A friend of mine works as
a salesman for a consumer products company. Throughout the day he visits
an average of a dozen small businesses. The people he visits are mainly
small-time entrepreneurs. They own and operate primarily gas stations and
convenience stores. Overwhelmingly, he says, these owners are immigrants
to the United States. They come from the Middle East and other parts of
Asia. They come to the United States often empty handed and eager for the
opportunity of a better life. They are today’s version of the nineteenth
and twentieth century European immigrant.
As a native-born citizen
of this country, my friend told me he was taken aback when he first
starting visiting these small business owners. First, he realized how much
of their lives were tied to their small business. They worked weekdays and
weekends, from early in the morning until late at night. They did whatever
needed to be done, whether it was working behind the counter, receiving
stock deliveries, or cleaning the restrooms. They were often busy trying
to take care of their customers and stock their shelves at the same time.
But what really surprised my friend was their sense of hospitality.
Whenever he walked into a store (usually unannounced), the owner would see
to it that my friend not leave the store without picking up a store item
as a gift. Even if it was only a can of soda or bag of chips, my friend
never left many of these stores empty handed. He said that so often he is
made to feel not like not just another pesky salesman, but as a welcomed
Convenience store owners
aren’t the only ones. Widows from biblical days seem especially suited to
offering a spirit of welcome. The unnamed widow from Zaraphath follows her
inner promptings to offer her traveling guest Elijah some much needed food
and hospitality. Such gifts come to the prophet not out of the widow’s
abundance, but out of her scarcity. Imagine the faith that it takes to
give to someone else what you yourself desperately need. And in case we
think this widow of Zaraphath is an anomaly, we only need to look at
another poor widow—this one from Mark’s gospel. Again we find a model of
faith in the form of a hopeful and trusting heart. She too gives what she
not only values but also needs. In terms of Christian stewardship, we
would call this sacrificial giving. It is giving out of a sense of trust
and gratitude: trust in God’s care and gratitude for God’s goodness.
As the Church, we realize
that sacrificial giving is not something we invent. It’s source is within
God, within the love of the Trinity. Not to be held captive, this love
diffuses into our world and our lives. It is hospitable to all people. It
never turns away a seeker, be they prophet-- or salesman-- or anyone on
their pilgrim way. This love, so unconditionally given away, is most fully
revealed in the one cross of Christ. It is love made sacramentally present
for all times. The one cup we share signifies our willingness to offer
ourselves as good news for others, and to love those who would hate us.
The Lord asks us what he asked his disciples, “Can you drink of the cup I
am about to drink?” At communion we respond, “Amen.” We need to be
reminded again and again that our commitment to God in others is not
always a neat and clean effort. In our efforts to live our faith, we will
get cuts and bruises, headaches and frustrations. We shed blood.
Celebration and sacrifice
may be an unlikely pair, but they are essential to the eucharisitic lives
we live. Someone wisely once said that our letters of recommendation for
life with God come from the poor. Today we add to the list: immigrants,
salesmen, widows, prophets, and all who would welcome the Lord’s
hospitality in their midst.
© 2009 Rev. Tom Mannebach