Hospitality and Hunger

June 18, 2023 – The Congregational Church of Easton

The lectionary readings for today are about compassion.  Matthew tells us that Jesus’ heart went out to malnourished people in his day.  He commissioned 12 disciples to help him respond to the people’s enormous need.  They were sent to tell everyone that the Kingdom of God is near and to provide compassionate healing for those sick in body and in mind.  This passage is sometimes called “the Great Commission.”  [Matthew 9:35 – 10:8]

The reading in Genesis also talks about compassion.  [Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7]  It was a hot day, so when Abraham saw three men standing near his tent, he took compassion on them and brought them water and food.

The title of my meditation today is “Hospitality and Hunger.”    Abraham’s hospitality was certainly remarkable.  The closest thing I can think of  to what it might look like today is offering water to three tired and dusty looking strangers standing in your driveway.  That would be hospitality.

And then, as they were drinking their water, if you went into the kitchen and prepared an elaborate meal, complete with salad and dessert – that would be hospitality!

Abraham took it even further when he had his servant kill a young calf and asked Sarah to bake something for the three men.  That really was hospitality!

Hospitality is a huge big deal in the Bible.  Jesus says she or he who welcomes a stranger welcomes him.  The writer of Hebrews tells readers to offer hospitality to strangers because they might be entertaining angels.  Indeed, believers were to regard hospitality to strangers as a fundamental expression of the gospel

The apostle Paul urged fellow Christians to welcome one another as Christ had welcomed them.  He challenged early believers to “pursue” hospitality.  In fact, hospitality was a qualification for leadership in early Christian communities.

I’ve just been quoting from a book by Christine Pohl and Pamela Buck subtitled “Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition.[1]

Most people needed extravagant hospitality in Jesus’ day.  The gap between the haves and the have-nots was much larger than it is today.  Our reading in Matthew says, “…when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless.”  The outrageous taxes that the Romans and religious authorities levied on farmers had caused most of them to lose their land and become tenant farmers or beggars.

The Romans also centralized fishing in the Sea of Galilee, forcing independent fishermen to sell their catches to a new fish processing plant, making it very hard for them to make a living.

Our society is far more compassionate to persons suffering from poverty than in first century Palestine.  Today in our country Jews and Christians have influenced government to provide a safety net for those who cannot work or whose work doesn’t pay enough to support a family.  Medicare, food stamps, and especially the earned income tax credit are important ways in which our society extents hospitality to those who need it.

And yet one out of five children in Connecticut lacks sufficient food!

According to estimates from Feeding America, more than 380,000  Connecticut residents struggle with hunger; — 1 in 10.  More than 83,000 children are food insecure. These are people from all walks of life – children, working parents, seniors, or people living with disabilities. They are your neighbors.[2]

“Food insecurity” refers to the United States Department of Agriculture’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.  Food insecurity may reflect a family’s need to make tradeoffs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.

Imagine being a parent and having to decide between paying the rent this month or buying enough healthy food for your kids!

Some of the things that could cause a family to become food insecure might be the sudden loss of a job, an illness, or an unexpected rise in the cost of food, like we are experiencing today.

According to the Easton Food Pantry, “Before the pandemic, 21% of Easton households could not afford the basics of housing, food, health care, childcare, and transportation.[3]  My guess is it’s higher today.

That’s a whole lot of people who need the kind of extravagant hospitality that Abraham practiced and that Jesus called his disciples to provide. 

How are you and I called to practice hospitality today?  You already are.  You are serving dinner at the Merton House Food Kitchen this coming Tuesday.  Look at the bulletin for instructions.

Another way to practice hospitality is to support the food stamp program.  The Federal SNAP program, formerly called “food stamps” is under attack.  The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) says,…

Republican policymakers are reportedly considering many SNAP cut proposals, all of which would end up taking food benefits away from families with low incomes and weaken the program’s effectiveness at reducing food insecurity and poverty.[4]

So, another way we can practice hospitality is to contact Congressman Jim Himes’ office and ask him to become a co-sponsor for these two bills”

Improving Access to Nutrition Act — H.R. 1510

Closing the Meal Gap Act of 2023 – H.R. 3037

The FRAC website has information about these bills.[5]

Remember how Sarah was blessed when Abraham provided such generous hospitality to the three strangers?  She bore a son in her old age!

 I can’t promise that you’ll be blessed like Sarah if you continue to support the Merton House Food Kitchen or if you lobby Jim Himes about bills to strengthen the food stamp program.  I can promise that you can be confident that you have obeyed Jesus’ Great Commission when he had compassion on the malnourished of his day. 

Let us pray.  Lord, you bless us with opportunities to act as though your Kingdom of love and justice has already arrived.  You bless us with opportunities to protect our country’s premier hospitality program from attack and ways to extend hospitality to our neighbors.  May the Merton House Food Kitchen baskets across the street be filled to overflowing!

[1] P.4.\