Miracle on South Mountain

Published 7:30 pm Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I’ll never forget the experience that I had a few years ago. Mary, my spouse, and I were at a conference center on South Mountain in Phoenix, Ariz. South Mountain is located on a spectacular ridge a few miles south of the city center. Mary was there because of her work as a professor at the University of Tennessee. I was the “trailing spouse.” For me it was a brief respite from my own busy schedule.

I love to run. We were in Phoenix in early June. The location was beautiful. So, late one morning while Mary was at her conference, I decided to go for a run. I left the hotel and ran a few blocks where I found a sign indicating the trailhead that the desk clerk told me about.

I turned and began running the trail. A sign indicated that it was a few miles to the overlook. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm with a nice breeze. The trail was remote but the views were stunning. The cactus and the arid rocky terrain captivated me as I ran.

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I was alone on the trail and it was a wonderful feeling. I ran for some 40 minutes and arrived at the overlook. The view was everything that the desk clerk had promised. I sat there for a bit just taking in the grandeur of it all. Then I started running back toward the trailhead.

But this time my experience was different. At first I couldn’t put my finger on why it was different. As I continued running though, I noticed I was getting a little warm. And dry. And tired. And I wasn’t sweating as much as I usually do. Then it hit me. I was seriously dehydrated, and I had several more miles to go.

It was now almost noon. There was no shade, and I didn’t bring any water. Bad mistake. I kept running, but also realized that I was flirting with a seriously dangerous situation. The minutes passed and the rhythm of my run gradually became more labored.

Then, all of a sudden, in what seemed like an honest-to-goodness miracle, I rounded a bend and heard some voices. I ran a bit further and saw right there in front of me a whole troop of Boy Scouts hiking from the opposite direction who had stopped for lunch.

I stumbled over to where they were eating and asked if I could have some water. They not only gave me water, they invited me to lunch. After watching me gulp down the water, one of the leaders did ask where I was from, and gently suggested that running was a different animal in his part of the country.

Later after I had returned to the hotel, I thought about my experience. I thought about my own foolishness, and my arrogance in assuming that I knew what I was doing, when in fact I didn’t really have a clue what it was like to run in the Arizona desert. I thought how lucky I had been.

I also thought of those Boy Scouts and the incredible gift of hospitality that they gave me. It was literally a gift of life and I’ve never forgotten that experience.

Hospitality takes many forms. According to the dictionary, hospitality is the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, strangers, or ideas. Hospitality is something that most of us do regularly. We invite people to dinner, put family and friends up in the guest room, and greet newcomers to our community.

Sometimes, though, hospitality is more difficult. If a stranger knocks on the door, I am going to look carefully out the window before opening the door. In today’s world it is especially hard to be hospitable to people who are very different, who don’t speak our language, whose customs are different from ours.

And there are security issues to consider, and economic issues, and even scheduling issues. Most reasonable people would say that there are some obvious limits to hospitality.

Except evidently the men and women in the Bible. Thumb through the Bible and you’ll be amazed at the emphasis on hospitality. A classic story of hospitality is found in Genesis 18 where Abraham and Sarah entertain three complete strangers who just happen to show up at Abraham’s camp by the Oaks of Mamre.

Hospitality was also important for Jesus. In John 2, Jesus helped a family be more hospitable by turning 180 gallons of water into really good wine. Later, Jesus was teaching a crowd on a hillside. Evidently the sermon went on a little too long and the people got hungry. So Jesus took five loaves and fishes and fed them all, Republicans and Democrats, Baptists and Presbyterians, young and old, all 5,000 of them, and fed them all they could eat, with a truck load of leftovers for Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry.

Then there’s the Parable of the Good Samaritan where an unnamed Samaritan helps a Jew who has been robbed and badly injured. Samaritans and Jews were mortal enemies in that culture, yet the hated Samaritan made a huge sacrifice to be hospitable to a Jew his people despised.

The faith of the Bible is a hospitable faith. Hospitality is also one of the greatest needs in our world today. Yet genuine hospitality is often a rarity, at times almost a miracle.

I learned first hand the importance of hospitality in the Arizona desert a few years ago. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten. We need to learn how to welcome people into our lives – colleagues, friends, those we agree with and those we don’t, people from other cultures, and even strangers.

Genuine hospitality always requires sacrifice and risk. Yet hospitality can also bring unexpected blessing. The writer of the Biblical letter to the Hebrews captured it best: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).