember the events of this week we see the lengths of which God will go in experiencing the darkest side of human experience. It is inconceivable what God in Christ experiences to overcome ? to forgive, reconcile, restore. What an amazing thing God does in this second act of hospitality toward the human race! There is so very much in the story. Unless we look closely at the story and events of Holy Week and the Passion we cannot truly capture the victory of Easter morning.

These characters in the story are people just like you and me ? people who shout ?Hosannah? one day and ?Crucify? just 5 days later. What does God say to us when the Passover meal is given new meaning and we hear those conversations between Jesus and his followers about betrayal and desertion? How about Judas, his secret meetings, silver coins, and midnight kiss on the face of Jesus. What happens if we ponder Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as he struggles with his will and God?s will? Are we touched by Jesus on the cross after being beaten, mocked, spit on, feeling forsaken by God ? and yet still crying out to God?

There is Peter ? so many of us relate to him ? Peter with big faith, big promises, big failure and yet who experiences big forgiveness and a big calling. There is Simon, recruited to carry the cross and Barabbas who is set free at Jesus? expense and those women who are always there keeping their vigil ? even at the foot of that cross. And there is Joseph who lends his tomb and the soldier at the end who makes such a surprising announcement. God?s second great act of hospitality ? to come to us in person ? and share our common lot ? with its ultimate highs and deepest lows ? even death itself. But in so doing God has sustained and overcome – and gifted us with such a faith that we may truly live fully in all things ? and God brings a light that the darkness will not overcome. God?s second great act of hospitality – Marjorie Thompson states that our first act of hospitality to God is to receive what God gives. We will sing of that precious gift ? that precious expression of love in our closing hymn.