“Um…God??”: Jesus Teaches Prayer

a sermon for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 12C/Lectionary 17C]

Luke 11:1-13 and Genesis 18:20-32

I bet we can think of the person who taught us to drive. We can probably think of the person who taught us how to bake cookies or make a meal using the stove. Each of us can probably think of the person who taught us how to play a musical instrument or throw a ball. There are a few high school seniors here who will be heading off to college in a few weeks. I bet if they haven’t learned it already, someone will be teaching them soon how to use a washing machine and dryer.


Last night one of our members who is at the beach with her extended family this week posted a photo on Facebook of a bunch of adults huddled around a coffee table with some elementary school age children in a dimly lit room. On the table were some playing cards and some chips with the caption, “Teaching the older girls how to play blackjack and poker at the beach…they are big stuff.” My guess is those girls are tired from the sun and the sand and the salt but they are always going to remember when their moms and dads let them stay up a little late and taught them how to play grown-up card games.

Can you think of the person who taught you how to pray? Perhaps you are still wondering how. We may not at first think of prayer as something that needs to be taught. My guess is that many people would think that prayer is so personal, so unique to each person’s own spirit and perspective, that the idea of teaching prayer sounds authoritarian or doctrinaire. Who are you to tell me how to pray?

And yet we know that Jesus’ taught his disciples to pray. In fact, it’s the only thing we know of that Jesus was specifically asked to teach. In both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospel we have stories of Jesus returning from a time of quiet prayer and the disciples wanting him to show them what he’s doing. I imagine they’re pretty intrigued. In those days, the disciples would have most likely associated prayer with something that happened in the Temple or in the local synagogue, something that the rabbis, priests, and other worship leaders did or knew how to do. The disciples see that their leader is constantly going off somewhere to pray on this own, that this praying somehow fuels him and gives power to his ministry, so they naturally ask him how to go about it.



We find that Jesus’ arm doesn’t need to be twisted one bit.  He gathers them around the coffee table, sees their faces eagerly looking up to see what he’ll say. And instead of telling them about a certain position or posture they need to be in or telling them that they need to meditate he actually gives them words. He gives them a real, usable pattern to go by. It’s perhaps the purest example of grace. They ask and he gives. They knock and the door is opened. It’s a real, biblical example of faith formation.

This past Lent the staff discovered, almost to our surprise, that people still respond well to the concept of prayer and teaching someone how to go about it. When the staff came up with the theme for Lent 2019, we decided to continue with the congregation’s focus on faith formation and present different forms of prayer. Some of you may remember that we incorporated an interactive aspect to the sermons. When we learned about prayers of thanksgiving, for example, we were invited to write on a cut out of a flower things for which we were thankful and then to come forward and place that flower on a large board that came to look like a field. When we were taught about prayers of lament, worshippers were given a piece of torn cloth that they wrote on and then came forward to tie on a wooden cross we had set up in the middle of the aisle. We did this for five different kinds of prayer, thanksgiving, lament, and then supplication (asking for something), adoration, and confession.


Now, I have to be honest and admit that even though I was part of the team that came up with this idea, I secretly worried that the topic and the interactive component would go over like a lead balloon. I couldn’t have been more wrong. People seemed to really respond to the opportunity to learn about the forms of prayer and physically participate in practicing it. The staff talked several times about how moving it was seeing people so eager to express themselves to God.

The prayer that Jesus teaches his disciples that day catches on immediately. They must have responded well to it because we have evidence from the earliest times of Christianity that followers of Christ were praying this prayer and following this pattern. It has come to be known as the Lord’s Prayer, and here at Epiphany you may notice we use two different versions of it. There are actually many different translations of it, as you can tell from this morning’s Scripture. With it Jesus says that these are the best types of things you can pray for: that God’s holiness and power be made known through us. That our truest needs be given just for today. Tomorrow can worry about tomorrow. And so forth.

The Lord’s Prayer has become so ingrained in our usage  that some of the truly groundbreaking parts of this prayer may be lost on us. For one, Jesus tells his disciples to address God in the same way that he himself does, in the most familiar and endearing terms possible. In fact, the word “Father” might best be translated as “Daddy,” and that word doesn’t imply anything about God’s gender or masculinity but rather the parental relationship Jesus has with God. All of the pronouns used by Jesus are the informal means of address. Many languages have what is called a formal “you”—used when talking to someone like a professor or an adult you want to show respect to—and an informal “you,” which one would use when speaking to a close friend. Nothing about the language Jesus gives to his disciples suggests we need to be formal when addressing God. He says we are to just talk in the way we’d talk to our friends.


I remember when I was in youth group we were gathered around one evening for our meeting and our leader asked for a volunteer. I know this may surprise some of you, but I was the kind of kid who’d throw my hand up before I knew what I was being asked to volunteer for. I raised my hand eagerly and the leader called on me and said, “OK, Phillip, pray for us.” I was mortified because I’d never had to pray in front of anyone before, much less all of my peers. I felt like Ben Stiller’s character in that scene from Meet the Parents when he has to say the table prayer in front of his fiancee’s family. I ended up bowing my head, pausing nervously for a really long time, and then bursting out with “Um…God?” like it was a question. And everyone in the room burst into snickering. I felt so stupid. Who starts a prayer with “Um?” Well, the tone of the Lord’s Prayer suggests that God loves to hear that kind of honest plea even if there is merit in being more direct and succinct with our words. God doesn’t grade us on how we begin, how we open our hearts, what language we use, how repetitive we are.

That’s why it’s helpful to use this newer version of the Lord’s Prayer that incorporates more modern language. Many of us are so familiar and attached to the version that came out in 1611 with the King James Bible, and that’s OK, but the new version matches more closely that familiarity that Jesus teaches his disciples in the Bible. I don’t know anyone nowadays who talks to a friend with words like “thy” and “art.” Being open to and even memorizing two slightly different versions of Jesus’ prayer has only enriched my prayer life, and I guarantee it will yours, especially since many of the earliest Christians believed that Jesus intended this prayer to be more like a pattern than a rote saying.

Whatever language we use, however, Jesus then goes on to say that prayer involves action. It is like knocking on a door in the middle of the night so that you can be a good host for someone who’s dropped in. It is like receiving food from a parent’s hand so that you can eat. Jesus implies there is nothing really passive about prayer. It may be done in quiet from time to time, but it is active, and it moves us to action, just as it moved him to action to love and serve us. His last words upon the cross were prayers, as he gave up his life to show us his mercy and forgiveness.


Seeing this gets us to the real heart of prayer—that it is not so much about getting God to do things for us as it is about joining our lives with what God is doing in this world through Jesus. Christian prayer does not come from a place where we see ourselves as the center of our own lives. It is not about centering primarily on what’s happening to me and figuring how God might fit in or how God might be moving in my life. Jesus says we pray, “Your kingdom come.” When we pray as Jesus teaches us we are tapping it whatever mercy and compassion and love God is bringing about in creation. Our personal needs are surely important and understood by God, who gives what we need without our even asking, but prayer does something even mightier than make those requests known to God. Prayer cracks open our hearts and aligns us with God’s intentions, God’s plans.

That’s precisely what is happening in this interesting dialogue between Abraham and God in Genesis. The heart of God is compassionate and merciful and Abraham knows this. He doesn’t particularly like Sodom and Gomorrah, but his brother and his family are staying there The city-people have sinned against God by treating the visitors with extreme inhospitality. They needed a place to find refuge, and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah took violent advantage of them. Abraham stands before the Lord, however, and asks for mercy. He appeals to the way he knows God moves in the world, the way of God’s heart even though he knows God’s anger is kindled against them.

I have seen this kind of praying among this congregation so often—ways that push them further into the vision for God’s kingdom and God’s will. Just yesterday as I spoke with members of our HHOPE Pantry team. The HHOPE team is very diligent about their own time of prayer together each time after they serve, and over the past several months they have seen a decrease in the number of people using the pantry. Now, there could be any number of reasons for that, but their prayers have led them to reassess their ministry, their outreach. They are now considering a strategy to reach out to additional schools to heighten our profile, to reestablish contacts with their existing local relationships. God’s kingdom is coming when the poor are given hope and the hungry are filled with good things. And so instead of soldiering on the same way or making their ministry the center of what God is doing, they are aligning their goals with whatever the needs of the community are.

I realize that I’ve probably given you know clearer vision of what prayer is or how to go about it. In many ways, it like the disciples asked Jesus how to speak a language. And how do you really learn a language other than start speaking it? If you want to learn how to pray, if you are wondering how it all works, if you are struggling to see the point, may I humbly point out some people in our midst who are native speakers. Join up with them or another group like them. Knock on the door and you will find your heavenly Father, who is gracious, gives the Holy Spirit.

Thanks be to God!

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

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In orbit around Jesus

a sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 11C]

Luke 10:38-42 and Genesis 10:1-10a

We’ve just finished a week of a Mars-themed Vacation Bible School. Each morning this week 92 children entered the building as Explorers who were learning to “Go Beyond with God” in a fellowship hall that had been transformed into a space station. We imagined ourselves as orbiting in outer space, and stories from the Bible taught us about the power of faith, of boldness, of kindness, of thankfulness, and of hope. A lot of planning and work went into these five days so that the children would be safe, have fun, and learn about Jesus’ love. You could see our Faith Formation Director Cheryl, her four main VBS co-directors, and all the volunteers in their leadership orbits all week long, and last weekend one director was even in orbit high above the ground—literally—as she stood on a scissors lift and hung fabric from the rafters of Price Hall.

Pastor Joseph, our Mars explorer, led us in adventures of faith

Whether it was intentional or not, it all was timed perfectly with yesterday’s 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Just as Vacation Bible School this week was designed to make us lift our heads up to the ways God calls us to be his people in the world, the commemorations of Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind” give us an opportunity to lift our heads up in pride and wonder at the bold things humans can do when we dream and work together as God made us to. When we use our intellect and curiosity about the universe, when we use our ability to listen and collaborate, when we use our bodies to explore and venture into the unknown we are doing what God created us to do.

And, of course, thinking about Mars and the moon and space exploration causes us to lift our heads quite literally and focus on the heavens for a moment and ponder the wonder and vastness of creation. Orbiting and swirling up above us there are stars and planets and supernovas and comets and asteroids that we are only beginning to know about. And deep within us there are cells and mitochondria and strands of proteins that we are only beginning to understand. And around us are animals and ecosystems and weather patterns that interlock in ways that still fascinate and perplex us. People of faith understand that these are all ways that creation gives glory to God.


Then alongside VBS decorations of Mars and space stations and dozens of kids orbiting here and grainy black and white television footage of the moon in orbit around the earth, we come in this morning and find Mary and Martha in orbit around Jesus. There they are, in their house, with Jesus as guest. Mary is the closer of the two, like Mercury or Venus. His gravitational pull has her captivated. She sits at his feet listening to what he is saying. Martha is in an outer orbit, maybe a Jupiter or Saturn, spinning and whirling with the tasks of hospitality. It is her house, after all. She has invited Jesus there and she has undertaken the holy and righteous role of host.

Johannes Vermeer (Christ in the House of Martha and Mary) c. 1654

In middle eastern culture there were and still are few things more sacred than taking care of a guest. Centuries of living in and very near inhospitable deserts and wilderness areas and eking out a living as nomads had created a culture among Jesus’ people that revered the visitor because you never knew when you might be the role of someone seeking sustenance. The opportunity to have someone in your home or in your tent, as Abraham and Sarah do in our first reading, was seen as an opportunity to entertain one of God’s own representatives.

I’m not so sure this same attitude toward hosting and entertaining guests still exists in our culture today. There are probably various reasons for that. Melinda and I love to have people over for dinner, but the thought of someone just dropping by could cause us to hyperventilate. We wouldn’t think things are clean and tidy enough. It takes a lot of energy to bring people into your home and make them comfortable there. And yet as recently as in my grandparents’ generation, it was customary always to have one room of the house where you could take in someone at moments’ notice. We were just talking about this yesterday as we gathered with my relatives to lay my grandmother to rest. They said during the Great Depression it was a common occurrence to have people you didn’t know dropping by your house for food or for work and to turn them away or not invite them in was shameful.

Younger couples getting married these days often don’t register for a china pattern, which is not a sign of their lack of taste or a complaint in any way. Fine china isn’t necessarily needed to host, but that downward trend could be an indication that we are entertaining people in our homes far less often than we used to, at least to the level that Abraham and Sarah display. The way in which we make ourselves open towards visitors and guests changes over time and varies by culture. And for Martha, taking care of Jesus was not to be taken lightly. She’s clearing off the table, scraping off the plates, finding the right size Tupperware for the leftovers all by herself. She speaks up about it. Surely the Son of Man, who came not to be served but to serve, will take her side and encourage Mary to join in.

That’s when Jesus surprises us yet again. He doesn’t take Martha’s side.

a sculpture at our church of Mary listening to Jesus

So many of us struggle with this Bible story. In one of my discussion groups this week people seemed to me to go out of their way to defend Martha, as if we need to make sure we tell the rest of the story, find out how she recovers from Jesus’ rebuke. I think we all kind of want to defend her because there is a lot of work to do, after all. But Jesus doesn’t say that by staying busy and hosting Martha has chosen the wrong part. He says Mary chose the better part. Martha’s acts of hospitality aren’t themselves inherently “off,” but that they have somehow become a distraction for her. Martha’s mistake is not that that she’s working, but that her work has become her.

There’s a lesson here, especially since this story occurs immediately following Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which is about the work of ministry, going and doing acts of compassion in the world. The life of the disciple can so easily turn into one of doing, of basing our worth and our relevance in how much we’re accomplishing—how many items we’re collecting for the food bank, how many people we’re impacting, how much we’re seen out and about in the community and world. These are parts of our faith. They are vitally important parts of being Jesus’ people, but they are not the main part. They are not to be the inner orbit.

The better part of our discipleship, the more central tasks, involve listening and paying attention to the Word, to letting it shape who and whose we are, to realizing Jesus is at the center of all things and letting that shape us, because Jesus will never be a distraction. We as the church aren’t just a “social service organization with sacraments,” as our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton reminds us. We are the holy people of God called to be at his feet in the midst of a busied world.

The Lutheran Campus pastor at the University of Colorado at Boulder recently released a short video on his YouTube channel directed at recently graduating seniors who will be starting college in the fall. It is called, “The Five People You Meet in College,” and in a very humorous fashion imitates five of the stereotypical identities college students often “try on” in their college years. One of them is the student who gets over-involved, signing up for all the programs and activities. Another is the super-philosophical student who questions and challenges everything. Another is the party-goer, and so on. Then the pastor talks about how forming and exploring personal identity has become a part of the college experience, and that God’s world, like space, is meant to be something to venture into and wonder about.

But then he says that we don’t really know who we are until we’ve heard what God says about us, until we know our identity as people redeemed and loved by Christ.  That, as it turns out, is the mission behind his campus ministry. He invites incoming and returning students to gather around Jesus’ Word and around the sacraments in worship each week so that they can pause all the things they’re doing and hearing and be reminded of their central identity. His is not an invitation to “be more religious” in college, or to make the right decisions and stay away from sin. He says he offers chance to hear from and be shaped by One who has died for you. It is a reminder that God himself has come into our house and loves us unconditionally. That is the church’s task in the world, in fact. Not just campus ministry’s.

Rembrandt (Abraham entertains Three Angels)

Just this past week our 3-year-old had his first nightmare—at least, I should say, the first one we were aware of. He has always been such a sound sleeper and never one to get out of his bed, so when we heard him screaming in the middle of the night it startled both Melinda and me immediately. His words were as clear as day: “I’m scared! I’m scared!” Then the sound of thrashing in the sheets came through on his monitor, too.

Melinda jumped up and ran in and found him with his eyes still closed, but still rolling around as if he were running away from something. It took her a few seconds to break through and calm him down. He was dreaming about monsters chasing him, and he asked her if there were any still in his bed. Don’t you wonder what those monsters looked like? Grover from Sesame Street? Or chemotherapy? Unemployment? A general feeling of uselessness?

I suppose we could have just left him there to figure it out for himself. I suppose we could have just let it play out, let him struggle with the nightmare a bit longer, let him get to the endpoint of his fear, whenever that would be, and learn it his own way. But Melinda opted to break into that false reality, to remind him he’s OK. She comforted him with our words and told him the truth. She rubbed his back and brought him back to this life.

Hearing that is the better part, and it’s what Mary chose that day.  She knows he’s bringing her back to this life. His word breaks through everything—breaks through death!—and reminds us we have a Creator that has given his own life for us, has reconciled it all through the blood of the cross. That’s more critical to our existence than knowing the sun at the center of the solar system. For as beautiful as our works of compassion are, as helpful as our demonstrations of faith can be, as glorious as the cosmos is, none of them can say to us, “I love you. It’s OK. There are no monsters. I’ve beaten them.”

The writer of Colossians says, “For in Christ all things in heaven and earth were created, all things visible and invisible—all things have been created in him and all things hold together.” Let’s be held today, with the Son (S-O-N) at the center—his love for us and all people pulling us in…like gravity.


Thanks be to God!


The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

Road Trip

a sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 10C/Lectionary 15C]

Luke 10:25-37

As some of you already know, my family just returned from a vacation out in the Midwest. We first spent some time with our close friends at their home in Wisconsin, and then just the five of us stayed for a few nights in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. All of this involved a lot of driving. I knew on paper that driving first to the northern end of the Mississippi River and then the shores of Lake Superior and then back to Richmond would a long trip, but it wasn’t until we were on the open road that it sunk in just how far it was. All in all it was about 2500 miles and when through a total of eight states, nine if you count the little bit of time we crossed into Minnesota. We are thankful for a reliable car, children who are excellent travelers and Google Maps.


Google Maps is amazing technology. It makes road trips so much easier. It figures out the quickest routes from here to there, it automatically re-routes you around traffic snarls, it even tells you where the speed traps are (not that I need to know, of course!) But maybe one of the best features of Google Maps, however—one which I think they’ve only added fairly recently—is the little icons that pop up when you cross a state line. They make long distance travel just a little more interesting. Google Maps knows the exact moment you cross into another state and at the bottom of the screen a little window appears that says “Welcome to” whatever state you’re now in, along with a little cartoon character that is somehow related to that state’s history or economy or culture.

Each time we neared a border, we found ourselves glued to the smartphone screen to see what little character would pop up. Lots of times we’d guess as to what it would be. Would Indiana be a little corn farmer? A basketball player? Nope. It was a little Indy car driver. Would Michigan be represented by a car factory worker? Nope. It was a Motown singer. In case you’re wondering, Virginia’s icon is a little colonial-president-looking dude with peanuts over his shoulders. The one we were most surprised by was Minnesota’s, which was a little Prince, as in Purple-Rain-Prince, the pop music singer who died just a few years ago.


Granted, these little icons are a little bit based on stereotypes, but they do supposedly say something about the territory you’re traveling through. In life, as on trips, we cross boundaries, we encounter others, and we want to what to expect from them, and how we should regard them. What zone do they belong in? What’s their icon? Are they this this group or that?

Isn’t that really the heart of the matter in this dialogue between the lawyer and Jesus? It starts out as a way to test Jesus through a question about inheriting eternal life, but it quickly evolves (devolves?) into a question about how to regard others. This exchange starts out as a way to trap Jesus on his interpretation of Jewish law, but it turns into a matter of how to navigate the world and all of its different distinctions and boundaries and territories. Because the two commandments of loving God and loving the neighbor as self are so intertwined, we can’t have one without the other. That is, if a person’s relationship with God is going to directly reflect on their relationships with their neighbor then (and vice versa)—I agree with the lawyer—it would be helpful to understand just who the neighbor is.

And so Jesus responds to the lawyer by talking about a roadtrip. A man starts in Jerusalem, which sits way up high at this elevation, and plugs Jericho into Google Maps. He knows that it is going to take him down a steep path that plunges 3300 feet in just 17 miles. In addition to that several icons pop up that look menacing. As it turns out, this is not friendly territory. Roads rarely were, but this one, from Jerusalem to Jericho, because of its terrain, was notoriously sketchy. But the man goes anyway. We could question his motive, perhaps. We could question whether he has any right to be there, or if it is a wise decision to travel such-and-such by himself, but Jesus doesn’t seem to do that. And sure enough, the man is attacked and beaten and left for dead.

Hanna Varghese, The Good Samaritan

Then, as chance would have it, Jesus says, a priest was going down the road and sees the man who has been beaten. It would be helpful to know the priest’s motivations at this point. Does he pass by the man because he assumes he’s dead and it is unlawful for a priest to touch a corpse? Is he in a hurry and doesn’t want to get sucked into this guy’s drama? We could come up with any number of reasons why the priest and later the Levite—both religious professionals—pass by and choose not to help him. The point is that they are stereotypical characters.  They are icons of religion. They work in the temple and synagogues. They are little representatives of the best of what God’s people have to offer. If you were hurt on the side of the road, you would hope and expect that the priest or the Levite would help you.

I have a friend who serves as a pastor out in California and just this week she was visiting someone in the hospital and a nurse saw her with her collar on and asked if she was a Catholic priest. “No,” my friend answered, “I’m a Lutheran one.” The nurse said (nurses know how to get things done), “Well, could you come and pray with this Catholic patient who is entering surgery?” So my friend did. Then, a half an hour later, another nurse came to her and said, “I hear you are willing to do a Catholic prayer before surgery. Please come.” So she put on the gown and gloves and mask and let them all in prayer together.

Priests and Levites are expected to help and pray, but for some reason the two in Jesus’ story don’t and perhaps we’re a bit unsettled.

Then, at this point, the lawyer and anyone else listening to Jesus’ story are expecting a third person because things come in threes. Historians tell us that for Jews in Jesus’ time, the Jewish world was divided between three classes of people: priests, Levites, and then everyday Israelites. But the third person who comes by the injured man is not an ordinary Israelite. He is a Samaritan, a figure completely out of left field! No one listening would have seen it coming. Samaritans were not just foreigners, but foreigners who no one trusted. Their religion wasn’t trusted, their culture wasn’t trusted, and furthermore they lived right at the border, sometimes mixing right in with ordinary Israelites. Law-abiding Israelites like the lawyer would have detested Samaritans. And so to hear this story about the Samaritan being moved with pity or compassion would have been infuriating. Finally in the story we have evidence of someone’s motivation, and it is the foreigner’s! And it is a motivation typically associated with God’s character. The Samaritan’s icon pops up on the Google Maps and…it is an icon of God! The Samaritan not only helps the guy out of the ditch and treats his wounds, but he provides money to nurse him back to health.


Jesus ends the story by returning to the lawyer’s question but he changes it a little. “Who is my neighbor?” turns out to be not the best question. In doing so, the lawyer is still living by borders and boundaries, into zones of neighbors and people who aren’t neighbors. Jesus asks, “Who was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” and the lawyer has to admit it is the one who showed God-like mercy. Living as a person of faith involves displaying mercy and pity, responding as Christ, and not really being concerned about whichever icon or stereotype they’re represented by. Rather than wondering about who our neighbor is, our task is just to go and be a neighbor to anyone who needs one.

If we’re going to be legalistic about our faith, Jesus says to the lawyer and to that part of each of us that longs to know exactly where the lines fall, the only law we really need to be following is the one written on our hearts by Jesus’ tender mercy. It’s the law of compassion. Because Christ-followers know that we’re all, equally, on dangerous roads in need of mercy. We come to realize that on some level we’re all just wandering through perilous country here, that we all vulnerable and utterly dependent on the grace of God in others to get us through. Jesus doesn’t look upon the earth from the cross and see states or countries or boundaries or Google icons. He sees people he loves. He sees people in need of forgiveness. He sees people in need of cleansing with oil and wine, people who need shelter and nurture. He sees a world where Samaritans can do the things that pure-hearted, God-fearing Israelites would do. And since we are his people, we go and do likewise.

Early Christians were the ones who invented the world’s first hospitals. They were pioneers in creating buildings like this inn in this parable, where the best medical practices of their day would be combined with prayer and service to tend to those who were in any need. Scientists and priests and deacons would work together to nurture people back to health, if they could. Christians became so good at forming these institutions that non-Christians began to take note. In fact, the pagan Emperor Julian, who was notorious for wanting to rid the Roman Empire of Christianity, “chided his fellow pagans that the Christians supported not only their own poor but [the poor and sick] of others as well.” These early hospitals were called “xenodochion.”[1]

You may recognize the first part of that word, “Xeno.” It means foreigner or stranger. We hear it mostly these days in the form of xenophobia, fear of foreigners or fear of the other. Yet early Christians were known far and wide for xenodochion, which means “hospitable to foreigners.”

immigrants detained at the U.S. border

The Irish rock group U2 came out with a song several years ago called, “Invisible.” All of the proceeds from downloading it went straight to care for people with AIDS. The ending of the song repeats the words:

There is no them
There is no them
There’s only us.
There’s only us.
There is no them.
There is no them.
There’s only us.

I like to think that’s the message echoing in the lawyer’s head as he leaves Jesus thinking about that foreigner-loving Samaritan dropping his hard-earned money in the innkeeper’s hospital.  To be honest, I’d hope that’s what’s echoing in my own head on my roadtrip of life as I watch people bring in diapers to stock the ACTS house today, as I see photos of our youth group’s trip this week to Tarboro where they rebuild hurricane-damaged houses. I hope that’s the message playing over and over in my head as I watch children whose personal stories I don’t know file into our sanctuary by the dozens this week for Vacation Bible School. I hope it’s the message I remember as I deliberate and ponder whatever’s happening at our own national border and with immigrants in our community…and as I still foolishly watch with anticipation to see what stereotype-driven icon will pop up when I encounter anyone on my path.

Welcome little Caius Roma, just baptized today. You’ve got oil on your head. We’re going to have wine here in a minute. Listen:

There is no them.
There is no them.
There’s only us.

Thanks be to God!


The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

[1] The First Thousand Years. Robert Louis Wilken. p 159