We had a great example of the upside down, scary, confusing way of the world last week. It involved a “guerrilla advertising” company in Boston, with “guerrilla” as in soldiers who harass and undermine the enemy rather than big hairy primates who live in misty mountains in Africa. That’s confusing enough for most of us. The advertiser placed boxes around the city promoting a Cartoon Network program featuring a talking milkshake, a box of fries and a meatball. They were mistaken for bombs so police came out, parts of the city shut down. The two young men who placed the boxes went to court in handcuffs, laughing all the way. And enterprising types went and found the rest of the boxes sold them on e-bay, making a handsome profit.
It’s not the first time fear, confusion and panic have shaken our world and set us adrift. What troubles is how deep and persistent our anxiety must be to twist off on boxes featuring a talking milkshake and how wide the chasm between 20 somethings who find it all funny and those who don’t. But struggle and fear have always been part of the human condition. There is always something to beat us up and beat us down.
Paul didn’t know anything about talking milkshakes, but he understood fear and disarray of life and moral failure and he spoke to it a couple of millennia ago and he speaks to it now. He saw a world where the purposes of God went one way and the lives of the people went another.
And he said, There is only one hope for you and for the world and that is the resurrection, the ultimate grace of God. He knew it because he’d experienced it. I don’t know what you’ve done wrong in your life, but Paul was guilty of murder. He hunted down and destroyed believers in Christ until all of a sudden one day he met that Christ. And Jesus offered him grace, he who was least worthy to receive it, which is what makes it grace, and then Paul spent the rest of his life living into it that grace.
And so he wrote to friends in distress: Back to basics, friends. I give to you what I received, the most important thing, that Christ died for our sins, was buried and was raised on the third day and then appeared to one, to twelve, to many, many more including me, even me.
Believe this and live as if you do. Because if you do, you receive the grace, which is life, you believe and you become it for others.
But the question comes, how? How do we live what we believe? We have challenged ourselves this year as a church to live God’s grace through the practice of Christ’s hospitality. As leaders of the church discussed this theme someone wondered whether it was enough, would demand enough and challenge enough in this time of our church life.
Will it? It will if we will allow it, God helping us. We can begin anew, living the hospitality of Christ that invites God to come in and make us bigger, more gracious than we are. The hospitality of Christ brings life. It places us within the grace of God. It walks us in the way of humility. You receive it by believing it and living it.
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We focused on hospitality before Christmas and church members have tried to live it. One decided to welcome guests to a family celebration she had wanted to leave out. Someone else made a guest room available to the relative of a neighbor she had never met before. Another went out of his way at a drug store to greet a fellow shopper. That one didn’t turn out as hoped. The shopper happened to be reaching for a product in the hemorrhoid section and didn’t want to be greeted at that particular moment.
As we go deeper into the practice of hospitality, we will see that it is not simple, not superficial, there is accountability, risk, self care, and responsibility on the guest’s part. Hospitality requires forgiveness, repentance, reconciliation. (Lenten gatherings will help and challenge us.) This is not cheap grace we are talking about, it is about small deaths and little resurrections.
I confess that I fail sometimes to practice or receive the grace of God. I am perfectly capable of walking in the ruts of anger and resentment. I was doing that one day last week walking Nash, the big black lab, head down, making a list for God of everything and everybody against whom I have a complaint when a black pick-up truck stopped on the other side of the street. It was Ralph, my neighbor. He called over, “Do you like eggs?” Yes. “Do you like fresh eggs?” Yes. “Do you like brown eggs?” Yes. “Do you like green eggs?” Err…Yes. He held up an egg carton so Nash and I crossed over and he delightedly opened the lid and showed me a dozen eggs, some brown, some pale pink, some light green. Fresh, beautiful, colorful eggs from a friend of his daughter’s who raises exotic chickens and here you are.
So I walked the remaining two blocks to the house, holding Nash’s leash in my left hand, and a carton of brown, pink and green eggs in my right. It occurred to me that an egg is a sign of resurrection, and I had just had one. A little one, but a resurrection. Instead of spreading bombs around town, why not eggs – a glimpse of how life could be by the grace and power of God? Why not be people who keep talking of God and pointing to Christ by the humble hospitality of our lives, and trusting the rest to God!
Then, with Paul we can say, “By the grace of God I am what I am, and God’s grace has not been for nothing.”