Morning worship: Radical hospitality requires risk and compassion

“Some of us remember how we used to travel before the severe travel protocols put in place after 9/11, before stocking feet and before jeans were the uniform for travel,” said the Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Being ON the Way,” and her text was Ephesians 6:10-20.

“There was a time when we wore our Sunday best, pressed suits, starched shirts, wing tips and Mary Janes, fedoras and fancy hats,” she said. “Our traveling clothes told people who we were and where our people came from.”

She told the congregation, as the week ends and they prepare to leave Chautauqua, they need to think about what has changed for them this week and what needs to be rearranged in their lives.

“Unlike the refugee who quickly leaves with everything, we can choose what we will carry with us and what we will leave behind,” Henderson said.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes the clothes fit for the people of God, actual armor. He tells them to put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. And they were to pray always.

“Paul, an inveterate traveler, was in prison when he wrote to the Ephesians,” she said. “He saw soldiers wearing this armor everyday. In our antiseptic distance from warfare, this may be the last thing we would imagine, and we might think it is politically incorrect, but I think it reflects the robust strength we need to be the body of Christ in the world.

“Paul is saying ‘buck up, you can’t be a little bit Christian. You have to stand for something,’ ” Henderson continued. “He uses the word ‘stand’ three times — like Jesus telling Peter three times to feed my sheep.”

Paul does not tell them to put on some of the armor but the whole armor; Christians need the balance of the attributes the armor provides to counter evil.

“We don’t use the word ‘evil’ too much,” Henderson said. “We have the truth but it is tempered by the helmet of salvation, the living words of God and we should always be discerning God’s intentions. We have the breastplate, not of self-righteousness or hubris but grounded in the sandals of peace, which keep us from pride. We have the shield to deflect conflict in the church and in the world.

“If faith does not propel us into the world, we will be bystanders,” she said. “If faith matters to us, we will stand for justice and welcome the stranger.”

Henderson described a meeting of a group Auburn Seminary called together to build a multi-faith justice movement. One of the participants was Rob Schenck, a conservative evangelical, who has pictures of Sarah Palin and Clarence Thomas in his office. He told the group he knew about building movements because he was one of the people behind the right-to-life movement.

“He told the group that most of his constituency would be scared of them,” Henderson said. “Some of the group told him that his constituency was killing some of them. There was a lot of truth-telling, and Rob has become a friend.”

Abigail Disney, the documentary filmmaker, came to Henderson looking for a conservative evangelical to be in a film she was doing that would address the question of why, when they believed in the sanctity of life, do conservative evangelicals support gun ownership.

“She could not understand the contradiction,” Henderson said. “Now Rob Schenck is starring in her film, ‘The Armor of Light,’ which just debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. Opposite him in the film is Lucia McBath, who lost her 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, in a stand-your-ground shooting at a Florida gas station because someone thought his music was too loud.”

Schenck, urged on by McBath, is now going to meetings with evangelical pastors and congregations and raising the questions.

“He says that Lucia McBath pulled him over the threshold,” Henderson said. “She told him that he could help because people would listen to him. He is raising questions, which can be the most powerful thing you can do. He is asking if we trust the word of God.  Only something as robust as the whole armor of God can sustain Rob Schenck and us.

“We are going through a sea change, and people of faith and moral courage are part of leading the way,” Henderson continued. “There is something about the Pope being a catalyst for climate change. There is something about the challenge to racism at Mother Emanuel Church. There is something about religious and secular allies coming together for LGBT equality. There is something about ministers like Alison Harrington at Southside Presbyterian in Tucson, leading the sanctuary and immigration reform movements. Some might call this the Holy Spirit.”

Christian armor makes people vulnerable to others, frees them from the spirit of fear and enables them to tell truth to power.

“Only these traveling clothes will do,” Henderson said.

She issued an equal opportunity invitation for people to review their superpowers, their gifts and relationships, and use them.

“If you have the patience of a prayer warrior, pray,” she said. “If you have the generosity of a strategic philanthropist, use your resources for change. If your heart has broken open for racial justice, use that for immigration reform and to become a caring majority. If you have questions, do some research. If you are an elected official and have the patience for policy, use that gift. Or if you want to march, you can march a bit with me. Don’t go to sleep. The Holy Spirit is leading us. Put on the whole armor of God and nothing can stop you.”

Henderson quoted poet Alice Walker, and said we think our small stone of activism cannot measure up to the boulder of heroism. Walker said nothing will get done without rousing ourselves and bringing our small stones to the pile. The stones would glitter from tears and from just being there.

“You are God’s heroes, and God needs all of us,” Henderson said. “Sweet friends, let us choose to be there. The time is now and we are the ones.”

The Rev. William N. Jackson presided. Miranda Shoop, a scholarship student with the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons and a student at Lebanon Valley College, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the Motet Choir. The Choir sang “It’s My Desire” by Freda Pullen and Horace Clarence Boyer. The Harold F. Reed Sr., Memorial Chaplaincy supported this week’s services.