The passage of scripture I chose for today is the passage I used in the Ministry section of my Constructive theology paper, which you heard me speak about earlier. I felt with it being seminary Sunday it was only appropriate for me to share part of what I have been spending the last 4 ˝ years working toward.
Each section of our papers began with a proposition statement—a sentence or two summing up our basic argument which we would then explain in greater detail. Here is my proposition statement:
“Ministry takes place anywhere the radically vulnerable receive radical hospitality. Church is a community in which radical hospitality is realized.”
I used this passage from Matthew to support and illustrate these claims.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
It is important for me to start this message the same way I began my paper—by sharing with you how and why I came to be in this place. I’m going to read you a poem I wrote about an event that happened in my college years. It was the event in which I most profoundly felt my call to ministry with LGB youth. It was one of those defining moments that brought me to where I am today, that led me to write to this context, and that taught me about the kind of ministry I will be explaining to you today.
She was just a sophomore—
That girl across the hall.
At first I thought she had
With all those stickers—
Those “Proud to be Gay” stickers—
Posted on my dorm room door.
That is, until we talked.
I realized that my door—
You know, with all the stickers—
My door had caused her to face
Those demons she’d be fighting
For so long.
With my door taunting her
She could no longer pretend
Those feelings were not there.
She was struggling.
She wanted to know
Who she was.
She felt alone, confused,
When we talked
It felt innocent at first.
Me trying to help her
Feel less alone.
Then as it got later
The conversation grew
Now, this was happening
Which I admit
Is not the best.
But that’s the way it was.
She started making references
To a movie I’d never seen,
Telling me how the one girl
Decides to end her life.
She told me she felt
Like the girl she’d just described,
Felt like no one would miss her
If she took her life as well.
She told me of her happy place—
The train station where she met,
Met the guy she’s dating,
The one she feared to hurt.
She thought if she explored these feelings
His heart would break in two.
She’d rather leave this world
Than make him feel so blue.
I tried to help her,
Best I could,
But my pursuits had failed.
I knew I needed someone else.
That’s when I made the call.
Security guards arrived at her door
And then my phone did ring—
It was discovered she was missing.
That’s when my heart began to sink.
I knew that if she was not there,
She’d be just where she said—
The happy place she mentioned.
I hoped she was not dead.
The call came on the radio
That a young girl had been found
Sitting on a bench just then
At the train station down town.
She ended up leaving school
After spending a few weeks away.
She’d been to the psych ward
And stayed there
Till she promised she’d seek out some help.
The day she came to pack her things
I was standing there in my room.
The door that was covered with stickers
And she walked on through.
She came in and hugged me
And thanked me.
And then she said her good-byes.
I will never forget that young girl.
She was just a sophomore, you know.
It was in that moment of silence after the chaos of the night that I experienced the utmost clarity and vividly felt God calling me. I knew with my whole heart and soul in
that moment that this was what I was destined to do. It was in that moment I decided to dedicate my life to doing ministry that not only changes lives, but saves them. That moment is why I am here, speaking to you today.
The overall theme for this morning is Radical Hospitality, but in order for me to adequately explain what that means, we have to talk about those who are radically vulnerable. We are all vulnerable to some degree simply because we are mortal beings. But there are groups of people who, for reasons far beyond their control, are made to be radically vulnerable.
In a heterosexist and homophobic society, LGB youth who live in fear, face rejection, experience bullying, and deal with feelings of worthlessness and shame experience radical vulnerability daily. I compiled some statistics from a number of different surveys to further describe this vulnerability, and I have put them on a slide so you may see them. I am not going to read them all, but look at those numbers. What these statistics show is that LGB youth have a heightened likelihood of feeling unsafe in school, of experiencing bullying and violence—physical and sexual, of thinking about, attempting, or committing suicide, and of being homeless due to family rejection.
LGB youth more likely to have:
- skipped school due to feeling unsafe (13% vs 3%)
- been bullied (44% vs 23%)
- been threatened or injured with a weapon at school (14% vs 5%)
- experienced dating violence (35% vs 8%)
- experienced sexual contact against their will (34% vs 9%)
- Youth who experienced any of the above were more than 2 times more likely to have considered or attempted suicide.
- intentionally harmed themselves (44% vs 17%)
- considered suicide seriously (34% vs 11%)
attempted suicide within last 12 months (21% vs 5%)
- LGB youth have an odds of reporting homelessness between 4 and 13 times that of heterosexual youth.
Survey of homeless youth in Midwestern cities found that:
- 73% of lesbian and gay youth and 26% of bisexual youth were homeless due to parent’s disapproval of their orientation.
Religion has also played a role in making LGB youth radically vulnerable. In a religious culture where LGB youth are repeatedly told they need to be “saved” and are sent to reparative therapy to “cure” them of their so-called “sinful” sexuality—LGB youth are exceptionally and radically vulnerable.
The passage from Matthew is also helpful in illustrating what it means to be radically vulnerable. Keep in mind that the author of the Gospel of Matthew probably lived in a time and was writing to people who were all too familiar with exile, occupation, and all forms of exploitation. They were a people most likely living a marginal existence—living
both within the dominant culture, but also outside of it. LGB youth also experience this marginal existence—their lives have been colonized by a heterosexist society and they have been exiled into silent existence behind closed closet doors.
In the passage itself, we are given an account of Jesus instructing the disciples to go forth and share the Good News. But he doesn’t send them out with lots of money, packed bags, and a nice car. For one, the only transportation method the disciples had was their own feet. They walked. Everywhere. Now on top of this—Jesus lets them take NOTHING. No extra clothes, no money, no food, no water, not even sandals. Nothing but the clothes on their backs and the words in their hearts. This is what it means to be radically vulnerable--when your very survival depends on the radical hospitality of others.
Let me paint a picture for you of what this looks like today, in this context. A young lesbian walks through the doors of the church one Sunday. You don’t know this, but earlier that morning she almost took her life. She decided to give it one more chance—and she chose your church. She came hoping for a lifeline—for just a glimpse that her life was in fact worth something. Every second she is inside your church she is waiting for that sign—waiting to experience love and acceptance in any form, knowing that is the only thing that will keep her alive once she walks back out those doors.
She is in dire need for connection. Theologian Carter Heyward writes that vulnerability is not about weakness, but about openness—openness to our deep need for connection, for one another, for relation. Those who are radically vulnerable, like the young girl I just described, need this connection even more deeply. Radical hospitality is, I argue, the only appropriate and the most needed response to radical vulnerability.
So what is radical hospitality? To begin with, it is more than just a stance or statement. It is a practice. It is something that should be practiced daily in all aspects of life. It is not merely something one does but how one lives. Radical hospitality is not simply a matter of being kind, but is often a factor in survival—physical, emotional, spiritual survival. It is about showing another that their life is important and valuable and worth living!
Radical hospitality is not just a matter of saying “All are welcome.” It’s about how we live out and practice that welcome. The practice of radical hospitality requires of us something very simple yet incredibly profound—seeing God in another. It is looking someone in the eyes and saying, “When I look at you, I see God.” Imagine it! Imagine how different this world would be if everyone lived with this kind of awe and reverence for one another! If we experienced every person we encountered as a “presence of absolute worth, utterly unexchangeable for another.”
I’m not talking about seeing someone for who we think they are, or who we think they should be, or who we WANT them to be. I am talking about seeing someone exactly as they ARE and seeing ALL of whom they are as a reflection of the Divine.
About a year ago, I finally told my only living grandparents that I am gay. Their reaction was not great to say the least. I know that they believe wholeheartedly that they were offering me hospitality and love by praying for my salvation and for me to be “cured” of my homosexuality. I know that they thought the loving response was to cut me out of their lives. At least the parts of me they deemed as unworthy, sinful, and dare I say evil. They refused to see all of who I am as good and chose their beliefs over our relationship. They decided it was better for our relationship to break than to allow it or themselves to be stretched in any way shape or form. It was a rejection of the Divine within me, NOT an affirmation of it.
This is not radical hospitality. Radical hospitality, much like vulnerability, is about openness. It requires us to be open to the other, to difference, to change and transformation, to Divine encounter in unexpected ways. It is a willingness to stretch and be stretched by others. It is choosing to be vulnerable and open with another—to be truly present, open and honest. It is an invitation to “come out,” to share one’s truth. Radical Hospitality is the praxis of a love open to change. It is a practice in which, through which, and by which we respond to ours and others deepest needs.
Before I conclude there is one other aspect of the Matthew passage I need to lift up. And for some this may be the most important part of the message today. Jesus tells the disciples, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” We are given permission to walk away! And sometimes walking away is just what we need to do, even after we have already been rejected or kicked-out. My grandparents chose to cut me out of their life, but I chose to walk away, to shake the dust off of my feet and to do what I needed to do to maintain my sense of worth and pride and dignity. I could have kept pushing them and trying to get them to have a change of heart or even just allowed them to keep sending me mixed messages through Christmas cards—every time reminding me of the pain they caused me. But I took a stand and said NO MORE.
And I am here today to tell you it is okay for you to say NO MORE! No more to hate, to intolerance, to people who refuse to accept your WHOLE worth, humanity, and dignity. It is okay to turn around, walk out the door, and shake the dust off your feet as you leave. Do not let anyone take away any part of who you are or make you feel like you have to hide that part of yourself.
This is not to say that the right choice is always to walk away—because if no one ever stayed…change would never happen. But when staying becomes damaging to your spiritual, mental, or physical health—go and find lifesaving radical hospitality elsewhere.
If you have heard nothing else I’ve said this morning, I just need you to remember this. Radical hospitality means seeing others as important and valuable. It is showing care and concern for another’s well-being—respecting and honoring their humanity and their God-given worth regardless of whether they are gay or straight, lesbian or bisexual; male, female, or transgender; black, white, yellow, brown, pink, or any other hue; whether they are single, married, divorced or just playing the field; whether they can
speak, hear, see, walk, write, or move; whether they are pierced, tattooed, or dye their hair a different color every week; whether or not they even go to church! The only thing that matters and the only thing that you should see when you look at another person is that they are a human being—created and loved by God. Let me repeat that. The only thing that matters and the only thing that you should see when you look at another person is that they are a human being—created and loved by God.
Radical Hospitality is living life with an understanding that NO ONE is out of the realm of God’s love and doing whatever you can in every moment of every day to share that message. To LIVE that message. To BE that message.
Don’t wait till tomorrow. Don’t even wait until you leave here this morning. Start right now.
In the words of the musical RENT—
There's only now
There's only here
Give in to love
Or live in fear
No other path
No other way
No day but today
Right now, someone’s very survival may depend on their encounter with you. Live as though each person you meet is that young girl I described earlier—who is waiting for that sign, who is giving life one more chance. Are you practicing radical hospitality? Will you be that life-affirming sign she needs in that moment? In this moment? Tomorrow is too late. The time to practice transformational, life changing, lifesaving ministry is now.