April 23rd, 2023, 10:30 a.m.
Third Sunday of Easter
By Rev. Nicole Lamarche
Good morning and welcome again on what is in our tradition the third Sunday of Easter. As we come to this part of our gathering, I invite you as you are moved to take some deeper breaths, to let ourselves arrive a bit more fully, as we hope to hear whatever word God has for each of us this day.
And as you are moved join me in this preacher’s prayer from Psalm 19.
Gracious God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight. Our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
He was a stranger to them. The scripture makes a point of letting us know that. And of all the details to highlight, after what they had endured, after what had just unfolded and didn’t, the story tells us that a group of them were walking along the road talking about what happened, wondering what would be next when, the text says, a “stranger in Jerusalem” shows up.
And that word stranger jumped out at me when I read this story this week. Because two teenagers were shot and one of them killed simply because they were strangers and to those two men who raised weapons without wondering or inquiring, the strangers were seen as a threat. Ralph Yarl is alive after being shot from being on the wrong porch and Kaylin Gillis is dead after being shot from being in the wrong driveway.
Because they were strangers.
And because clearly to many, strangers are seen as first and foremost dangerous.
So I have been pondering this a lot over these days.
Because while I understand there is much to fear right now, in our Christian tradition, it is part of the expectation that we show hospitality to strangers. Period.
Not that we put ourselves in harm’s way, but that as disciples of Jesus, hospitality to the unfamiliar is part of what it means for us to be faithful.
You might remember that piece of the Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 13:2), where we read “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
And here in the Gospel of Luke Jesus shows up as a stranger.
So I wonder if this story, if this road to Emmaus, is something like a test? One last teaching before he transitions fully to the other side of the rainbow bridge?
He shows up and appears among them as a stranger, to see what they will do.
Will they feel threatened and turn him away or try to cause him harm? Will they engage him and listen to him? Will they treat him kindly, or will they patronize him? Will they ensure that he has had enough to eat and drink? Will they share what they had with him?
And you notice that it isn’t until they share a meal together that they see the stranger as no stranger at all but as their teacher Jesus. Here is how I read this story today and this week: It is only when they were trying to ensure that the stranger had what was needed that something deeper clicked for them. It is when they were quite literally in service beyond themselves that they could wake up and see that their eyes were opened! When they share a meal with him. They get it.
The life to which we are called will remain shallow and in the end unsatisfying, and in a spiritual sense we will remain sleeping, as if our eyes are shut, this is what it will feel like if we close off all that is strange and all who is identified as a stranger…
And I think this is true not just of people, but of possibilities. What if part of being a follower of Jesus is being willing to welcome into our midst and onto our road, not just strangers, but the strange in general?
What I mean is that what if it is also part of our Christian tradition to show hospitality to the strange in the bigger sense? Because strange by definition is to be unusual or surprising. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of strange: curious, peculiar, weird, queer, unexpected, unfamiliar, different, extraordinary, remarkable, mysterious, inexplicable, eccentric, unconventional, idiosyncratic, outlandish, offbeat, quirky, zany, like nothing on earth. Hello this is us! The church!
To be sure, to be strange or to be a stranger can often just be another way of saying someone or something previously unseen, or unencountered…
And what if that is exactly what we need?
What if there are times like right now where we need the strange, we need the untried, the unencountered, what we haven’t met before? So what if it’s part of our call to cultivate a hospitality not just to strangers but to all that is strange?
I am not saying that God wants us to be unsafe, but I do think that God wants us to be uncomfortable at times because otherwise we will be stuck near the tomb or lost on the road alone or left feeling like there aren’t very many options. What if sometimes the only way onward and deeper is literally through the strange.
I shared with some of you how the battery in my car died this week…but my kid waved down this dude in a large truck that gave us a jump and his name is Jake… and it just got me thinking about how much our life together needs us to be able to rely on people we don’t know on occasion and maybe that feels challenging now but I don’t want to live as if my default position is to fear all that is unfamiliar, to fear every stranger. Do you know what I mean?
So what if that is part of the gift of showing up here together like this, of tuning into Spirit together, of giving our lives to love and service is that we continue to cultivate our commitment to showing hospitality to not just strangers, but to strange ideas, strange concepts of what could be? And I am thinking of that on this Earth Day weekend. And thinking of people like Greta for example whom the world says is strange, but she is exactly the leader that we need for climate.
So what if what we need right now is to open our eyes to all that is strange, untried, unconventional, extraordinary?
What if just what we need is to open our hearts, our ears, our eyes to the people and the possibilities that are, odd, curious, unconventional, like nothing on earth? Let us welcome the strange and the stranger… We never know when we might be entertaining angels… May it be so. Amen!
©Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche