Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, July 3, 2017

Hurry Up and No Waiting

Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ, amen.

A few weeks ago, I shared with you about the Global Reformation service I attended in Windhoek, Namibia. Along with the thousand Lutherans from around the world there for the Lutheran World Federation Assembly, about nine thousand other Lutherans from all around Africa came by the bus loads. They had warned us ahead of time that this service was expected to be about 4 hours long… and they were pretty accurate.

That day was full of Hurry up and Wait, as my mom calls it. Hurry up and wait to get to the busses on time… only to go through security before you get on. Hurry up to get on the bus… only to sit and wait for all the buses to be full before all leaving together in a bus caravan. Hurry up to get in the stadium to be seated… to wait for the Namibian President to arrive in state. And don’t even ask me about how the distribution of communion went. It was beautiful, holy chaos, that’s all I will say about it.

Though we were only half way through the service after we were done with communion, we all had already been awake for hours and hours, sitting – under tents, fortunately, but still outside on a warm day – and most of us were hungry. Actually, by this time, I think many of us were quickly reaching the state of mind that is now called “Hangry.” Which of course is the combination of hungry… and angry.

Soon the volunteers began passing out boxed lunches down the rows. I was sitting with some other Americans, and we hungrily waited as they drew closer … and closer… to our row… only watch them be delayed. A clearly upset white man had accosted the African volunteer, wanting his food sooner rather than later. The volunteer very patiently told the man that she would get to him, if only he would sit back down. Like the rest of us.

Finally, we got our boxes, opened them up, to find a boiled hot dog, a buttered dinner roll, a bag of chips and a muffin. No Ketchup, mustard, relish, nada. Just a dog and a roll.

As we received our boxes, a pastor from one of the Namibian churches greeted us from the pulpit and welcomed us in the name of Jesus. She said, “When you receive guests into your house, you feed then whatever you have in your kitchen. This is what we have in our kitchen. It’s not fancy. But it’s what we have ‘from our kitchen.’ You are welcome guests, and we are glad to have you.”

At the then of Jesus’ long pep talk to his followers as they are about to go out on his behalf, Jesus reminds his disciples of what it means to welcome and be welcomed. Whoever welcomes the one who comes in Jesus’ name welcomes Jesus. And whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes God. And whoever gives even a plain hot dog on a buttered roll to one of these little one in the name of Jesus will not lose their reward.

I learned a lot about rolling with the hot dogs that came my way on this trip. There were so many parts of this experience that were beyond my control – more accurately the whole experience was a wild ride where I could only buckle up and hang on. I was smartly prepared as much as I could be – snacks, water, extra tissues, and so on - but for the most part I as a disciple of Jesus was often called on to graciously accept what I was handed. But doing that is not easy, is it?

It’s much harder to be a guest than it is to be a host, if you think about it. Yes, when you host someone at your house overnight, you have the inconvenience of having someone else using your towels and eating your food. But you know what’s in the kitchen and have control of what’s coming out of it. But as a guest, you sleep on someone else’s pillows and drink from someone else’ cups. You eat what comes out of someone else’ kitchen.

We as followers of Jesus may find ourselves in kitchens pretty different from ours. And it’s going to feel really uncomfortable. Like a pair of old shoes that we have outgrown, and it’s time to get some new ones.

The followers of Jesus found themselves traveling during a very uncertain time. They didn’t know if or when they would be welcomed or rejected. We, as disciples of Jesus live in some uncertain times as well.

As our country turns 241, there are citizens of our own nation, even of our own Lutheran denomination, who don’t know if, and when, they will be welcomed or rejected by the country they belong to or the denomination they love.

When I was in Namibia, often the only American or even the only white person in the room, this thought crossed my mind– “The great great, great, great grandparents of people in my country could have enslaved some of the great great, great, great grandparents of some of the people in this room.”

African American Seminary Student Lenny Duncan, in addition to studying to be a Lutheran pastor, created a documentary called “Do Black Churches Matter in the ELCA?” Now, why would he have to even ask such a question? Because the ELCA is the whitest denomination in the United States,according to the Pew Research Center. Even the MORMONS are more racially diverse than we are.

So, do black churches matter in the ELCA? When Mr. Duncan posed this question to our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, she replied – “[Black churches] matter to God, and therefore they should matter to us, but we don’t treat them that way.” Certain people don’t have access to our kitchens, and we are not willing to go to theirs.

When this happens, we lose a part of who we are. Without the mutual love and support of ALL of our diverse members – black, white, straight, gay, trans, rich, poor, differently abled, young, old - the body of Christ is incomplete. The outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face. But when we sing the hymn, as we did this morning, “all are welcome,” do we truly mean it? Do we extend the welcome that we ourselves have received from Jesus?

In Jesus’s kitchen, all are welcomed, and all are fed around his banquet table. From his kitchen, we are given “nothing fancy,” just some bread and wine, everyday things that are easy to find. And yet, in this simple meal we are given life… we are given welcome…. and we are given a new kind of family. We are given the body and blood of Jesus, a body that was broken so that humanity might be made whole, and blood that was shed so that someday treat one another as blood kin. This is what keeps us going, so that we may continue the work that Jesus started, of building houses “where all are named… where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.” (from the hymn All Are Welcome)

This reign, this kingdom is God’s kitchen, and we are welcome to it. As Benedictine monastic Father Daniel Homan wrote in a book that is aptly titled Radical Hospitality, “…we are all guests, we are all travelers, we are all a little lost, and we are all looking for a place to rest awhile…. God is the host, but God also becomes the guest we received in others.” (xxxvi) 

When we welcome others, we welcome God, as God has welcomed us.  This is a welcome that is relentless in pursuit of us, in pursuit for love, peace, and justice in this world that God has created. Nothing will get in the way of God’s radical welcome in God’s kingdom. Not our own prejudices and biases, not institutional racism or white privilege, not travel bans or walls - not even sin, human brokenness, and death can stand in the way.

There is no Hurry Up and Wait in the kingdom of God. This radial welcome is knocking on our door right now, and won’t leave us alone, like the worst kind of houseguest – respecting no boundaries we put up or excuses we make. Always getting in our faces. Always pushing us out and making us uncomfortable. Making demands on us we don’t always want to fulfill. And we will find ourselves doing things we don’t normally do, things we never expected we would be doing. Like eating hot dogs in Namibia. Like helping to welcome those who are homeless on a cold night. Like welcoming more than 30 rambunctious kids from the neighborhood through our doors for a week of VBS.

There is no Hurry Up and Wait in the kingdom of God. The welcome of the kingdom is right here, right now. We are being called out of our comfort zones and into other people’s kitchens. We are being called to eat the hot dogs of hospitality, in whatever form they come. Amen.