Soon after my family had moved to Manhattan from Dallas, John and I had the opportunity to take part in a trip to Israel. It was designed for Christian leaders to experience first-hand the many faces of the country, facets/aspects, both historical and modern.
There were twelve in the group, 9 men and 3 women. We were taken many places, including the Garden of Gethsemane, a refugee camp, the Knesset (site of parliament); we met with a woman general in the army and various political leaders.
Each place warmly greeted us. They couldn’t have been more hospitable and gracious.
Then there was the evening when we were scheduled to go out into the desert to spend the evening with a Bedouin chieftain. We piled onto the small bus, and upon arrival, got off the bus where we were about to be greeted.
But, all of a sudden, those greeting us seemed very distressed and began talking worriedly about the situation, pointing back at our group. We could not imagine what all the fuss was about.
Well, it turned out that women were not allowed in the chieftain’s tent. So the men huddled together again and came up with a hospitable solution. The other two women and I were to be considered “honorary men” for the evening! So we all went in, sat on the carpets, and had a lovely meal and conversation.
Actually, I didn’t feel any differently, but to be sure was perceived differently!
To make the story even more amusing, behind the huge chieftain’s tent, there was a smaller tent for the tribal women, complete with a TV antenna and a Mercedes parked outside.
Let’s note that the Bedouin men took very seriously the tribe’s social mandate to warmly welcome and respect all visitors.
Have you ever “gone the extra mile” when expecting guests?
Or, perhaps you have been warmly welcomed by someone new to you?
Let’s look at what it means to respect another person.
A member of the local Unitarian Universalist church, Bob Sadler, had become deeply involved in the IHELP ministry in part, by taking portrait-like pictures of the men.
He writes, “At the April IHELP meeting, I was standing in the supper line and the guy in front of me, a new guy, turned and asked if I was the photographer. I said I was.
“Well, he said, “you know what they are saying about you, don’t you?”
“No,” I said.
“They are saying that it’s good luck to have a picture taken by you.”
“Really, why is that?”
“Because eight of the first ten men you worked with got jobs and housing the next month and we don’t have a history of getting that many people placed.”
“Well,” I said, “that must be a coincidence.”
“No, it is not a coincidence.”
“Is it because they’re using the pictures for jobs and housing?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“Then, what is the reason?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “when they get up in the morning, they reach for the picture you gave them instead of a mirror… and they say to themselves…’hey, that’s a good-looking guy! He deserves a job and a house! See, you make them feel good about themselves and that helps them in interviews.”
“Really! And that is why I want my picture taken by you tonight. I want some of that good luck. Can we do that?”
And that was a defining moment. “Aha,” Bob said to himself, “This isn’t just an art project… it’s also a social justice project. This is a project that could change hearts and minds.” After supper, I did his portrait.
Here is the book about this project, “Inherent Worth and Dignity.” I’ll put it in the back of the church.
In the nineties, I served eight years as associate rector of St. Andrew’s, in Wellesley, MA. They didn’t know quite what to make of me. There I was, a mid-westerner, in a parish filled with Boston Brahmins, or at least they acted that way. Cordial but distant. After a while, I began to realize that they didn’t know what to do with a priest who tended to be spontaneous, relaxed, easily delighted. When I left St. Andrew’s, I reflected, “I think I hugged people two years too soon.”
Here at All Saints, you have welcomed me warmly. Many meaningful and wonderful bonds have been made, for which I give heartfelt thanks.
If truth be told, as we welcome others, we each bring certain characteristics of our human condition with us. For example, there is the dynamic of “taking inventory.” None of us admit to it, but we make certain assumptions about the other person. “Hmmm, he looks ill at ease,” “she seems tired,” “they don’t know much about our liturgy.”
This is called categorical thinking and puts people in little boxes of judgment, to everyone’s detriment. We unconsciously tend to put a “plus” or a “minus” on the other person.
Of course, we don’t do it consciously, but it does show how we respond. And guess what? That new person might well be unconsciously checking us out in the same way.
On page 304 in our prayer book, we find “The Baptismal Covenant,” which serves as a guide to a faith-filled life, with God at the center.
It includes these questions: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” Our response, “I will, with God’s help.”
Followed by “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Our response, “I will, with God’s help.”
When Jesus was sending out his disciples and others who were listening to him, he expected them to act as his envoys, proclaiming the same good news and performing the same works of healing that he was doing. Jesus further instructions are clear that the disciples were also to share in his poverty and homelessness, taking with them no money or extra clothing, and depending solely on the hospitality of others for shelter and sustenance.
Not exactly an upbeat job description…
The ringer is that those who do offer hospitality in heart and mind when meeting one of Jesus followers, come to know that “whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who set me.” Thus completing the deep care and loving, holy response bestowed by God and blessed by the Holy Spirit.
In closing, I‘d like to share with you a story about a priory in medieval England. It seems that the monks fought with each other all the time about little and big things, with no peace among them.
One day, a hermit from the far off woods knocked on the door. The monks reluctantly let him in, only slightly welcoming.
“I’ve come to tell you that God has sent me to you. You see, God has said that among you he has designated one monk who will be abundantly blessed and will be showered with not only the fruits of heaven but also treasures while on earth. Treat each other with love and respect not knowing who it is and this one monk, truly beloved of God, will reward you.”
And the take-away for today: Maya Angelou once wrote: “I’ve learned that people might forget what you said, people might forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
The Rev. Gwen L. Buehrens, preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Carmel