The dictionary says, “A spiritual practice or spiritual discipline (often including spiritual exercises) is the regular or full-time performance of actions and activities undertaken for the purpose of inducing spiritual experiences and cultivating spiritual development”. Spiritual practices are more than about prayer. They are not necessarily defined by how one acts in church but rather they can be anything that gives someone a spiritual experience. It can something as meaningful as helping someone in need. It can be hearing a song that speaks to the need in our hearts. It can come through intense meditation or reading a devotional. And yes it often does come through times of prayer.
For the next couple of weeks, we are going to look at different Christian practices that are spiritual practices and each week I’m going to send you home with some practices to do on your own to help you connect with God. One of the most universal spiritual practices is that of hospitality. We see it as one of the commandments and tenants of the Jewish faith in Leviticus this morning. But we also see that Christ reiterates those same tenants throughout the Gospels.
How we treat each other matters. It is a way to show our devotion to God, it is our way to take care of God’s creation. The idea is that we never truly know what our kindness means to someone else and just how we might touch those lives; creating change where there lays a hidden need. Our kindness becomes God’s way of showing kindness to the world. It also becomes our way of allowing for someone else to see God at work. We don’t need to evangelize from the roof tops if we practice the tenants of our faith.
Perhaps slightly surprisingly people in general react better and are genuinely kinder and more receptive when people are welcoming and kind to them. We would think that this is common sense but you would be surprised. We are not always as kind as our faith asks of us. When Bill was in high school and in college, he worked a number of different jobs. One of those jobs was telemarketing. I didn’t find this out until after we were already married. Telemarketers are not my most favorite people to have calling me. They always call at the worst times: when I am making dinner, eating dinner, or in the middle of getting Madeleine ready for bed. They tend to get pushy or want to know more information than I am willing to give them about myself.
So I have traditionally dealt with telemarketers in various different ways. When my last name was still Ladegard it was easy, they would call asking for Ladegard (pronounce with French accent). I would say “Oh I’m sorry but you’ve got the wrong number”. But with my name change came an easier name. So I would just hang up. My husband would adamantly say to me, “That’s not nice. That is not like you. You know they are probably some kid working through college or somebody desperately in need of the money from this job. At least speak to them and politely decline”. Well that ruffled my feathers a bit and I grumbled about it for a few days because I knew he was right. I wasn’t living into the practices of the Christian faith that I preach and claimed a belief in.
So from then on I try to be kind to the people on the other end of the phone or just don’t answer if I am busy. Jesus calls us to be kind in our dealings with people for much the same reasons. We don’t know the background stories of the people that we meet, we don’t know how our attitudes and behaviors affect those around us. How we treat others in Christianity as well as in Judaism is a reflection of the work of God in our lives. It is thought to be the fruit by which the world can see our trust, our receptiveness and our fidelity towards God.
We start by thinking about our attitudes by assessing and working on how we welcome people into our lives, into our homes, and into our places of worship. We are called to think about what hospitality means religiously and how we adopt those definitions and allow for them to reflect God’s work. Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote in his book Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines”.
Let us create a welcoming, kind, and encourage place for God’s children not only in our places of worship but in our lives as well. We never truly know what that welcome, what that love, can do for someone’s need for connection, their need for experiencing the Holy, and their need for love. Remember the words of Christ from the scripture lesson for this morning, “Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’” When we care for those in need, when we graciously extend the love of Christ for all peoples in all situations we are practicing a Christian Spiritual Practice, we are working to bring ourselves closer to Christ because we were commanded to love one another. So go forth and love, welcome, and invite people to enter into your lives and care for them as if they were your family and see the spirit of God enter more fully into your every day experiences.
 Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. 20th Century Catholic Theologian.
 Matthew 25: 34-36, 40, RSV.
(based on Leviticus 19: 32-34, 36b-37 and Matthew 25:31-46)