When you think of hospitality and welcome, what words come to mind? What images come to mind? I think as Christians we don’t spend nearly enough time contemplating the importance of hospitality in our world, in our lives, and in our experiences. We all know what it feels like to be truly welcomed and on the flip side we all know what it feels like when we are not. So we looked at and know how to recognize when we feel truly welcomed. But I would imagine that we are all familiar with what it feels like when we are not welcome someplace. What words come to mind that describe this lack of welcome? These are the times when we feel like we are outcasts. We’ve all experienced this at some point and it can be a painful and sometimes damaging experience.
Surprisingly enough, even though I like to talk and I can be very outgoing, I am very uncomfortable in new situations and meeting people for the first time. I don’t know why but I am. It takes a lot for me to just put myself out there and I find that it can be exhausting when I do for long periods of time. When my parents first took me up to seminary and dropped me off, I had no car of my own and I knew absolutely no one who lived on campus. I didn’t even know where to begin to figure out where I fit in, in the campus community. That first couple of days were long and lonely for me because most of the other residents in the building knew each other and no one came to welcome me and introduce themselves.
I felt out of place. I was homesick and I was beginning to question the three year commitment I had just made. But then one of the women in the building discovered me just sitting on my computer playing a game and introduced herself. She was in her second year and she and I became close friends. She quickly took me under her wing and introduced me to several other students and helped me develop last relationships. She also took me and showed me the campus and how to find employment. Finally, I felt welcomed and wanted on campus. I was finding my place in this new community. Life is like this at various junctures in life. There are times when we need to feel welcomed, where we need people to step up and be that family for us. And then there are the times when we need to step up and create that welcoming space for someone else in life.
Today’s scriptures are all about the importance of welcoming others whether they are our neighbors, family, friends, or complete strangers. It was so important that in the Hebrew Bible’s book of laws, Leviticus, quite a bit of time was spent on instructing people upon the morality of leading lives of welcome, love, compassion, respect, and forgiveness. This was what Jesus based many of his teachings on. Sometimes we are not made to feel welcome, sometimes people are made to feel as if they are the outcasts, and that is not ok. Jesus lived his life to show the world the extreme welcome and hospitality of God and we should too.
Today you heard the story of Zacchaeus climbing a tree to see Jesus. Zacchaeus was not a welcome presence in his town. The townspeople did not respect him, forgive him, or welcome him. Zacchaeus was a sinner. He was a tax collector. He extorted people and became rich by taking from others who had very little to give in the first place. If anyone deserved to be shunned or denied hospitality people would have argued that he fit the bill.
Jesus taught an important lesson in this scenario. He was teaching while providing healing for Zacchaeus and his family. He was teaching those who would scoff at a holy man spending time with a known sinner. He was interpreting the moral laws around hospitality by looking at how we receive such hospitality, such welcome. Jesus was welcomed into Zacchaeus’ home and family. And Jesus welcomed Zacchaeus into his fold. Jesus did not judge him based on the transgressions of his past. He judged him up the character he now exhibited. Jesus forgave him, loved him, and Zacchaeus became a disciple who would later become the bishop to the church in Caesarea. This shows us that with a little love and compassion all people are capable of great things.
Mary Schaller, a Christian author, wrote, “Extending hospitality to others is a profound gospel witness to the love of Christ and how he welcomes us”. We are called to do more than just contemplate how we welcome people in our lives and in our world. We are called to live as Jesus did. We are called to live his love for all peoples no matter how flawed they may be because we too are flawed and we all desire that same compassion. Remember that the laws we heard today came from a society seeking to live as God instructed and God instructed them to remember, “The strangers who sojourns with you, shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself”. So go forth and know that you are loved and welcomed by Christ; then go out into the world and show that extravagant welcome, love, and care to someone else. This is God’s call to holiness; this is Christ’s call to a compassionate life. Do you hear him asking for more care, more love, and more welcome? Go forth and have an effect on the lives around you and know that when we live Christ’s love, we have the power to change lives, to create forgiveness, and to heal brokenness.
 Mary Schaller, Christian author, 21st century.
 Leviticus 19: 34, RSV.
(based on Leviticus 19: 9-10, 13-18, 33-34 and Luke 19: 1-10)