This is what I hear:
Serving - - (and that) Serving with our gifts honors God.
We know about hospitality, don’t we?
ancient tradition held that hospitality-opening our home to the traveling stranger, was mandatory. It is different than how we react and it is a different world perhaps, but still we know about hospitality,
it usually involves a table with food and beverage. Often it includes accessibility and some supplies for the road ahead.
Here on the chancel, we have a table where each place setting represents someone who needs the hospitality of God’s people. The people you will hear about are all welcome at God’s table, but at human homes and institutions, - not so much. They need a welcome, they are prisoners - of something or someone- and need to be set free.
Freedom, rescue, nourishment, all these things are needed around the world. When we offer our help and our gifts, it says, “You are welcome at God’s table. Come sit here.”
1- Seventeen-year-old Essiya* (eh-see-ya) is a single mother with a three year old son who has special needs. The challenges of being a single mother are compounded for Essiya because of her young age and her son Elisha’s* needs. It was the Rosa Valdez Early Childhood Learning Center in West Tampa, Fla., a National METHODIST Mission Institution that provided Elisha with the tender care that he needed.
Essiya (eh-see-ya) didn’t know what was wrong with her little Elisha. The Rosa staff greeted him warmly, but he just grunted and thrashed his arms and ran around the room, throwing everything he could find.
Miss Jodie, the behavioral therapist, identified early that Elisha was autistic, and for the first time someone entered his world and reached out to him in ways that he could understand. Miss Jodie worked with Elisha and his teachers at Rosa to help him ask for what he needed without getting angry and frustrated, to play without hurting others and to say a few words clearly.
Within three months he was an entirely different child, happy and secure in this new place called Rosa. Certainly there is a place at the table for Elisha and his mom, (eh-see-ya). (from United Methodist Women Pledge Service new.gbgm-umc.org)
- from David Radcliff’s NCP website - When he was four years old, Iqbal (ih k - b ah l) Masih was sold by his parents as a bonded servant to a carpet maker in Pakistan for $12 - (the parents needed money for their elder daughter’s wedding.)
Iqbal ih k - b ah l was held captive to work 12-14 hour days, and chained to the carpet loom at night to prevent his escape.
Finally he was freed by a human rights worker at the age of 10. He went on to become a young advocate for the other 12 million children in Pakistan held in human bondage, eventually winning the Reebok human rights award. His campaign came to an abrupt end on Easter Sunday 1995 when the 12 year old boy was shot and killed while riding his bicycle following church services.
3. - And then there is a story By Ron Synovitz at Radio Free Europe site rferi.org about Maria, who is a 30-year-old mother from Ukraine who left behind her husband and two young children to take what she was told would be a job in Italy as a cleaner.
The recruiters who originally promised her a high-paying salary were men who posed as representatives of a legitimate employment agency. Maria says they gained her trust because they looked professional and persuasive.
"The process I went through to get there was normal. Everything looked fine. There were two other girls with me. They were from the same region, but I didn't know them. I was going [to Italy] to work as a housekeeper. In Ukraine, they told me already that I would work either as a housekeeper or work in a bar washing dishes," Maria said.
Maria says her nightmare began after she and the other women arrived in Italy and were met by several suspicious men. They were human traffickers in the illegal global sex industry.
"We went there and arrived in one city. They took us to a building on the outskirts of the city and they told us to clean off, to relax from the travel. Later, they confronted us with the fact that we would be providing sex services. It is a shock for a human being. Escape from there was impossible. The windows were barred and there was the constant presence of a guard," Maria said.
For the next nine months, Maria was forced against her will to work as a prostitute. It was only when the brothel was raided by Italian police that Maria was freed from captivity. Authorities in Italy charged her with prostitution and deported her back to Ukraine.
The U.S. State Department estimates that 800,000 people are trafficked against their will across international borders every year and that millions more are trafficked within their countries.
Maria is assured of a seat at God’s table and she will represent many more women, young girls and boys, like Iqbal, who are also enslaved.
These are sad stories of people who are welcome at God’s table but who have struggled to find a welcome among other humans. Instead they have experienced the worst of humanity.
Yet there are other stories in which the sadness is mixed with grace. Here’s one I heard from Anna Hooker, a long-time member of the Nokesville CoB. I’m sure she would like us to hear it.
Anna was directed to visit the homes of clients for work. One day after heavy rains, she followed directions down what she thought was a familiar road. She traveled further back into the woods on this road than she had ever gone before and soon found a small dirt, now a mud track - off the narrow road. She realized with the very muddy conditions, that she couldn’t drive her car down the muddy track so she left her car and began to walk back to find this home.
Her shoes sunk deep into the mud and soon she was a mess, including her dress shoes.
She finally arrived at the home, a very minimal place, some would call a shack. She was invited in and the woman of the house took one look at Anna and said, sit down and let me help you get cleaned up. Anna sat, and the woman brought a white towel and kneeled at her feet. She removed Anna’s shoes and wiped the mud off her feet and shoes with the towel. Then she got a jug of water and began to wash Anna’s feet.
About that time, Anna realized the home didn’t have running water and that jug of precious water, had been carried in by hand. Anna has been to many a Love Feast in her years as a brethren, but she said she had never had her feet washed like that.
In spite of the woman’s poverty and lack of something we take for granted - running water, she offered Anna the hospitality of Christ.
As we think about our stories, let’s put a place at the table for the woman who washed Anna’s feet as acted as Christ to her. transition
This scripture in the letter attributed to Peter has been our congregational focus scripture this year. We chose in January in a day of discernment at our retreat and it has guided our commissions in their planning and priorities.
Now it’s your turn to tell stories. Where have you seen US, the ACoB, offer love and hospitality?
“What have we done?”