Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Mike Turgeon “Momentum for life: Hospitality” January 22, 2012
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1-2
Momentum for Life: Hospitality
This scripture calls worship the act of presenting yourself back to God. Why would you do this? According to Paul, you present yourself back to God in order to learn and carry out God’s will. The beauty of God’s will is that it is wide open and it is narrow all at the same time. When you commit to God’s will, all things are possible.
What is the most crucial aspect of God’s will? That you and I become vessels of God’s love and mercy. Love and mercy start with acts of hospitality. You see, God’s will is not rocket science.
From the very beginning of the Genesis story, we find Father Abraham adhering to the strict rules of hospitality in the desert culture.
Abraham looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate. Genesis 18:1-8
It is in our biblical DNA to be hospitable. But what about now--do acts of hospitality come off as simplistic in a technological age? I’m sure they do. It is a jaded age, too. You do acts of hospitality today and you will be accused of being a ‘do-gooder.‘ Do-gooders are considered suspect--that’s how far we have fallen.
But the spiritual life is not a lot more complicated than being a do-gooder. Preachers and theologians like to complicate it. Even Paul himself sometimes gets a little high-fallutin.‘ But every one of us are capable of hospitality, and not just in kind words. Words, as we know, may deceive. It is how we walk our talk that matters to God. If we are ever going to repair religion we must be authentic in our actions and committed to God’s purpose.
The world is weary of words. The reason we still read and study Paul is not his words, as good as they are, but his deeds.
Paul put shoes on God’s will and made it walk around. God transformed him from a vessel of hate into a vessel of love but Paul had to cooperate or God’s love would never have been put in motion in his life. Had Paul refused renewal would we even remember who he was? Would we even be here today if Paul had not walked his talk?
God’s ever possible ‘second chance’ allowed Paul to shift his momentum and we are still feeling it. That’s what I call radical, down to the root. Amidst a sea of hypocrisy, the shining light of authenticity will always burn brightly.
And here’s the most amazing thing, you and I are capable of the same in Jesus Christ. We present ourselves to something or somebody every minute of every day. Paul is just encouraging us to choose Christ each day.
I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker or heard the expression:
“If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”
Which direction are you headed? Are you moving away from God or toward God?
Thirty years ago this week, Chris and I attended a winter potluck celebration at a local church in Santa Rosa. It was not a church that we were really a part of, but my soon-to-be wife had been attending there for a couple of months. The church is Christ Church United Methodist in Bennett Valley. Chris knew a couple of people there but I was the real outsider; I knew virtually no one.
So imagine this scene: a young couple with two little kids in tow, are standing in the entry of a hall where everyone seems to know each other. It looked like everyone had a table to sit at; perhaps you’ve been in that situation at some social function. It would have been fine by me if we had just vturned around and gone home.
But then, something extraordinary happened. Diane Tuveson, a woman I had met once in passing, spotted us from across the room. She came over and said: “We’d like to have you sit with our family tonight.” Even to this day, that moment exists as the single most radically hospitable act I’ve ever experienced.
Here is the back-story. It’s important to remember, this wasn’t Pastor Mike we’re talking about. I was a thirty-four year-old single man who had been rejecting religion for 14 years, ever since starting college. I had attended the church service of this little Methodist Church with Chris a couple times, but this social ‘potluck’ seemed much safer than a church service, my religious wounds were that raw.
But standing in that doorway that night, when we were received so warmly, I began re-thinking my whole posture regarding the spiritual life. How radical was this act of hospitality on Diane’s part? Well, it put in motion what Paul describes here; being:
SLIDE: “...transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God...”
Brothers and sisters, your life is not a meaningless jumble of random events, it is a series of divine appointments in which God shapes your character. It is vital that we recognize this as the church.
You know what the most common thing I hear is? Mike, I feel like I’m coasting, my life has little meaning. I’m adrift, I have no goals. This feeling is rampant but it is an illusion of the first order. Our minds like this fallacy, it gives our egos something to play with. Folks, every molecule of our being glorifies God. We don’t coast, that is not how we are made. We are either ascending or descending, moving forward or backward, renewing or relapsing. Life is momentum.
We like to think that we have a neutral gear, but we don’t get let off the hook that easy. Our minds are good at fancy illusion. The most elegant illusion is this one:
“I don’t like change.”
Please know that if you have said this or thought this, it’s okay, you don’t have to like change, but change is going to come. Yes, we can resist God’s will to transform us into vessels of love; let’s be honest, we do it a lot.
Thank God that we can’t interfere with the momentum of our bodies. The body is a renewal machine.
Our cell structure does not depend on our willingness. Each one of our cells is born, has a relatively short life span, then dies. Some last a couple of hours and some bone cells live past 20 years; in an average life span you are re-generated two or three times. I daresay, that is change you can believe in.
It goes deeper.
In 1974, Cynthia Illingworth, an English physician specializing in emergency medicine, discovered that when children accidentally sever the finger tip (down to the first joint),
the best treatment is no treatment. Cleaned and covered with a bandage, the finger tip, including the nail, grows back. In 11 or 12 weeks the new finger tip usually looks as if nothing had happened to it. We used to think only salamanders and lizards could do this kind of stuff, right?
There seem to be three requirements for regrowth: the patient must be under 12 years old, the cut must be above the crease of the first joint, and surgeons must keep hands off the injury. Any operation performed on the finger destroys its ability to grow back. And wouldn’t you know it, this last condition, this necessity to not do anything, is the hardest necessity to accept, admits Dr. Michael Bleicher, a pediatric surgeon at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. The doctors want to get in there and help things along. The radical approach is to trust the body to do the right thing. Let it do what it does best, grow.
Reader's Digest, March, 1980.
The spirit grows or withers as well. The difference between the body and the spirit is that the spirit is not connected to the autonomic nervous system. The spirit relates to the will, our will or God’s will. Whose will do you organize around?
Paul’s appeal this morning is to such a different context than ours but it’s as if he wrote it yesterday. If your life seems to lack meaning, present your life for transformation. Someone, something or some system has been and will form you, make sure it’s the right one.
Momentum for Life: Hospitality
Am I in the right ballpark this morning?
Are you drifting? If so, ask yourself this question,
Who have you been hospitable to lately?
Spiritual renewal is a curious thing. Nowadays, I run into this woman, Diane maybe once every ten years. But that moment when she intentionally went out of her way to relieve an awkward situation for a young couple continues to influence my life.
My spirit was on life support, yet God was not done with me.
Fifteen years after this moment of radical inclusion of which I speak, I was taking a couple of part-time seminary classes, twenty years after, I was preaching in a pulpit. To this day, no one is more surprised by this journey than me. Did Diane’s hospitality set something in motion for me? Maybe. Was her graceful gesture joining with the action of the Holy Spirit? Okay. Who gets most of the credit here, Diane or the Holy Spirit? It was a team effort; Diane was just putting in practice what her church encouraged her to do.
By shutting God out of my life, I was interfering with God’s purpose. Not a smart thing, but a common one. Personal faith development is truly God’s responsibility; but God counts on partnering with us to enact God’s purpose in Christ.
Acts of hospitably to the stranger and the near stranger are simple acts, though they do take courage. Sharing God’s love is a spiritual momentum builder for you most of all.
Momentum for life.
So, where are you on your spiritual journey as we like to say? What renewal of your spiritual worship are you willing to allow? When I stand up here every Sunday and say, “Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you are welcome here at WCUMC, I’m really writing a check that you, the church, must cash on behalf of Jesus.