Running toward strangers to extend the hospitality God requires of us

Abraham, Sarah and three visitors show us good things can happen when we quit hiding

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Revs. Holly Clark-Porter and Kaci Clark-Porter of Grace Presbyterian Church in El Paso, Texas, led worship Saturday during the online Presbyterian Border Region Outreach conference. (Photo courtesy of the Rev. Elizabeth Toland-Smith)

LOUISVILLE — “Gospel Hospitality and the Kingdom of God,” the conference held online by Presbyterian Border Region Outreach, concluded Sunday with a worship service.

On Saturday, the Revs. Holly Clark-Porter and Kaci Clark-Porter, a clergy couple serving Grace Presbyterian Church in El Paso, Texas, led a worship service from a powerful and moving spot: the Grand Candela monument erected last fall to memorialize the 23 people killed on Aug. 3, 2019, allegedly by a Texas man who authorities say posted a document online before the shootings railing against immigrants.

The service was occurring, Holly Clark-Porter noted, “not in a stained-glass sanctuary, but from a stained parking lot.” Traffic whizzed by the pastors while they led worship.

“We roam too often in our own wilderness,” Kaci Clark-Porter said during a time of confession, “and forget the real wilds our siblings cross. When we rest, help us remember the arms of those carrying gallons of water.”

“What is more borderless, more boundless than grace?” Kaci Clark-Porter asked. “It’s the most hospitable, the most democratic of all God’s gifts.”

For her preaching text, Holly Clark-Porter chose Genesis 18:1-15, the account of Abraham running out to welcome three strangers, offering them a feast and hearing from them the promise of a young son even in his and Sarah’s old age. “Why did Sarah laugh?” God asks Abraham near the end of the passage. “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”

“I went through a dozen passages, but the Holy led me to this passage,” Clark-Porter said. “The beauty of this passage comes down to a pair of legs.” More on that later, she said.

Clark-Porter said too many people have already forgotten that the mass shooting in El Paso, which occurred one week into the Clark-Porters’ ministry at Grace Presbyterian Church, “was not random. It was driven by racism and hate. The more we understand our country’s silence and refusal to be educated, the more we will be able to stop the violence before it happens.”

Returning to her text, she noted Jewish communities “were always on the lookout for road-weary travelers.” When this visit occurs, Abraham is 99 years old and about three days removed from being circumcised. That he hikes up his robes and sprints to the strangers “is pretty significant, not something to be overlooked,” Clark-Porter said.

Showing one’s legs “was kind of taboo in their culture,” she said. “It made it look like you didn’t respect yourself, that you didn’t care what people thought of you. Abraham made a fool of himself to host them.”

Like Abraham and Sarah, when we “come out of our hiding places,” we “might see God working in our most foolish and unbecoming moments.”

“After Abraham was foolish, he kept going,” Clark-Porter said. “That is radical hospitality. The strangers at your table become messengers of God.”

She told the story of Martin Boyce, who was involved in the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. He spoke of “fighting all night,” she said, and then spying a drag queen early the next morning sitting on a stoop. “I knew she was exhausted, but she was at peace,” Boyce recounted. “She sat next to a policeman who was also exhausted. They were both too exhausted to hate each other anymore, too exhausted to hide from each other.”

“What if,” Clark-Porter wondered, “America first exhausted herself with hospitality? What if we shamed ourselves by welcoming strangers? What if we allowed the absurd to change our broken bodies?”

“We must become a country who exhausts ourselves by offering not only shelter, but a party for people who seek a home,” she said. “We can’t be afraid to look like fools as we run frantically toward peace on behalf of those seeking safety.”

“We can’t call ourselves people of the covenant unless we live into that covenant,” Clark-Porter said. “Whoever you are, whatever you have laughed at, whatever your legs look like beneath your robe — put your running shoes on! We’ve got some entertaining to do.”

After last year’s shooting, residents of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, El Paso’s sister city across the U.S.-Mexican border, collaborated on creating two light shows, the pastors said. At one site, one can place a hand on a pillar and feel the heartbeat of a person across the border — and that person can enjoy the same experience.

The pastors prayed the same prayer they prayed following the shooting: We come to you, God, as people changed by violence. When will we be a culture changed by peace? You commanded that we sit and eat together. It is that simple, and yet that hard. We pray for our city, a city of two nations and one heartbeat. We pray to be the change you are calling us to be.

“Worship is over, but our service in the world has only just begun,” Holly Clark-Porter said during her benediction. “Go out and beat to one heart — God’s heart.”


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