“Com Panis”, sharing bread, gives us the word companion. It is no surprise, surely, that Cleopas and his unnamed friend, recognise Jesus only when he breaks bread, and that the bread breaking could happen only when they offered the stranger hospitality. Great revelations of the divine, happen when human beings reach beyond themselves and focus on the needs of others. They could have let the stranger continue on his way, and if they had done that, they would never have known who had walked with them for the last 7 miles. They didn’t. They invited a stranger into their house and only then did Jesus revealed himself to them.
What is the companionship we offer today? Well, it takes place in many ways. And it always demands an act of self-conscious giving. It means giving of ourselves without expecting or asking for a reward. That’s something with which we struggle often. I was shopping the other day for a new phone. I was mad that the old one had broken after only a few months and I had a big tab to pay off. The salesperson spent a long time on the phone attempting to have the tab reduced. Eventually, well after an hour later, she manage to have the tab reduced. Then, she was very quick to remind me that she had spent a long time doing this for me, and that I, therefore, owed her. I dislike that attitude enormously. I don’t expect a thank you when I bring sandwiches to Got Bannock, or a hamper to someone at Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving. The fact is, no one should be in that much need. It’s not their fault that I can afford to live comfortably and someone else can’t. Addictions, homelessness, poverty, are not always the fault of the individual, but of a system that is so terribly broken.
But, we forget this reality all too often. We are here to worship God. We should give thanks constantly for the lives we have, and for the blessings God gives us. We pray for those who need help and need to know that someone cares. We pray for peace in a world riven by violence. Now, let’s be honest: how often do we walk out of here and forget what we have said and done and prayed for? How often do we leave this space and demand that God look favourably upon us because, after all, we have been good people and spent an hour of our Sunday mornings in Church?
Remember, the disciples only recognised Jesus AFTER they had invited him in to rest and to share a meal. They offered hospitality without any expectation of a reward. They offered hospitality for one simple reason: it was the right thing to do. And, it remains the right thing to do, with no questions asked.
We, as members and adherents of the Kildonan United Church, must embrace this message and embrace it, now. I was at a meeting with other clergy last week, organised by End Homelessness Winnipeg. End Homelessness is looking for cooling places, places where street people can find shelter during days when a heat advisory is issued. We have a building. Are we prepared to open our doors to such people? And yes, I am using the phrase “such people” deliberately. Or are we going to remain closed off to the realities outside because we are afraid, or we want to keep this building to ourselves and only for our own purposes and our own use? Are we going to hide behind security issues, or continue to protect ourselves from “such people” rather than taking the risk of offering our space, largely empty and unused, to make a difference for a few people for a few hours this Summer? In other words, are we willing to offer hospitality?
The End Homelessness group that met last week, named by Althea as the Interfaith Buddies, is planning on spending a portion of this Summer, walking around the city where the homeless are living, and offering them water, sandwiches and information. Information on events we plan to which they are invited; information regarding safe places they can go in the event that the weather becomes dangerous. Are you willing to make sandwiches, donate water, and take those gifts to people who are hungry? Are you willing to offer the hospitality Cleopas offered to the stranger. Remember, when he offered the hospitality, he didn’t know it was Jesus.
This Summer, Got Bannock will be offering free Sunday afternoon events for families who are poor, in various locations throughout the North End. I have asked Arlene and Linda if they will join with me in hosting one of those events in Kildonan Park. We will offer hot dogs, roast bannock on a fire, and show a movie as the sun sets. If the weather is not conducive to being outside, are we willing to open our doors and invite people to come and play and hang out in the Church. People who are poor, or maybe are addicted because they were born that way?
Oh yes, I know, are so caught up in the financial situation of this Church that we lost sight, long ago, of our calling to be the United Church in West Kildonan. We can’t undo the mistakes of yesterday, but we can build a Church for today. One that offers hospitality and kindness and compassion to those who have nowhere else to go. No, there is no reward in that, except knowing that when we do these things, we will meet the risen Jesus in a new way. I would love that to be in this Church building, but if it can’t be, I will commit myself to work with those who are committed to the ministry of Christ, whether it is in this part of Winnipeg, or elsewhere, to build something new; a ministry that is based on offering hospitality to all, regardless of the cost to us. I hope that everyone here, and your friends and neighbours will join with the risen Christ, and build a Church for today.
It is only after hospitality was offered that Jesus broke bread and was recognised by his disciples. We don’t wait for Jesus, or for the money, or for someone else to do our work, we offer hospitality now. What did Jesus say to the sheep once upon a time: As much as you have done for the least of this, you have done it for me?