Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Five Practices: Radical Hospitality

Here is my sermon from Sunday.  The text was Matthew 21:33-46:

I’m sure most of us have stories we could tell of when we have gone someplace and we have been greeted and treated well and when we haven’t been.  Our family went to a restaurant recently and we were seated right away, but then sat there waiting for our server to come by.  Lots of people passed by the table, including one of the managers, but no one stopped.  Finally just as we were contemplating getting up and leaving, the manager stopped to ask if we had been helped yet.  It turned out that although we were seated, the hostess did not assign us to a server.  But, as if that was not enough, we kept trying to order things off that they were apparently out of, even though they were still listed on the chalkboard.  They were clearly not ready to welcome us, nor definitely seek to have us return as customers.  There was no sense of hospitality, which is what the entire restaurant and hotel industry is called, the hospitality industry, and without hospitality these places are not likely to survive for very long.

Today we look at step two in the five practices of fruitful living, based on a book of the same name by Bishop Robert Schnase, and I think appropriately enough for the Sunday in which we receive communion, we are talking about hospitality.  What is hospitality?  (friendly reception of guests or strangers, the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.)  But hospitality is not just what we do, it also is about an attitude we have, that is to say that we can do all the right things, but if we don’t seem happy about it, or are just going through the motions, then we are not truly being hospitable.  That’s why Bishop Schnase says it is the adjective that makes all the difference, because we are called not only the practice hospitality, but we are called to practice radical hospitality.  So what does it mean to be radical? (Going above and beyond, beyond expectations, on the edges)  The word comes from a word meaning root, which is why we often use the term to refer to something which is  affects the fundamental  nature of things, saying something like “it made a radical difference.”  Radical represents something that is part of who we are, or something which fundamentally changes us and makes us different.  And so radical hospitality is something that can be in us already, or it can be something which we acquire through practice or by intentionality.  But what we see in scripture, and what we have to understand about hospitality is that for us to practice radical hospitality, we first have to understand God’s radical hospitality and second we have to accept that radical hospitality into our lives so that we can then practice it in the world.

In the 3rd chapter of Revelation we hear Jesus say, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (3:20) There are many different instructions in there.  The first is to listen; the second is to actually hear God’s voice and then what has to happen?  We have to actually open up the door.  We have to be receptive to God’s knocks and be open literally and physically to receive God into our lives so that we can share a meal, one of the most radical acts of hospitality.  That is one of the many things we heard in today’s passage from Matthew is about being receptive to receiving God into our lives and being willing to do what God asks us to do.

We see God’s graciousness already at the start of this parable because it is God who has done all the work in the preparing the fields, and planting the crop, and putting up the watchtower.  The job of the tenants is to tend to the field and bring in the harvest because the hard work has already been done.  But then the owner sends his slaves in order to collect what is due to him, and some are beaten and some are killed and all are turned away, and so the owner decides to send his own son, surely they will respect him, the owner thinks, but he too is killed and then thrown outside the walls of the fields.  Now there is a lot going on in this parable, and lots of different interpretations, but for our purposes today we note only the actions of the tenants. Not only would they not give to the owner what was rightfully his, but they also refused to even welcome the owner or his son into their lives.  God and Christ were knocking at the door but they not only did not listen, they also refused to invite them in or treat them with any hospitality.  Because their hearts were closed off to what they might receive, in turn they were unable to give anything back into the world.

The exact same thing can happen with churches.  They can become so insular, often out of fear that their future is not long, that they refuse to practice any hospitality.  One of the bishops I had while I was in New England would say that he refused to close any church in which there were still at least two people there who were filled with the love of Jesus.  My response to that was to say that if they truly had the love of Jesus between them that there wouldn’t only be two people.  Because once we have welcomed God’s radical hospitality into our lives, when it takes root in us then we can’t but help and sharing that message with the world, of reaching and saying “come and see.”  That was Jesus’ invitation in the beginning of the Gospel of John.  “Come and see,” and once the disciples saw, that was their invitation to the world as well.  Bishop Schnase says “Hospitality towards God opens up to us a new life.”  I would argue that it doesn’t open it us to us, but instead that once we listen and open the door and receive, that it takes root in us and we can’t think of anything to do other than practicing radical hospitality in inviting others to “come and see.”

What is the mission or purpose of this congregation? (I say it every Sunday and it’s on the front of your bulletin)  To make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the Taylor Ranch community and the world.  That begins first with us being willing to extend the invitation and it begins with us being ready, willing and able to welcome them when they come.  Now I have to say that we do a decent job at this.  I have been at churches where I have entered, worshipped and left without anyone saying anything to me.  While I can’t say that never happens here, it is by far the exception to the rule, but it’s about so much more than just saying “hi” it’s about everything we do.  Everything we do should be driven by this sense of radical hospitality so that people feel welcomed and received in order to allow them to be comfortable enough to listen.  I heard a story once that I think sort of encapsulates what it means for everything in a church to be focused on practicing radical hospitality.

A church consultant said he was visiting a church and asking them how they lived into their mission statement, which said something about reaching out to bring in new generations of Christians.  And the first person who spoke was one of the trustees, and he said that the lived it out because they picked carpeting that had large splotches of green, red, yellow, blue and purple on it, that’s how they were welcoming.  And the consultant sort of paused and said, “you’re going to have to explain more.”  Does anyone want to make a guess what it represents?  Those are the most popular colors of kool aid.  So they said if we were going to be welcoming, to practice radical hospitality, for families, especially those with young children, then their facility needed to be open to them, which meant that if they spilled Kool-Aid on the carpeting, because kids spill things, that it was okay.

But practicing radical hospitality is about so much more than just making sure our facilities and that we are ready to welcome people who might just show up, it’s also about going out into the community and practicing hospitality outside of our buildings and outside of our property.  We cannot be sitting here just waiting for people to come, we have to be out there saying come and see and showing them.  If we were to go across the street to the dollar store or to the Subway and ask them if they knew where Mesa View United Methodist Church was, do you think they’d know?  Or even better, ask them what they know about the church across the street?  Would they be able to tell us anything, maybe other than we have a pond?  That is a very worthwhile exercise, but don’t all go and do it today.  Radical hospitality is not just about how we welcome people who come to see us, it’s also about how we go out and greet and treat other people, about how we are making new disciples of Christ for the transformation of this community and the world, but if no one knows we are here, and no one knows how we are transforming the community, then we are not living into what God has called us to do, we are not living in who God has called us to be.

Today we celebrate World Communion Sunday.  Last week when we talked about passionate worship, I said that when we gather together for worship that we not only do so to remember Christ’s actions on our behalf, but we also do so that we are re-membered as one body of Christ, and that is most especially true when we break the bread and share the cup.  We are re-membered around Christ’s table, this table which represents God’s radical hospitality, God’s radical welcome to all of us.  And so it’s very important for us to look around and see who is here and celebrate with each other, but it’s also important for us to see who is not here.  Jesus practiced radical hospitality in his table fellowship, and so we should notice who is missing at God’s table, and that will show us where we need to be reaching out with radical hospitality to say to a new group, come and see, and welcome them and work to transform our communities so that they can hear the knocking and listen to the call so that their lives can be transformed by being drawn into God through the person of Jesus Christ.  I pray that it will be so my sisters and brothers.  Amen.

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