Hashtags are an interesting part of the whole Twitter business. You can get some hilarious ones, others simply help to gather together the reactions of people, others create something. The Mayor of London has been encouraging us to use a hashtag this week ‘#londonisopen’ to get across the message in this post-brexit Britain that we are open and doing business. He was pictured at the doors of City Hall and so, not to be outdone, I was at the doors of Southwark Cathedral.
But that hashtag has a deeper message too and a more long-lasting one and a more life changing one. It’s all to do with hospitality.
I was watching the news on Friday evening, seeing again the aftermath of a terror attack, this time in Munich. It was only a week after Nice and in those intervening eight days other terrible things have happened, and some, I suspect, have gone unreported. One of the things that really moved me, however, was the report that social media was being used by the people of Munich with the hashtag #offeneteur (open door). It was a fantastic, generous, human, hospitable response in a crisis. People were stranded as a result of the lockdown in the city; no one knew who was out there, or who had perpetrated the crime, and here were people saying to others ‘my door is open’.
When Abraham looked up from his tent he
‘saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground.’ (Genesis 18.2)
He didn’t know who they were, he didn’t know why they were there, but the instruction went to his wife Sarah that food was to be prepared for their guests and the men were made comfortable and welcome. As it says in the Letter to the Hebrews
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13.2)
The people of Munich even in a moment when the doors might be bolted for fear of what was outside, opened their doors to the stranger and to angels.
Last week we had the privilege at Southwark Cathedral of welcoming the family of Sam King MBE for his funeral. They brought with them friends, former and present Mayors of Southwark, representatives of the wider community and hundreds from the Jamaican-heritage community in London and beyond. Sam was the first black Mayor of Southwark and the first Jamaican to be Mayor anywhere in the world outside of Jamaica. But Sam was so much more, one of the founders of the Windrush Founder, the Notting Hill Carnival, a champion of human rights, a member of the RAF, an inspirational family man and a dedicated Christian. It was a fantastic funeral service.
But in one of the tributes to Sam King that we heard in the service there was a reminder that when he arrived in London after sailing across in the SS Empire Windrush he was met with a notice on the doors of lodgings ‘No Irish. No blacks. No dogs.’ It was the complete antithesis of #londonisopen or #offeneteur.
One of the many dangers that it seems to me that face us in this challanging and at times frightening age is the closing of doors and the assault on that basic spirit of hospitality that should be the hallmark not just of Christians but of humanity. It was disturbing to hear US Presidential Candidate Donald Trump reiterating his pledge in his acceptance speech that he would build a wall across their border with Mexico and saying that ‘americanism not globalism will be our creed.’ This contradicts so directly that amazing sight that welcomed new arrivals in the States, the Statue of Liberty outside of Manhattan, ready to welcome, suggesting the open door, for it was an open door.
It could have gone wrong for Abraham and Sarah, opening their home up like that for those three men, but in fact it was the reverse – it brought them a blessing. Just before the strangers arrived God had made a covenant with the old man
‘This is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations.’ (Genesis 17.4)
By letting the strangers in blessing and fulfillment flowed and a child was born to Sarah and Abraham became our ancestor. When we open our doors we welcome people like Sam King MBE and others who make a difference. The hashtag says ‘London is open’ – the challenge is to ensure that it continues to be and perhaps the Munich hashtag has a lesson to teach us.
you welcome me,
your house is open to me,
may I welcome others
and may my door be open.