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Down from the Mountaintop.

15th Sunday after Pentecost, Common Lectionary year C

Hebrews 12:28-13:2

©2013 Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,  for by doing so, some have entertained angels  unawares.” When preparing to leave for Greenbelt, as I was planning ahead for this Sunday and explored the lectionary texts, this verse leapt out at me as the perfect biblical hook upon which I would be able to offer my first reflections on the Greenbelt experience. I assumed that I would indeed experience the Christian hospitality offered to us strangers from Canada. I hoped that I would likewise encounter angels in all sorts of disguises at this Christian festival. I have not been disappointed!     But as the week at Greenbelt unfolded, it was the opening verse that kept capturing my attention:

“So, since we are inheritors of this Dream of God, citizens – with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto – in the unshakable kingdom of the eternal God,  since we are no less than family, the children of God, let us give thanks to God with a worship that is filled with reverence and awe….”

We are not nameless numbers on a Social Insurance card, we are not merely tiny cogs in a global economic machine, Our identities, our faith are not defined,  nor constrained, by governments and statutes. Our residence upon the face of the earth is not defined by passport or postal code, but by our birthright as God’s own beloved, called, gifted and sent. For which the only response is one of gratitude.

Gratitude to God; how does a creature say thanks? This letter writer has two answers, and the first, rightly, is worship.

Worship: this odd activity we do of a Sunday morning, forgoing the fruity brunch at Chez Cora to sit on long wooden benches, side by side with one another, focussed for a time, not on ourselves, nor even our loved ones, but upon  the unseen, invisible, yet tangibly present Presence, God.

There are no rubrics in this text for what worship looks like, only that it be acceptable, liberally seasoned with awe, and infused with reverence

If nothing else was gleaned from my time at Greenbelt, it was that worship that is appropriately filled with awe and reverent gratitude takes myriad forms.

Alongside Taize chant, and Forest Church  – an outdoor liturgy, where nature played a role among the worshippers – there was worship accompanied by musical genres as diverse as rock, metal, folk, chant, drums, home-made pot-pan instruments; The words for worship were as diverse as the 450 year old Book of Common Prayer, Scottish brogue, London street slang, sign language, and the language of silence. Worship actions that were subtle, passive or vibrant active, included all-age, wheelchair dance, kid-friendly, even slug and worm friendly participation. And through it all, this text sang like a bass note continuo: “grateful, awe-filled, reverent”

Two favourites were the worship led by L’Arche -where people with significant physical and mental disabilities live in community with those able to care to their physical and spiritual needs.  Their worship was indeed reverent, funny, poignant, life-giving, holy, and grace filled. The surprising second favourite was something that sounded corny/cheesy, but turned out to be anything but.  Called, descriptively, ‘Beer and Hymns,’ there is much to be said for singing oneself hoarse with 2000 people belting out the best of our English language hymnody for no other reason than it lifts our spirits, and we can feel them meeting the singing Spirit of God in holy harmony. With profound foresight, this congregation has already identified in its 5 year plan, the intention of growing our strong traditions of worship yet further, wider and deeper, through experimentation with forms of worship that will allow all of us, some of the time, to worship with our whole selves, using forms of language, art, music, action, and location to express our  awe-filled gratitude to God. We will be the richer for this because of what it will produce in and through us as a community of faith. If I may quote one of the pithy presenters at Greenbelt, Steve Chalk;  while God loves our whole-self worship,  we weren’t called into citizenship in God’s unshakable kingdom merely to “bore ourselves sockless singing hymns on Sunday.” God made us to move out from worship to the world. Good worship is measured by how it overflows from Sunday into Monday.

Pretty much exactly the point made 2000 years ago in this letter. Without skipping a beat, our writer moves straight from grateful worship into this: “let mutual love continue among you, let acts of hospitality be continuous, be ongoing, be a value by which your identity is shaped. Don’t forgo any opportunity to welcome with hospitality the stranger, the alien, the foreigner, for by so doing, some have entertained angels unawares – without even knowing it. “

I used to think this was some form of NT commandment, a moral imperative, a must do. But it’s not an injunction,  it’s an encouragement,  a promise, an invitation! It goes like this: Experiencing the richness of grateful worship of God acts like coffee, or adrenaline; You leave worship pumped, looking for a place to let the energy of God flow.   I saw this time and again, in microcosm,  at Greenbelt; people moving out from  Beer and Hymns, or an Iona song session into action on poverty, global warming, human trafficking, refugee support,  fair-trade and microfinancing,  you name it, and into many open-hearted conversations with strangers, sharing hope and dreams of a world where worshipping God makes a worldly difference.

Grateful worship is a mountaintop, high holy experience. You may remember the story Luke tells of the time when Jesus took a few of his disciples up onto a mountain top, where they witnessed the awesome mystery of God’s glory, the transfiguration of the ordinary into something wondrous. The disciples wanted to stay up there, close to God. But here’s the thing,  they were sent down the mountaintop. Back to the plains and valleys where life is lived.

The blessing and sending forth is given is given, the planes and cars take us home, we are commissioned to leave Sunday behind, for Monday.

And, lo and behold! Who do we encounter in the midst of Monday,….. but God in disguise?! This invitation to let worship flow from the  Sunday mountaintop to the Monday world, through this ongoing practice of mutual love, of hospitality to the stranger such that we ourselves  are opened to change and newness, is an invitation, gold embossed and non-rescindable, to entertain angels. To keep company with God on the shop-floor, in the IBM tower, the grocery store, the seniors’ residence.

Worship that flows into mutual love and radical welcome means we will open our doors,  open our hearts, open our hands, and keep company with the messengers of God’s laughable  Dream –  of lions and lambs at play, of gay and straight in alliance for justice, of hijab wearers and kirpan carriers keeping common cause for human justice with cross-wearing Christians.

Pray God that our worship will be such that it invites us, compels us, into the company of strangers and angels in disguise just like us, with funny accents and funky wellies, who choose  to share campground, grandstand,  workstation  and train station, play station and planet  with one another in a collective testimony of hope that the Gospel of a long-dead Palestinian Jew, is resurrected in the lives we live, in the grateful worship we offer on Sunday, and in the lives we live on Monday.


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