Hospitality is a wonderful thing. I actually consider it a gift. Some people love being a host or hostess. Now, don’t get me wrong, if hospitality isn’t your thing it doesn’t mean that you’re a horrible person. But, if hospitality isn’t your gift, I bet you find other ways to make people feel welcome. I believe I have the gift of hospitality. I like to make people feel at home. If you want something, I’ll do what I can to help obtain it for you. I’m not Martha Stewart or anything, but that’s also because I actually live in the parsonage versus keeping it like a museum. If you’ve been in the parsonage, you know usually within the first 30 seconds of being inside that we have a 2 year old and a dog who thinks he’s a great dane. But, I also hope you know that you’re welcome nonetheless. There’s hospitality and then there’s ludocracy. If, for some reason, you came to the parsonage and after being asked “what can I get you” you were to answer “the head of so and so on a platter” you may get some medical help, not a head on a platter.
This is probably one of the strangest and most graphic stories we have in our bible. Why even tell this story? It’s not like the author of Mark set out to just gross us out. But nothing is in our bible on accident. Every story is there for a reason; this one included. This story is placed very strategically in our bible as well (also, not an accident). This party of sorts is sandwiched right in between Jesus commissioning the disciples and the feeding of the 5,000. And even though Jesus isn’t directly involved in our story today, listeners at the time would have recognized the opulence and absurdity of what occurred at Herod’s birthday party versus the message of service and salvation that Jesus was trying to spread. We have the story today of Herod and his perceived power that is a direct and complete contradiction to Jesus and his power. Herod’s power comes from fear, intimidation, and perhaps even money. Whereas Jesus’ power come from God and is built on lifting people up rather than pushing them down. It’s a model of slavery versus a model of accompaniment.
We often live in two worlds. We may not realize it, but we do. Sometimes, it’s a very careful dance (even a teeter) and sometimes it’s a very loud, expressive stomping into one kingdom or another. We live in a space where we are constantly fighting between existing in this power-hungry world and at the same time, longing to serve in the Kingdom of God. Theologians often call this idea a “two kingdom” philosophy. Which world will we live in? What God will we serve? And it’s easy to say “I want to serve God and God only” but the kind of power that God gives us isn’t the kind of power this world gives us. The power we get from this kingdom on Earth comes with prestige, titles, money, “friends”, and status. The kingdom of God gives us mercy, justice, grace, vulnerability, and humility. For some, the decision is easy. I once heard Christian speaker Tony Campollo pose the question “are you collecting titles or testimonies?” And even if you only lived in the earthly kingdom, buying in (pun intended) completely to the idea that bigger is better and only the powerful and strong survive, it would never ever be enough. There will always be someone stronger and more powerful than you in this earthly kingdom.
And while the desire to serve God and work for the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, it is difficult work (and that’s putting it lightly). It’s difficult because everything that we know to be true in this here and now Earthly kingdom doesn’t exist or doesn’t make sense in the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, no one will care how many figures you have in your bank account. Instead, people will ask how you invested your time. In the kingdom of God, no one will ask you how your crops are growing, instead they will ask how you grew your faith. In the kingdom of God, no one will care about the size on your clothing, they will care about the size of your heart. In the kingdom of God, failure will be seen as an opportunity to draw closer to God. In the kingdom of God, “differences” will be celebrated. In the kingdom of God, you may honestly feel lost because you won’t have anything to ground you or define you other than the only identity that matters: called and claimed child of God. Your only ID that you will need has already been given to you in the form of a cross on your forehead.
Chris and I along with Nate, Ryan, Katelyn, and Sam are preparing to leave on Tuesday for Detroit. We have been preparing for quite some time. Yes, we’re excited and yes, we’re a little anxious, but I also think we’re as ready as we can be. But here’s the most exciting part (at least for me). I really believe that over the course of our time in Detroit, we will stop teetering between our two worlds and start to get a foretaste of what it means to live in the kingdom of God completely. We are going to be fed in ways that extend beyond food. We will experience what it means to encounter Christ in our neighbor. We are going to realize that “those people” are more like us than we ever imagined. We are going to live each day fearlessly in a town and society that tells us we should be doing otherwise. And we are going to a place that refuses to die even after many many attempts to kill it with power and greed. It may look different that Jesus’ journey to the cross, but not by much.
And we are going to encounter hospitality. Not the kind of hospitality that Herod wanted to offer, but the kind Jesus offers. This is the kind of hospitality that is given when nothing else can be offered; a simple “thank you,” a hug, or a story shared. This will be the kind of hospitality that will allow us to experience Christ in a way that’s not possible anywhere else. The kind of hospitality that we will experience will leave us changed, but in a good way.
We all have a story to tell. What is your story? Are you telling it? You don’t have to go to Detroit to experience the kingdom of God. We can experience it here and now. We eat of the kingdom feast and hear forgiveness. See the way we help ourselves and one another to not teeter so much, but to stomp into the kingdom is to tell our story. Tell our story to anyone who will listen. Tell about how God has saved you. Tell people about how God has forgiven you (over and over). Tell people about how God loves you and how God loves them too. Because trust me, friends, that is a message that people are not able to hear on Fox News, or MSNBC, or CNN, or any of those other places that make you want to live only in this earthly kingdom.
Our home here is temporary. We’re just passing through on this blue and green globe. Our home is a place where power, money, status, titles, value, worth, affiliations, color of skin, sexuality, and gender don’t matter one single bit. The only thing that does matter is that God thought you were worth dying for; and so we got Jesus. Jesus died on the cross for your sins and for mine so that we may be free. We can help people see that God’s kingdom is here, friends. Tell your story. Tell your story so that others may hear. Remove everything that you think has value in your life and that’s your story. When you have nothing left but Jesus, that’s where your story begins. It’s not “once upon a time” but “once upon a cross.” How will you tell your story?