Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
Our text this morning is a
short text that comes at the end of the 10th chapter of Matthew's
gospel, verses 40-42. This occurs at the end of Jesus' instructions to
the twelve, as he sends them out:
‘Whoever welcomes you
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes the one
who sent me. 41Whoever
welcomes a prophet in the
name of a prophet will
receive a prophet’s reward;
and whoever welcomes a
righteous person in the name
of a righteous person will
receive the reward of the
righteous; 42and whoever
gives even a cup of cold
water to one of these little
ones in the name of a
disciple—truly I tell you,
none of these will lose
Some of you, I'm sure,
will remember the story of "The Rabbi's Gift", told by Scott Peck in his
book "A Different Drum". We used it at a planning retreat a decade and a
half ago. For those that were there, it's one of those stories that kind
of just sticks with you, it has a powerful message.
The story concerns a monastery
that had fallen upon hard times. Once a great order, as a result of
waves of anti-monastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its
branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent
that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house:
the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a
In the deep woods surrounding
the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town
occasionally used for a hermitage. Through their many years of
prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so
they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. "The
rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again " they would
whisper to each other. As he agonized over the imminent death of his
order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the
hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could
offer any advice that might save the monastery.
The rabbi welcomed the abbot
at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit,
the rabbi could only commiserate with him. "I know how it is," he
exclaimed. "The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in
my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore." So the old
abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the
Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot
had to leave. They embraced each other. "It has been a wonderful
thing that we should meet after all these years, "the abbot said,
"but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there
nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that
would help me save my dying order?"
"No, I am sorry," the rabbi
responded. "I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you
is that the Messiah lives among you."
When the abbot returned to the
monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, "Well what
did the rabbi say?" "He couldn't help," the abbot answered. "We just
wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as
I was leaving --it was something cryptic-- was that the Messiah
lives among us. I don't know what he meant."
In the days and weeks and
months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered
whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi's words.
The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us
monks here at the monastery? If that's the case, which one? Do you
suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably
meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a
generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas.
Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas
is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred!
Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though
he is a thorn in people's sides, when you look back on it, Elred is
virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean
Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so
passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift
for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically
appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the
rabbi didn't mean me. He couldn't possibly have meant me. I'm just
an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah?
O God, not me. I couldn't be that much for You, could I?
As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat
each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one
among them might be the Messiah. And on the off off chance that each
monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves
with extraordinary respect.
Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so
happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery
to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even
now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they
did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of
extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks
and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of
the place. There was something strangely attractive, even
compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to
the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They
began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And
their friends brought their friends.
Then it happened that some of
the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more
and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could
join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the
monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the
rabbi's gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the
This morning, I would like to tie
together that story, with a column in the Register Guard by Don Kahle,
an E-mail I received from Elaine Andres, yesterday's
article in the Register Guard by Christine Tofte, the upcoming
Eugene Celebration, and our Centennial. All of that in response to this
The text comes at the tail end of Jesus' message to the twelve
(disciples). It comes immediately after some very sobering words that
Jesus gives. First of all, he tells them he's sending them out like
sheep amidst wolves. Now, if you've every watched the Nature Channel,
you know that's not a pretty picture. He goes on to say they'll be
dragged before rulers, family members will be pitted against family
members, you will be hated by all because of my name.
And then comes the hardest part of all -- I think this is one of the
hardest, most difficult passages to read in all of scripture: "Do not
think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to
bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his
father, a daughter against her mother. Whoever loves his father or
mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or
daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not take up
the cross and follow me is not worthy of me".
That is a tough message. It's hard to hear. It's even harder to
understand. But it's also very real.
I can into a new understanding of this story when I heard that story
that Chris and Mike shared for us. If you haven't read
the Register Guard's "Heart to Heart" column (June 25th edition), go
home and read that. If you were here at our Annual Meeting in January,
you heard Chris and Mike share this story, about how they were told by
their pastor in their previous church that their son would be living a
life of sin if he did not change his way of homosexuality. And that even
though they should still love their son, they should pray for God to
change him. Even though they felt strongly that he was who he is, that
God made him that way.
Well, as the Tofte's shared with us, it was a very painful moment in
their lives. Because that pastor from that church was part of their
family, just as we are now. And they chose, wisely and rightly, their
son over that church. And eventually found there way here, where they
were instrumental in helping us to change our 'unofficial' policy of
being open & affirming regardless of sexual orientation, to our official
policy. And yes, we did that by consensus. But we were not unanimous,
that's a different thing -- some chose to stand aside, and we thank them
for that. Some chose to not participate in that process. In the end,
even though we had consensus, just as the Tofte's felt that they had to
find a new church, we also had a couple of households that they too
needed to find a new church, though for the opposite reason. And we
The irony, of course, is that everyone felt their decision -- whether it
be to move forward with us or to leave -- was based on being faithful to
the gospel. And so it's important for us to be respectful toward those
who have chosen to leave, and to understand that their choice to do so
was based in their faith. And that it was a painful choice to make. Even
as we continue to affirm our choice as the right one for us based in our
faith, for to not make that choice would be to deny the inclusivity of
God's love we hold central to our values and the mission as God's
In giving these instructions to the
twelve, Jesus was quite aware of the painful choices the gospel would
require. In Matthew, telling the gospel story now several decades later,
has the added benefit of that experience of those families, those
close-knit communities that faced those kinds of painful choices.
And that is reflected in the shape, then, that is given to this
re-telling of the story. And so Jesus ends here with words of
encouragement, in effect saying 'As you make some of those painful
choices, keep in mind that in the process you are creating new bonds of
family and community, based not on your identity as a member of this
family or that, but on God's identity, as the creator of all families,
regardless of their make-up and character. As the creator of all
So Christian community is based on forming new bonds of acceptance,
love, and respect, and creating that space, a sacred, holy space. Where
we welcome others as we would welcome Christ.
I call this 'radical hospitality'. Welcoming the stranger. Not just the
stranger like us, who we are comfortable with, who looks like us, talks
like us, but precisely that stranger you see who is different from us.
And this is where that article from Don Kahle comes in. Don writes every
Friday for the Register Guard, and on June 10th he wrote about his
experience of that kind of hospitality in the Middle East, in his visits
to Egypt and Iraq. He wrote:
practice hospitality in the West most easily with those
most similar to us. But the ease and the similarity mean
it’s not true hospitality, and it barely resembles its
continuing form where it first took root.
We practice hospitality using a cost-benefit
analysis. My gift to you is considered an
investment. Whether I expect my return to be
direct or indirect, my self-interest drives
the transaction. There’s nothing wrong with
cashless capitalism. But it’s not
I had to
kid Don a little bit about this (he and I have
worked together in City Club and other places),
and said, you know Don, you're contradicting
Jesus here :). What Don is saying is if you do
it for a reward, it's not hospitality. Well,
Jesus talks about the reward here, of
hospitality -- only, that reward is never
defined. And I think the point of that, of
leaving it undefined, it's a way of saying the
reward is the act itself. The act of welcome,
the act of being hospitable, is its own reward.
Hospitality, Don continues:
"Hospitality extends self for the good of
another, without regard for an exchange.
Civilization has relied on this instinct for
generosity for five millennia. It exists in
near its original form across the Middle
And so he goes on to describe the
various places he went, and how he was received in those places. And
then he concludes:
"The richer the environment, the more diluted the
hospitality. Marble staircases lead to polite exchanges
of niceties. But when you walk through street-side
garbage, duck your head to enter, watch your step up
uneven and unlit stairs, then a feast awaits.
Original hospitality seems inversely related to wealth.
asked why they offered such extreme generosity. They
smiled but couldn’t answer. They offered their national
identity or their religious devotion, but the deeper
answer was simply this: they couldn’t imagine themselves
They couldn't imagine themselves
differently. I know on my own trips to that area of the world, including
our recent pilgrimage through the world of Paul, that I found that
certainly to be true. That there are those places, those people, where
it's simply part of the culture, it's a part of who you are.
So the E-mail I received from Elaine a couple weeks ago, no idea what
I'd be preaching on, was about this very same thing. It was an article
by Joan Chittister, the Benedictine Nun, a well-known author on
spirituality. She writes of the founder of her order, Saint Benedict,
He took into his monastic community the rich and
the poor, the slave and the free, the young and
the old, artists and craftsmen, peasants and
noblemen. It was a motley crew.
And then, as if that weren't enough, he opened
the doors of the monastery
to anyone who came, at any time, to anyone who
knocked, no matter who they were or where they
had been in life along the way.
"Great care and concern are to be shown," the
Rule goes on, "in receiving poor people and
pilgrims because in them more particularly Jesus
The point is clear: the guest, to the
Benedictine, is much more than simply another
Without the guest we make the community life all
about us alone.
Now, I have to stop here, because something incredible happened in the
first service this morning, which most of you didn't witness. It happens
every now-and-then. Some of you were here on the morning after
Halloween, and we had an unusual visitor, an inappropriately clothed
visitor, and my sermon was about welcoming everybody regardless of how
they are clothed (I had that line in there, and I had to just stop and
say 'what the heck?').
Another time I was preaching on "Blessed are the poor", and right as I'm
reading that line, a guy stands up and says "I want Jesus!". I said
I'm reading this line from Joan Chittister this morning, and a gentleman
obviously off the street walks across the front of the sanctuary, draws
everyone's attention, and just as I get to this point, stands up and
begins muttering, talking about a terrorist out there, this and that,
was confusing, goes to the back of the church, says something about
being Jesus or being God, and he writes something down on our guest
book, rips out the page, and he walks forward and says "I'm going to
play a song". And I'm thinking, I've got to do something. He then walked
down here in front and I stepped forward to meet him, and said "I love
you guys", and gave me this big hug. And then walked out.
This is what he wrote: "Jesus Christ of the almighty, I love you
almighty God, Lord. I love everyone. I am not almighty God, I am only a
son of God".
Huh. You know, as I said earlier: "Who was that masked man?". I also
said, you know, we can't expect everyone to enter our world, and
sometimes they live in a different reality. And we have to enter their
world, to be with them and to try and understand what is going on. And
it's hard, and difficult. Yeah, he too is a child of God.
Well, here's the thing. So after that interruption, I continue reading
The guest in Benedictine spirituality is a visit
from the God of Surprises
[I mean, I
couldn't make this up if I tried!]
who comes upon us at our most vulnerable and
breaks us open to a new part of ourselves as
well as to the needs of the other.
Guests bring the world in, place it at our feet,
and dare us to be who and what we say we are.
They are a blatant sign for all to see that any
group that calls itself a Monastery of the
Heart--but exists only for itself and its own
kind--is really not a real community at all.
Monastery of the Heart is a community with
illimitable boundaries made up of anyone who
happens to come into it
at any time, and always saying, "We are here for
Whew. Elaine wrote in that E-mail that she sent, that she read this and
thought of our church.
That brings me to the Eugene Celebration. The theme for the Eugene
Celebration this year is "Raising the Roof". On August 27th, when they
have their parade (and often that parade comes down right in front of
our church), 100 years almost to the day, when that parade walks by, was
when we raised the roof of this church. So our Centennial Committee said
wouldn't it be cool if we had an entry in the parade?!
So image this: 20 or 30 of us walking down the street in a big circle,
carrying a parachute in the middle. And in kind of a reverse of the
story of the big bad wolf, we get everyone to huff and to puff, not to
blow the house down, but to blow the roof up. And magically, the
parachute rises! And through the miracle of fiberglass tent poles, forms
a dome! And as we sing or play the Hallelujah chorus, everybody gathers
under that dome, and we share this message:
Hallelujah people of Eugene. There is a place under the roof for
Whether living in your home or living on the street, we are here for
Rich or poor, young or old, Republican or Democrat, socialist or
capitalist, legal resident or undocumented alien, soldier or
conscientious objector, police officer or protester, you are welcome
Gay, lesbian, or straight, queer or questioning, single or partnered,
married or divorced, you are welcome here.
Jew and Christian, Buddhist and Muslim, Hindu and Sikh, people of all
faiths and people of no faith, you are welcome here.
And then the coup de gras: imagine a Duck chasing a Beaver, in and out,
in and out, will they? won't they? And then the Duck catches the Beaver,
and there underneath the dome -- embraces him! Yes it is that radical
It's easy to imagine, to picture. But can we do it? I'm not talking just
about the parade. Can we practice that kind of spirituality? Can we
create that kind of a sacred, holy place where all are welcomed as we
would welcome Christ? Can we do it?
Maybe. Maybe we are.
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