We visit a coffee shop in Point Grey from time to time, and while Point Grey is a long way from the Downtown Eastside, it also has homeless people, as do most places.
Thankfully, I have never been homeless, though I know people who have, either because they were displaced by war or because of mental illness.
Sometimes when we visit the coffee shop a homeless neighbour also visits there and I am always amazed at the patience and kindness the Sikh owner, his staff, and the other patrons of the shop show this man. And I suppose that my amazement reflects my own attitudes.
You see, when you are homeless you don’t have access to running water, unless someone makes it available to you. Add to that compulsive behaviours and you can see how if one were homeless, one may not be as clean as one may wish to be, and if mental illness were involved, one may not realize it.
It is always good for me to see such kindness.
Hospitality is a feature of all religions and if you have ever visited a Sikh temple you will also have been offered a meal. So the kindness practised at this coffee shop is no coincidence.
Hospitality means to be friendly to guests which all in its own can be a challenge, even toward invited guests. And yet in our modern day, hospitality is often designated an industry, even while in times gone by hospitality would be offered to travelling strangers, it was something you just did, and there was no hospitality industry yet.
Now our building isn’t currently open but hopefully and before too long we will gather here for worship again. When churches speak about hospitality, they may think of a hospitality committee, or of being friendly to visitors, the kind of things that greeters and ushers do. And I love ushers and greeters because they help people be comfortable in a setting that may be strange to them.
And yet, making people feel welcome and wanted is everyone’s job, even when we have volunteer ushers and greeters.
In the same way, hospitality is not only something we practice inside of our church buildings on Sundays but wherever we go. Generally, homeless people are made to feel not wanted in our society, which is why I am so moved by what I see at the coffee shop. The person does not only receive kindness, patience, food and drink but is genuinely made to feel wanted which is the deepest longing of us all. Christians can make others feel wanted because everyone is loved by God and everyone is created in God’s image.
The Book of Acts tells us about the beginnings of the church, and off the top of my head there are two conversion stories where more than one person is converted.
I am not thinking of Acts 2 where after Peter’s Pentecost sermon 3000 began to become followers of Jesus. I am thinking of Peter and Cornelius, and I am thinking of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.
We read the story of Philip and the Ethiopian at the beginning.
The Ethiopian represents the other, the other that we would prefer to pass by, to have someone else talk to them, because he is different from us.
He is a foreigner to Philip. He is a man of rank and privilege, a royal official in charge of his queen’s treasury, but also an outsider — a man who does not fit the binary description of sex and gender we employ.
This story is not only about the eunuch finding faith in Jesus and being baptized, but Philip believing that he has a place not only in the kingdom of God but also in the church. And that marks Philip’s conversion.
We give thanks that God loves us and had welcomed us.
We give thanks that from time to time the church has found the courage and love to welcome as God welcomes.
May welcome and hospitality be a way of life for us, so that all people would know that they are loved and wanted.