Prophetic Voice and Radical Hospitality

Lent 5 message given at
Trinity Episcopal Church in Fillmore, CA

It has been a joy for me to enter into the life and vision of the students, faculty, staff, and community members who recognize the importance of our campus ministry’s presence at the university as a prophetic voice for change and a welcoming space of hope.

In these two veins, prophetic voice and welcoming space, we are given the opportunity to share God’s good news of love and redemption to both our student group and to the people we come across on campus everyday. This morning’s epistle is a reminder of the challenges that each of us face as we participate in the daily movement of life and the need for a voice of hope and a space of hospitality.

When we entered this season of Lent, the readings brought us in touch with our humanity, a humanity and flesh that hungers. In the creation narrative we saw this hunger turn away from God to fill a void and towards seeking to be fed through knowledge of power, self-trust, control, and survival. In his book For the Life of the World, Alexander Schmemann classifies this shift as disordered hunger or disordered love. Rather than hungering or loving after God, we seek fulfillment elsewhere.

We again meet humanity’s disordered hunger and love for power, in the form of the devil, when Christ is tempted in the desert. Here Jesus resists the temptation to seize power and “save the world” outside of the perfectly ordered love of God. A love, which, Paul reminds us in Romans chapter eight comes from the Spirit of Christ. One that is life and peace; a Spirit that is restorative, that reorders our hunger, and reflects Christ’s life of servitude and compassion.

Each Sunday this Lent, we have journeyed with the gospel passages through Christ’s ministry on Earth. All of these narratives challenging conventional notions of power, exclusion, and holiness. All of these narratives calling us to no longer hunger for the dysfunction of this world, but to allow our flesh to be filled and satisfied by God’s spirit. As ministers of this gospel message, our work at the Abundant Table campus ministry is to be the hands and feet of Christ. To model the example Christ gives in his journey from the desert to the cross and beyond.

Today’s Old Testament reading and gospel draw our attention to two primary ways in which we live out Christ’s life in our own. In Ezekiel God’s Spirit leads the prophet to a valley filled with bones. Dry bones; bones without flesh and therefore without life. While Ezekiel acknowledges that only God knows whether “these bones can live,” God still commands the prophet to “prophesy to these bones,” “to say to them – you shall live.” Ezekiel must share a prophetic voice of change, a change from death to life. God shares with Ezekiel that these bones symbolize the “whole house of Israel”. It is important to note that the promise of life is not just for one of the houses of Israel, but its entirety.

Up to this point in the scriptures the Israelites were outcasts; a people divided by lusts for power and an economy of oppression, whether brought upon them by outside nations or perpetuated internally by their own disordered hunger. God promises to renew and restore them, to breathe into Israel a radical hospitality that welcomes them into right relationship with God and to each other.

So, now, jumping into the Gospel of John, we come across another narrative, with a very similar pattern. It has been four days since Lazarus was laid in the tomb; dead, a man on his way to becoming dry bones. Risking his life in returning to the town of Lazarus’ burial, Jesus arrives to a crowd of mourners, skeptics, and a handful of the hopeful. Deeply moved by the death of Lazarus, the unbelief of many followers, and the knowledge that the following display of power will place him in opposition to the ruling elite of his day, Jesus wept. And then…Jesus spoke. Like in Ezekiel, Christ called out to the dry bones in the tomb when he called “Lazarus, come out!” Once again, we see a prophetic voice of change call to the dead, that life may be breathed into them.

This call is an invitation into a welcoming space of hope. How much more radical can hospitality get, then to invite the dead, back into the land of the living. If we think about it, those who are dead lay in the ultimate exile and exclusion. In the raising of Lazarus from the dead, Jesus reminds us of the power of hospitality, and that it is in his Spirit of life and peace, can our flesh truly live.

While in Campus ministry, we do not find ourselves resurrecting the dead, we constantly come across opportunities for radical hospitality, to provide a welcoming space of hope. Many of the students on our campus face some level of exclusion and in that a loss of life. Just this pass week I had a conversation with a young woman who, because of her situation in life, felt very alone and often misunderstood by her peers. She is someone who would be considered at the very margins of society. Although a hard worker, a visionary, mature and motivated, this young woman is excluded from many tables that our society has created for people to “eat at” (you’ve heard the saying, “a seat at the table”). My hope is that the Abundant Table can be a safe and welcoming place for everyone, especially for this young woman. It is in such a welcoming that hope emerges, a hope that one day we will all live in wholeness. The story of this young woman is one of many that have crossed our paths, and one of many that we have yet to encounter.

Just as in last week’s gospel, where Jesus sought out the blind man whom he healed, but whom the religious authorities rejected, we are to follow Christ and seek out those who are excluded. To the campus we desire to be a prophetic voice of change that signals a welcoming community of hope. A community with an Abundant Table for all, where a hunger for God leads to reconciliation, redemption, peace and justice.

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