Highworth United Reformed Church

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Hospitality or hostility ?

By The Revd Robert Jordan MA

Ephesians 2: 11-22 Jonah 4; 1-11

Hospitality or hostility?

Seriously, this morning on my drive from Swindon to Highworth, I heard a report on BBC4 from today's Sunday Times... here is a link to the article even with its abusive language. This reality upset me in such a way, that I chose now to begin the service today telling you about it. It set the tone for the reflection that was to follow....

Some time ago I read this story told by the author Nilos Kazantsakis (who wrote Zorba the Greek and The last temptation of Christ), he was once walking a dusty path in Crete, and an elderly woman passed by carrying a basket of figs. She paused and picked out two figs and gave them to him; surprised by this he asked her "Do you know me?", and she looked up at him in amazement and said "no, my boy, I don't know you. Do I have to know you to give you something? Your are a human being, aren't you? So am I. Isn't that enough? This came back to me while dealing with what happened in Manchester this week, as well as what is going on in Brazil...

The Old Testament lists three groups of people who are worthy of special kindness: strangers, widows and orphans (Lev 19;10/Deut 10;18). Because these were people who were alone and had nobody to care for them. Paul will later tell the early community that the mark of true christianity is to extend hospitality to strangers (Rom 12.13). So having said this, our first warning to Jonah - be careful man with what you are doing and saying!

And then we read Ephesians who takes this Old Testament mandate even further, the people Paul writes to used to be 'aliens', people 'with no hope', but in Christ Jesus they have become part of a common community - the new humanity. Dividing walls have been broken down and it is based on this that not long ago Pope Francis said that those who build dividing walls cannot call themselves christian. The author of this letter reminds them that they used to be aliens, so they should be caring, loving, welcoming. Are we learning this?

This is what God teaches Jonah, much against Jonah's better judgement. Jonah's prejudice comes out clearly in this short book, such that it takes him in the opposite direction to where God has asked him to go. And finally Jonah begrudges God the kindness and generosity God has shown those people that in Jonah's mind are the enemy, the hated ones.

The challenge to us today is that of hospitality or hostility...the love of God is embracing, is generous and is not bound by any of our prejudice, no matter how grounded we may believe it to be. And yet there is so much hostility going around. Such as recorded in the article below, or what happened after Manchester with so much abuse, or what happened in Egypt where the Coptic Church once again suffered death and hatred...

Let me conclude with a paraphrase from C S Lewis: can you think of a type of person who might make you uncomfortable if they sat next to you? May that person come into your life soon! (CSLewis On the problem of evil).

This is what we have been trying to say for such a long time, and I know it is tested with the tragedy this week in Manchester - and there again we say light in the middle of such darkness, and hospitality in the midst of such hostility. But in faith we cannot ever not be the new creation through Christ, no matter how much we are tested, because Christ is our peace and has broken down all dividing walls. And we can only be that new creation if there is to be a possibility of life in fullness in the world. Amen.

With recognition and appreciation to "Living the Questions" (D. Felten and J Procter-Murphy)