“Jesus was a man who welcomed sinners and ate with them. We need to take seriously what Jesus took seriously — compassion, nonviolence, unconditional loving kindness,” said Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J.
Boyle preached at the 9:15 a.m. EDT Thursday, July 16, morning devotional service on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. His sermon title was “Housesitting for God.” The scripture text was Luke 15:1-7 (NRSV) —
“Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’”
The poet Hafiz wrote, “There are always a few men like me who are housesitting for God. We share his royal duties.”
Boyle said, “True Christians never circle the wagons, they make the circle bigger. We prophetically embrace the hospitality that embraces the other. It is about inclusion, bridging the distance between us (so) that there is no daylight separating us and we have the widest tolerance between the self and others.”
Raphael is an older Homie who Boyle found a job in a warehouse. Raphael is raising his two sons alone. Boyle stopped by one night to talk and saw some gang members not far away. One of them was Alex.
Boyle called Alex, who was not pleased, over and said to him, “I hear your lady had a false alarm last night. She is ready to give birth but you were nowhere to be found. Aren’t you going to be there?”
Alex said, “My mother-in-law will take care of that. I can’t hang with that.”
Boyle turned to Raphael and urged him to tell Alex about his experience. Then Boyle realized that they were part of rival gangs. Raphael’s enemies tolerated him living in their territory because he was older, but they did not acknowledge him.
Raphael said, “I was waiting and when the time came the nurse came and got me and put a gown on me and a mask and took me down the hall. I saw a pair of legs widespread and a head coming out, but I could not stay.”
The nurse urged him to stay and asked why he could not. Raphael told her, “That’s not my lady.”
Boyle said, “Thanks, Mr. Helpful.”
Later Alex and Raphael sat on the front steps, smoking cigarettes and sharing experiences about being a father and of being afraid to be a father.
“The distance was somehow made shorter by a hospitality that embraces otherness. We are housesitting for God when we enter into a relationship with the other,” Boyle said. “Jesus lived, breathed, embodied boundary-bashing hospitality. We are housesitting for God when we do the same.”
Several years ago, Boyle was saying two Sunday masses at a youth detention center. He was helped during the mass by Larry, Jose and Germaine. One was Black, one a Latino, and the other white, living together in a facility that was very racially segregated. These three did not have many friends because they chose to be friends with each other.
One Sunday, the resident chaplain told Boyle that Jose was going to sing after communion.
“It was the worst thing in the world, like a cat being tortured,” said Boyle. “Five hundred guys just sat there, slack-jawed; they did not have time to register how horrible it was.”
Boyle thought Jose would know better than to sing at the second service, but once again he got up and sang after communion.
“It was hard to believe, but it was worse than the first time. I was stunned at how bad it was,” said Boyle.
The three friends approached Boyle afterward, expecting a response. He said to Jose, “It takes a gang of courage to get up and read to these guys, but it takes even more courage to get up and sing.”
Germaine put his arm around Jose in a choke hold and said, “Yeah, and it takes even more courage to get up and sing when yo ass can’t sing.” Boyle thought they would get into a fight but instead they fell to the ground, dying with laughter.
“Boundary-subverting inclusion and prophetic hospitality are realized when we have the widest possible tolerance for the self and others. We are housesitting for God,” Boyle said.
One thing Boyle misses during the COVID-19 pandemic is giving blessings to the people at Homeboy Industries.
“They never say, ‘Father, may I have your blessing?’ They say, ‘Hey G, give me a bless, ya,’” Boyle said.
One day Eric came into his office. Eric is 19 and Boyle has known him since he was a kid. He is the kind of person always asking for money, not in a nice way, and always complaining about other people.
“He did not disappoint. He asked for money, not in a nice way, and complained about his case worker and supervisor,” Boyle said. Then Eric said, “Give me a bless.”
Boyle remembered that Eric’s birthday was the day before his visit. So Boyle said, “Eric, we are so glad you were born yesterday, it was an important day. We are richer because you came into the world and I am proud to call you son.”
He continued, “I don’t know why I said it but I added, ‘Even though at times you are a huge pain in the ass.’” Eric looked up and smiled and said, “The feeling’s mutual.”
Bolye told the congregation, “We choose to stay close to the Gospel bone. We move beyond the lyrics to get to the singing and we find ourselves inclusive, wildly so, like Jesus.”
He urged the congregation to show “an alternative social vision to the world so we are living as if the truth was true. First things are recognizably first. We welcome sinners and take seriously what Jesus took seriously because we are called to housesit for God.”
The Rev. Mary Lee Talbot, morning worship columnist for The Chautauquan Daily, presided at the service from the Hall of Christ in Chautauqua. Joshua Stafford, interim organist for Chautauqua Institution, played the Tallman Tracker Organ. Amanda Lynn Bottoms, Chautauqua School of Music Alumna and currently the Washington National Opera Cafritz Young Artist, served as soloist. The organ prelude was an improvisation played by Stafford. Bottoms sang “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” for the hymn. The special music was “Sheep May Safely Graze,” by Johann Sebastian Bach. The organ postlude was an improvisation. The program is made possible by the Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund.
Noted: The music for Wednesday, July 15 was not included in that day’s report. The organ prelude was “Veni Creator Recit de Cromorne” by Nicolas de Grigny. The hymn, sung by Amanda Bottoms, was “Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song.” The special music was “O Clap Your Hands,” by Ralph Vaughn Williams. The organ postlude was an improvisation.