A Prayer for "Just Hospitality"
One of the most influential books for my understanding of my role as a minister is Letty M. Russell's great practical theology: Just Hospitality: God's Welcome in a World of Difference. In what would be her final book, Russell shakes up our common notions of what it means to welcome the stranger and provides a powerful call to live into God's expansive vision of peace and hope through a hospitality centered on justice.
The following is a Prayer of the People I wrote for a Sunday service at Jan Hus Presbyterian Church & Neighborhood House, recognizing both a particularly hard week for several congregants and the joy of officially welcoming four new members into the church. The service as a whole highlighted the theme of Letty Russell's "just hospitality."
Creator God, creating still; Jesus, welcomer of all; Holy Spirit, breath to those who cannot breathe —what might we say to you on this morning?
In heat and in cold, in flood and in draught, this world is often anything but kind. How do we pray when our lives take turns that surprise us, that scare us, that interfere with our carefully laid plans? How do we pray when we have neglected the many voices to whom we ought to have listened and have paid attention to chatter, noise, and endless words we ought to have ignored? How do we pray when our loved ones have died or may never again be the people that they have always been? How do we pray when we wonder where the joy of life has gone?
Perhaps, O God, we pause in awe before you and dig down deep in our grief, just as we do in our joy, so that we can yet again give thanks with full hearts — give thanks that we cannot control you; give thanks that our questions and our challenges, our disappointments and our doubts, have the power to take us to our knees, and that even then, even yet, you are there with us on the floor, and you are here with us in this sanctuary, and you are everywhere, even when our belief and trust has been demolished beyond our reckoning.
Thank you for beauty we can see, that we can grab onto. Thank you for family and all of the complexities that come with it. Thank you for friends who speak needed truth. For new living situations, for food in our stomachs, for the promise of tomorrow. Thank you for this body of Christ, for each person in this place, wounded seekers and searchers all of us.
In this space, we pray yet again for the world. Move us to be a people passionate for a just hospitality, outraged by persecution, open to your expansive peace. Help us see that love and truth prevail on grounds where fear and sorrow are sown. For the people in this congregation, both here this morning and on Tuesday nights, who are suffering, because of grief or loneliness or fear, we pray for your tender touch and a sign of your love. For those struggling with addiction, we pray for the grace to accept the things that cannot be changed, and the courage to change the things which should be changed. For those with illnesses or disease, we ask for healing and for trust. For parents expecting babies, we ask for confidence and joy. We thank you, O God, for your abiding love and generous grace, for the gift of your Son Jesus, and for the sustenance of your Spirit, carrying us when nothing else is evident. Hear us now as we pray the same prayer Jesus taught us all to pray, saying together, as one people, Our God . . .