Sunday, January 2, 2011

Radical Hospitality

Welcome one another, therefore,                                                                                  just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989

For the next five weeks we are going to be engaged with what Bishop Robert Schnase termed The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.  It would be good to start with a definition of “Fruitful Congregation”.  I admit this is my own, but it has been shaped by all I’ve ever read on this topic and forty years of living the Christian life.  Here is my definition of a “Fruitful Congregation”: 
A group of Jesus’ followers following Jesus
Well, what does it look like when Jesus’ followers follow Jesus?  There are at least five pieces to the puzzle: 
·        Radical Hospitality (welcoming)
·        Passionate Worship
·        Intentional Faith Development
·        Risk-Taking Mission & Service
·        Extravagant Generosity
The question for our congregation is Does this describe us?  And a more poignant question would be 

Do we WANT it to describe us; is that what we want to BE?
Fruitfulness – It’s God’s Idea
The metaphor of a “fruitful tree” was God’s idea.  God used the Old Testament prophets to describe Israel as “His vineyard”.  In the New Testament (or Christian Scriptures) Jesus said it plainly, I am the vine…you are the branches[1]   Jesus called God the Father the “Vineyard owner”; He’s in the fruit business.  Now, no businessman works to achieve bankruptcy, and the Father as vineyard owner isn’t just content with barren fields; he expects produce – he expects his vines to be fruitful vines.  What does that look like?
A Church “face” for the Metaphor
The church at Pentecost helps put a face on this metaphor.  Acts shows us the epitome of fruitfulness on the first charge conference report ever:
41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.  42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  43Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.  44All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  46Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts,  47praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.   Acts 2:41-47
Luke’s Scripture easily validates the claim of these 5 Fruitful Practices
·        Radical hospitality v.47 – new people attracted to the new church daily. 
·        Passionate worship v.46 – at the temple, praising
·        Intentional Faith Development v.42 – they were devoted to learning, hanging-out together and prayer
·        Risk-Taking Mission and Service v.45 – seeing to the needs of all, even (especially) the strangers
·        Extravagant Generosity v.44 – The believers looked at material possessions with the eye of a steward…managing what God had placed in their hands FOR GOD…not building their own empires.  They even sold “personal” possessions to meet basic needs of the poor.
How about us?
Does this describe us?  Has our congregation been called by God to live this way?  Well, if we’re Wesleyan people, and serious about being a follower of Jesus Christ, there can only be one answer to that question – of course that describes us…or should!  As Wesleyans we judge statements, interpretation of doctrines and practice of our faith on the basis of four standards – Tradition (of the church since Pentecost), Experience (in our own lives), Reason (is it reasonable; God gave us a mind, intellect to know to do right), and Scripture (the Bible)…and, for John Wesley, this carried perhaps the heaviest weight amongst the four pillars of the “Quadrilateral”.
What Then IS Radical Hospitality?
Of course the concept of radical hospitality as encouraged by Scripture, and held up as the first of 5 Practices that define a healthy, fruit-producing church, is too comprehensive to present in a single, catchy sentence.  But if you were to try to do that you might start with Paul’s description of what he told the believers at Philippi they ought to do about following Jesus:
5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,   Philippians 2:5 (NRSV)
The idea is that we are to be the same kind of “welcoming” people as the Lord Jesus, whom we worship.  Pastor Allan Bevere in Cambridge, Ohio, talked in a sermon about how radical Jesus’ hospitality was:
Jesus practiced Radical Hospitality throughout his ministry. While Jesus rightfully could have claimed some kind of special status, he neither sought such unique privilege nor treated some in a more preferred way than others. Jesus did not shun the homes of the less desirable of society. He associated with people whom the status quo ignored. He even welcomed children who, in that culture, were often considered a nuisance. Jesus showed hospitality for all, which was a reflection of the centrality of his mission: that he had come to die for all.
Some two thousand years later, we who follow Jesus—we the church—must also practice the kind of Radical Hospitality Jesus offered. Robert Schnase, in his book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, writes, “Following Jesus’ example of gathering people into the Body of Christ, inviting them to the banquet of God’s gracious love requires intentional focus on those outside the community of faith. Jesus’ example of hospitality demands an unceasingly invitational posture that we carry with us into our world of work and leisure and into our practice of neighborliness and community service” (Abingdon Press, 2007; p. 14). Hospitality is not simply something we do; it is an attitude. It is our posture as a church.
Churches that practice hospitality are welcoming on Sunday morning—not just in reference to those persons they know, but especially to those who are visiting, to those who are strangers. The experts in-the-know say that 70 to 80 percent of persons visiting a church for the first time will make up their minds in the first fifteen minutes whether or not they will return next week. Even before they have heard the choir or the sermon, they have already decided whether or not to attend again next week or to try another church.
Wonderful music and great preaching will not overcome a lack of hospitality, a lack of friendliness and warmth. What often happens in the church on Sunday morning is not that the church folk are in and of themselves unfriendly. What happens is that too many people in the church think that hospitality is someone else’s job, to be taken care of by the people with titles such as the ushers or the greeters or the pastor. And that is what people expect—that certain people will welcome them because that is their job. It is when those who are not “obligated” turn around and shake hands and offer words of greeting that people know they are in a hospitable place. I realize that such behavior will take some people out of their comfort zones, but that is why it is called Radical Hospitality; and it is necessary for the church to practice such hospitality if it wants to be a vital place that attracts people. Schnase writes, “People are searching for churches that make them feel welcomed and loved, needed and accepted” (p. 31).[2]
In that same sermon Pastor Bevere spoke to the “enough” question – are we radical enough?
The contemporary Christian music group Casting Crowns sings a song entitled “We Are the Body,” which has become one of my favorites. The first two verses and the chorus speak to the subject of Radical Hospitality. A young woman tries to slip into the worship service unnoticed, but the girls tease her with their laughter. A traveler sits on the back row and is “greeted” by judgmental glances. And then comes the first piercing question of the chorus:
But if we are the Body; Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Radical Hospitality also means that we do not get to decide who will receive our welcome. The last verse of “We Are the Body” reminds us that the price Jesus paid on the cross was too high for us to be able to pick and choose who is allowed to come, and that we are the body of Christ.[3]
Radical hospitality is not “goofy fanatical wide-eyed craziness; it is being beyond ordinary and beyond selfish – it’s being excited and honored to offer the welcome of Jesus Christ to everyone.
It is also not program-centered (Lord, save us from more programs!).  Programs (and their effect) last about as long as it takes to put the literature back in a file drawer.  Rather, the radical nature of genuine Jesus-hospitality is found in the fact that it becomes our lifestyle…our practice…it’s more who we are rather than just “what we do”; we are people who habitually welcome everyone with the same kind of unconditional open arms Jesus would offer.
This is the kind of thing that becomes natural over time; it gets embedded in our souls as we become more like Jesus.  That was God’s plan to transform us, or change us to be His children….molded into the image of Christ:
29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. Romans 8:29 (NRSV)
And so, Radical Hospitality isn’t really radical – it’s just doing what God made you for, and for that into which you’re constantly being formed – a welcomed child of God, who is being just like Jesus…welcoming!  You’ve been welcomed into God’s family…now you turn around and do the welcoming for others.
Here’s the way it worked in my life:
My parents, Elwood and Cecilia, welcomed me with physical birth, but everything they ever did reassured me that I was part of the family.
Pastor Ken Olsen welcomed a quiet – not too sure of himself kid into the youth group at our church …he made sure I knew I was wanted there.
Hadfield Brook, pastor of the St. James United Methodist Church welcomed Elizabeth and me into the fellowship there over 40 years ago…he actually made a backslidden young adult feel like a person of worth.  It was just what Jesus would do.
The Hingle family were United Methodists in New Orleans…attended an older, declining church that was not at all a place for a social-climber.  Mr. and Mrs. Hingle took a young Baptist seminary family into their hearts and home; we were Yankees to boot!  But Jesus was right in the middle of it.
Lynn Blankenship-Caldlwell welcomed me into the United Methodist Church, and called me “brother” and pointed me towards serving…and Bethany United Methodist did just what Jesus would do, welcomed the stranger…a Baptist, no less. 
And each week, in the name of Jesus I get to extend that welcome a bit farther to “whosoever will” from this very pulpit.  That’s what Radical Hospitality will do over forty years. 
And it just keeps getting better…because we’re going to be welcomed into Heaven for a radical eternity of grace and peace by the One who started it all.
That’s what this table is about – the radical hospitality of the cross…come, be forgiven, be saved, live eternally…now THAT’s RADICAL HOSPITALITY!
In the name of the Father
Because of the Son
Cooperating with the Spirit

[1] John 15 (My translation)
[2] From a sermon by Allan R. Bevere, FirstUMC, Cambridge,Ohio
[3] Ibid.

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