The hospitality series has repeatedly been gratifying and challenging in the way it touches areas of our faith and life in Christ, many of which we might prefer to leave alone. Foremost of these is turning out to be “Hospitality to our Enemies.” Now I will begin by admitting that I wasn’t the one who came up with that topic. I confess that it came out of one of the books that I have been using to help me as we explore the series (Nanette Sawyer “Hospitality – The Sacred Art”) I thought the idea was profound and warranted our exploration. But since mentioning it last Sunday my surprise is how many have wanted to talk about their “enemy” and the challenges of having an enemy who is a part of the church.
Let me begin with a story that is in no way true, but illustrates many that are. A member of the church hires another member of the church who is a contractor to remodel his kitchen. They have talked about it repeatedly over coffee hour and they know each other well through a number of activities in the church. The plans are drawn up, down payment made and the start date set. Unfortunately, the work doesn’t start on the “start date” but starts about two weeks later. The demolition is done and the kitchen is gutted. But then, after the demolition is completed and with the kitchen, now reduced to studs and exposed sub-floor, the contractor takes his family on a ten day vacation so work is halted. When he comes back, he notes that the electrical is not as he anticipated and there will be additional costs, and another delay. Besides this there is an additional delay because he has other jobs that he is working as well.
Now, weeks behind, as the work begins to move towards completion; the counter top that is installed is not the one that was picked out by the owners. The contractor argues that it is actually a better one than they had selected and it is a bargain, but still, it’s not satisfactory. Things continue to deteriorate with further work delays. Now, it is more than a month after the project was supposed to be done and much of the finish work is still not completed. After a great deal of consternation the home owner arranges for another carpenter to finish the work, and takes that from the final payment to the contractor. After multiple threats to contact lawyers, send to collections, and other hostilities, a grudging settlement to the account is worked out and though the work is not to the satisfaction of the home owner, the matter is brought to a close … until that Sunday, when the contractor, who is an elder in the church is the communion server who offers the home owner “The bread of Life” in the worship service.
Like I said, this story is an invented illustration and not a real occurrence. The same story can be told from the contractor’s point of view: trying to give a member of the church a break, working to do the job right, and him never being satisfied. The point here is as gardeners often remark: “Manure Occurs” And grudges are formed. We are not in the place to question or judge the legitimacy of the feelings. The challenge we are facing is “How do we create space where we can have peace with people with whom we have conflict?”
We all understand that we should forgive; unfortunately most of us do not know how. Besides teaching hospitality we should teach an entire series on the spiritual disciplines that are forgiveness. There are three basic groups of practices: ones that focus on seeing the good (seeing Christ) in your enemy while at the time putting your own faults into perspective; ones that focus on letting go of the events and releasing the emotions around the hurts that have occurred; and building a sense of unity as the body of Christ. The difficulty is that forgiveness is a practice that takes time. And when we have to encounter the individual who has wronged us repeatedly; we find we are in a position of needing to truly “work” the practice.
The difficulty is that practically speaking, a great many of us find ourselves struggling with relationships with people with whom we are in conflict, or in short form; enemies. We struggle to make peace, to live peaceably, and to not have the issues of the past dominate our lives. But it isn’t easy. We have to continually find ourselves struggling to forgive, working to be “peaceable” and working to live as Christians.
The point of forgiveness and the pilgrimage of our faith is that though we can hope to make progress we have to understand that we are continually in process. Christ is walking with us, at times encouraging us to move forward, at times supporting us in our pain and grief, but always with us in the process. It is in this way that we continue to seek to be faithful disciples.