Radical Hospitality Part 2: God Without Borders

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Calvary celebrated July the 5th with the conclusion of Rev. Victor’s series on Radical Hospitality: “God Without Borders.” Everyone sang national hymns of peace, Charles Worth played John Phillip Sousa on Calvary’s mighty organ, and the choir sang Randall Thompson, while Dave Scott sounded the shofar.

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

Mark 6:2-11

On the sabbath [Jesus] began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.


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Repent or Perish?

From time to time there are street preachers who stand at Powell and Market holding signs for captive audiences who wait in line for the cablecar. The signs say things like BABYLON HAS FALLEN and REPENT OR PERISH. Lou will tell you that we usually cross to the other side to avoid “those Christians” ever since one day they started preaching directly at us. I confess that getting to the Apple Store is usually higher on our list of priorities than confronting religious intolerance. There’s even a Yelp review of the angry sign guys that wonders why somebody doesn’t do something about them.[1] I reckon it’s because we live in a country that values free speech, and for that I am thankful. Practically speaking, if everyone with whom I disagreed went silent, I might never be challenged to change my thinking—although I might be happier were I lost in mindless self-absorption.

Can you imagine the faith summoned by Jesus through the disciples as they went two-by-two into neighboring villages preaching repentance? What if they got it wrong? Jesus instructed them, “When people don’t welcome you, take no time for a pity party. Just keep trying to help and heal the people who will accept this teaching.” Are we ready to accept the radical calling of Jesus Christ? Are we even ready to be healed? Are we capable of repentance? Don’t tune me out. Yet. Today, repentance and healing are two sides of the same coin.

Prayer for Illumination

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts glorify and please you, O God, our rock, our redeemer, our healing and our peace. Amen.

We Shall Overcome

As a child of the Deep South, I never heard anyone call the Civil War, the War of Northern Aggression, unless joking. I never saw a burning cross nor a lynching tree, but I know people who have. In 1968, I watched the black families of our small Georgia town march to express their grief and outrage the evening of Dr. King’s assassination.

My father feared that violence might erupt as it had in Atlanta[2] and Chattanooga. He turned out all our lights and had us pretend no one was home. We watched with privileged caution as our beloved neighbors, including Mrs. Waters who sometimes watched over me, walked down the street, peacefully, singing:

 We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome some day.
O deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome some day.

Sunday Night Revival

A few years later, Parson Lash—a yankee from New York, bless his heart—was sent to us by the bishop who obviously didn’t know any better. Parson Lash challenged us to be changed through experience. We didn’t get it. Then, he invited a local black church to worship with us on at Sunday night revival service. In 1960s rural Georgia, that was asking a lot—and not from just the white people.

That humid evening at the Plainville Methodist Church, my parents and I watched from the parking lot as the group from Bethesda Baptist Church, dressed to the nines, knelt to pray on the lawn. We did not understand why. The parson later explained that “they were praying for God not to strike them down for entering the white man’s church.” They knew the legacy of white supremacy far better than any of us. After all, this could go very wrong. Was the Klan waiting inside? Of course not. The service went as planned, although many white people said they didn’t understand why it was so important to do such a controversial thing. Do you understand why it was important?

Infection Control

Of course you do. Two weeks ago, the Charleston Massacre shocked the nation, but, for some Americans of African descent, the church shooting re-inscribed the old white power narrative of terror and intimidation. In his eulogy for Rev. Pinckney, the President remarked, “Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it.”[3] Infected and unaware? Sounds dangerous.

In 1991, not long after the Rodney King beating, I heard author Pearl Cleage[4] declare to a mostly African-American audience: “All white people are racists.” I wanted to get up and leave. How dare she! She doesn’t know me! Then, she continued to explain how racism infects everybody, even black people. All of us have been exposed repeatedly to the same infection. As a gay man, I can tell you with authority that homophobia is as much a condition of Pat Roberson[5] as it is of the gay community. Internalized homophobia[6], like internalized racism[7], is just as destructive as physical violence.

Metanoia Repentance

In today’s scripture, the Greek word for repent is metanoein, or metanoia. So, repent, when used in the New Testament, does not mean what it says in the English dictionary. Repentance is not the action of showing regret[8] —nor is it about controlling someone else’s offensive behavior. The word metanoein means to change our thinking. As one theologian puts it: to reflect and reflect again on the goodness of goodness[9] and then, we can be the change we want to see.

Metanoien repentance is a journey. We don’t just do repent once and then move on.[10] Truth be told, we probably won’t perish, not immediately anyway, if we don’t change our thinking, but I know for sure that we won’t improve. Improvement demands repentance—or internal, spiritual change.

God Without Borders

Will we go the extra mile to discover a love without borders, God’s love that exceeds the borders of stereotypes, the borders of ancestries, the borders of governments, even the borders of religion? This world could really use some metanoein change of thinking on religious arrogance, something patently un-American. In the words of Robert Schnase, radical hospitality leaves nobody out, invites every person to “demonstrate an active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for…strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for [ourselves] the unending richness of life in Christ.”

Liberté, égalité, fraternité! [11]

Friday night, over 30,000 people gathered at the AT&T Park and War Memorial Opera House to witness nothing short of radical hospitably miracle. The Marriage of Figaro, was simulcast from the opera house to the ballpark and shown free-of-charge to all who would come. Of course, many generous donations made it all possible. That’s how church works, too. I sat at the cool summer ballpark mesmerized by the sunset, drinking beer and eating garlic fries. With seagulls darting through the gathering fog, hoping for popcorn, and children squirming all around, we sat back amazed at pure genius of the opera’s second act.

Around the American Revolution, King Louis the Sixteenth tried to ban The Marriage of Figaro, declaring the story “mocked everything…respected in government.”[12] Louis’ admonition sounds like what Confederate Flag wavers are saying today about recent national developments in human rights. When we pay close enough attention, the Spirit can open up time and space as if to show us where we are in the scheme of things. There we were, under the San Francisco night sky, celebrating the 239th year of this republic’s experiment in democracy, our revolution sharing energy with our French forebears. During the first intermission, we witnessed a real-life marriage proposal from one man to another man, and on the jumbo-tron. The crowd cheered.

All of this Mozart had already set in motion through his calling, composing a legacy that helped set the stage for political and social reforms[13] that would dare to depict women with opinions, orphans with futures, the real lives of the working class and the marriage of lesser-thans. Radical hospitality is the journey of repentance and healing.

Turn the prism and more light shines through. The mostly-American cast featured a Serbian-born bass, my buddy Bojan Knezevic, as Antonio the drunken gardener. Figaro’s libretto was based on Beaumarchais’ provocative play of the Comedie-Francaise, but Friday it was sung in Italian as set to music by Mozart, a German-speaking Austrian, the whole story taking place in Spain. God for the blurred borders—geographical and political, secular and spiritual.

How will we, Body of Christ, offer such radical hospitality outside our comfortable borders? It’s risky business. Spontaneity might break out. We might get it wrong. The guys from the cable car turnaround might show up with their signs. And we will say welcome. No one ever said hospitality was easy! Here are three ways Calvary is practicing Radical Hospitality this week.

  • The high school mission trip is headed to Chicago.
  • This Thursday night at Grace Cathedral, Lou and I will represent Calvary at an Interfaith Ramadan Dinner aptly called “Building Hospitality as a Way of Life”.
  • Next Sunday afternoon, we will welcome Grace Tabernacle Community Church, a pentecostal, mostly African-American church from Hunters Point, for our Live at 5 Service.   Surely we understand why it is important to do such a thing! Yes?

And this is how, we pray, peace will come, through true repentance and new actions. This day, may each human being, regardless of ancestry or religion, receive enough to eat and go to sleep in God’s peace which we claim and set in motion right here this morning.

[1] I’m not alone on this. <http://www.yelp.com/topic/san-francisco-christian-preacher-freak-at-the-cable-car-turnaround-at-powell-st>

[2] Ivan Allen, “The Night MLK Was Shot” Atlanta Magazine, April 2004, 46, accessed online at <https://books.google.com/books?id=DNACAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA46&lpg=PA46&dq=the+night+dr.+king+was+shot+violence+atlanta&source=bl&ots=34vf-nMuA_&sig=cs_botBnHMMl5nVAhFsK_2K2IeU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=bGOYVbGNCtbhoATe4K-oCA&ved=0CB4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=the%20night%20dr.%20king%20was%20shot%20violence%20atlanta&f=false> (July 4, 2015)

[3] Heather MacDonald, The Shameful Liberal Exploitation, blah blah blah, accessed online at <http://www.nationalreview.com/article/420565/charleston-shooting-obama-race-crime> (July 2, 2015) I disagree with MacDonald’s thesis, which I find dangerous.

[4] <http://www.pearlcleage.net/index.html>

[5] <http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/pat-robertson-gay-marriage-will-lead-gods-wrath-turn-us-sodom>

[6] Brian Mustanski Ph.D. “Does Internalized Homophobia Still Matter?” Psychology Today, January 2010, accessed online at <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-sexual-continuum/201001/does-internalized-homophobia-still-matter> (July 1, 2015)

[7] Nadra Kareem Nittle, “What is Internalized Racism?” accessed online at <http://racerelations.about.com/od/understandingrac1/a/internalizedracism.htm> (July 1, 2015)

[8] “Repentance” The New Oxford American Dictionary: Third Edition, Oxford University Press, Apple OS, 2014. (July 3, 2015)

[9] David Leahy, Foundation: Matter of Body Itself (Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1996), 244 see footnotes, accessed online at <https://books.google.com/books?id=HvMVC4_xcN0C&pg=PA244&lpg=PA244&dq=metanoein&source=bl&ots=8iPk6Ze5dz&sig=2htIBtbxQWnnxyH9n8_AN0a15Uo&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Ql2YVZ-SIJa2oQSHqpywBg&ved=0CFQQ6AEwDA#v=onepage&q=metanoein&f=false> (July 2, 2015)

[10] As Heather MacDonald suggested in her article, The Nation, referenced above.

[11] The peculiar Californian adaptation of this French motto is: “Liberty, Equality, Privacy!” — but that’s the topic of another sermon.

[12] Beaumarchais, Wikipedia, accessed online at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_Beaumarchais> (July 4, 2015)

[13] Thomas Smillie,Opera Explained—The Marriage of Fiagro, accessed online at <http://www.naxosaudiobooks.com/558078.htm> (July 4, 2015)



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