This September members and friends of All Saints’ will practice hospitality by hosting a Festival of Christian Spirituality. I encourage you to participate in this weekend of renewal and learning. I also encourage those of you who live in the Carmel area to join others in inviting an out-of-town participant to stay in your home for the two nights of the festival, should the need arise. Both participating in the festival and welcoming a guest in your home are concrete ways to practice the extraordinary hospitality of God.
Prayerfully exploring the festival’s theme of “Exclusion and Embrace–Living in Community” will also deepen our appreciation of hospitality. On the surface, exclusion sounds unfriendly, if not unchristian, and inclusion sounds like a Christian virtue that should never be violated. However, we will discover that exclusion has a light side, and inclusion a dark shadow.
Clearly, God loves everyone, and there is no question that each and every human being bears the image of God, however dimly. It is the duty of every Christian to love all of our neighbors. On the other hand, we need to ask whether the love of Christ propels us to include everyone in every circumstance. The resounding answer is “certainly not”: there will be no terrorists making bombs in my basement, thank you very much!
The mandate to love that accompanies the foot-washing ceremony on Maundy Thursday is set in the context of Jesus’ teaching that some will be excluded—we need only remember his metaphorical warnings about the outer darkness and gnashing of teeth. The Maundy Thursday mandate to love by serving led inextricably to the negative exclusions of Good Friday. But Good Friday was itself the means by which God affirmed self-giving love and rejected the coercive use of power.
More significantly, Jesus’s own life was characterized by conflict with evil spirits, corrupt politicians, and bloody tyrants. He loved all of these people, but did not include them among his followers.
Given the brokenness and evil of this world, do we dare absolutize inclusion and make it the standard for all Christian behavior? Sometimes we are called to a ministry of shaking the dust off our feet. Jesus never stopped loving Judas Iscariot, but when Judas rejected God’s ways, Jesus excluded him.
The festival theme can help us recognize the gift that Jesus offers of holding in creative tension both embrace and exclusion. Together, excluding and embracing serve as the process by which we extend God’s hospitality. On the other hand, when no longer in balance with each other, exclusion and embrace lead to much suffering and oppression in the world.
I invite you to explore the life-giving, as well as the dehumanizing, aspects of the gift and calling to exclude and embrace. The Gospel theme for the next two months, as well as the festival weekend, will help us enter more deeply into the mystery of God’s love.