Today’s sacred texts : Luke 10:1-11, 17-20: “The Messenger” by Mary Oliver,https://www.poeticous.com/mary-oliver/messenger and as it turns out, Rumi’s “The Guest House”
Imagine 2 out of those 70 travellers, showing up on your doorstep. Barefoot, dusty, carrying nothing, looking as if they didn’t have a shekel to their name.
Remember, back then, your house was probably have been very small and humble. No guest room. Everyone doubling up if house guests came , some sleeping on the floor in whatever corner you could find. Your pair might have been male or female or one of each- or, who knows? You wouldn’t have a fridge or freezer with extra soups or casseroles for last-minute meals. You’d be cooking from scratch and you’d be stretching out a pretty modest food supply, and making sure the guests got the best of it. You likely had to haul water from the town well and you’d need a lot more of it.
And here’s the twist- if you let them in, you wouldn’t just have to do this for a day and a night. Apparently, wherever they landed in a town, that’s where they’d stay, till they were ready to move on. After day 3 – well you know what they say about visitors and fish after day 3.
The visitors had at least been trained – don’t be picky, eat what’s put in front of you, be content with your accommodation. Probably too, even if they were worn out from all the teaching and healing, still be polite and friendly to their hosts . Just as you and I would be if we were billeted somewhere, even if we’d been out all day at a meeting or conference and were exhausted.
But it’s hard to imagine ourselves into this story. Our guests don’t always arrive planned or at times of our choosing but at least we usually know who they are.
And when we travel, most of us travel with some degree of comfort, as much luggage as we can get away with, probably, unless we’re really smart, way more than we need. We wouldn’t get far without our wallets and perhaps our travel documents and passports. And we probably know exactly where we are staying and when. Either we let our friends know, or we booked online.
We once had a few young people show up at Wesley who were going from place to place on a working journey, somewhat based on this story, I’d say. We offered them our basement if I recall but one of you I think was generously welcomed them into her home. But that’s an unusual event in modern hospitality- which is usually reserved for people we’ve met at least once before .
But planned or not, journeys and hostings hold unknowns and unexpected challenges. That well-planned trip is thrown off if a flight is delayed or cancelled and we have to change our bookings- perhaps we are even stuck in an airport overnight. Or the accommodation we’ve booked may turn out to be a dive .Or , you’re driving, and there are road works, or weather events, or your car breaks down.
And with house guests, you may find out the hard way: how long can they go without taking out their electronic devices, how much entertaining do they require, will they like the places we take them or will they be bored, will they be Ok with our food, will they offer to help with the dishes or will they give us a break from cooking and pick up supper or take us out for a meal?
There’s a wisdom underneath this story – for our journeys and our hostings. There are lessons always to be had- and it comes back to travelling light. not carrying the baggage of many expectations, not expecting perfection. being grateful, where we can, for the efforts of others , always being open even to what this specific day may offer us- and a sense of humour helps. Some of you remember when I was flying home from Florence, our plane got cancelled, we got bussed to Bologna and had a long and memorable scenic drive around Bologna airport- and later got our exercise in a Paris airport…
Travelling works for physical journeys and for spiritual journeys- releasing expectations , releasing attachment to outcomes, receiving what the present moment gives us even if it is not what we would choose. We are surrounded by a culture of entitlement, a consumer culture, where it’s about getting what we want as soon and conveniently as possible. Those who’ve travelled in developing countries become very conscious of this- when they meet people who have to spend almost all day just taking care of getting food and water and preparing meals, who can’t afford to waste anything, and who find ways to celebrate even in the midst of lives we would find very difficult.
And if we live our faith throughout our physical and spiritual journeys, then the question arises-not just what’s in this for me, what suits me? But how can I serve? We’ve got work to do – the work , as Mary Oliver puts it, of loving the world .How can we communicate this love, each day, offering the gifts of compassion, kindness, listening, caring, creativity- whatever spreads Love and Light around our community and beyond.
But loving is not always easy. So we need to sit loose to how we are received. Yes- enjoy it if you are welcomed, if someone pays you a compliment- say thank you, receive it as a gift. But I’m sure you’ve learned as I have- We can become addicted to praise and approval, we can be addicted to popularity and being liked- and then we’re heading for great disappointment.
Jesus was instructing, I’m guessing, young adults- the old ones would be too old for the arduous journey. He warns them- don’t put too much store on your successes. Things won’t always work out. .The ancient belief was- you would still be “written in heaven” or in the Rosh Hashanah greeting “inscribed for a good day”. And young adults above all have to work this out- if they get rejected, if they don’t get a job, if a relationship fails. Still, travel the best way you can, be, or become, your best self, try to bring something good to each place, And, yes, when you have to , let go of what you hoped for, shake the dust from your feet, and be open to a different scenario than you’d planned.
This journey is a faith journey, faith that you are not alone, faith that you are held in Divine Love, faith that you can continue the journey, whatever path it takes, faith that you might glimpse unexpected beauty and grace around the next corner, as on a long and winding road.
And truly we are all hosts – receiving the guests at our door, receiving those who would like a few minutes of our time- and receiving experiences. The Sufi Mystic and Whirling Dervish Rumi puts it this way as he reflects on the sum total of life- and he had- by the way- some most unwelcome experiences:
The Guest House. https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poem/guest-house/
As travellers- as guests- as hosts-living in faith and hope, may we receive the guidance we can, with open hands and open hearts, “Keeping our minds on what matters which is [our] work, Which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished “ [from “The Messenger”}. astonished by each new delight, each reason to give thanks. Amen.