Resurrection: Our Hospitality Quotient

 

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on May 2, 2010, the Fifth Sunday of Easter.  The text is John 13:34-35  “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

 

I wish all of us had a copy of today’s children’s bulletin.  It’s an especially good one.  It gets the kids to focus on Jesus’ words about loving one another.    It has a picture of a small congregation at worship and the kids are asked to circle all the things they see that help people worship.  What can the kids circle? 

·         A woman is “signing” for the hearing impaired

·         A pew near the front has been cut so a wheelchair can be placed there

·         A ramp has been built so all have access to the chancel area

·         The pastor is bringing holy communion to someone in her seat

·         People of all ages are there

·         Children are sitting with their families

·         A child has a teddy bear with him

 

The question at the bottom of the page is a good one: How does your church make sure everyone feels welcome?  I would like to broaden the question and have us consider:  Do we all agree that everyone should feel welcome at Resurrection?

 

The May issue of our Lutheran magazine from the ELCA has a fine article, entitled “Hospitality: It takes guts.”  That title caught my eye.  I have always associated hospitality with just being friendly and nice, and that doesn’t seem to be such a hard thing to do.  But the writer of this article likens the kind of hospitality she’s talking about – gospel hospitality – to an extreme sport.  In an age of polarization, pundits and security concerns, she suggests that those of us who want to engage in gospel hospitality might be asked to sign a disclaimer.  It might read something like this:

  In committing to offer God’s welcome, I am free to engage in gospel hospitality at it relational, eye-opening, life-changing and, yes, risky best.  I hereby indemnify and hold harmless myself, fellow members and newcomers with respect to any loss of comfort zones or damage to previously assumed ideas.  I hereby release myself and others to God’s grace, understanding that results are not guaranteed.  I knowingly and freely assume there will be blessings, known and unknown, in offering God’s welcome.

 

And we are asked to sign our name.

So, what is so risky about gospel hospitality?  Let’s see what our Bible tells us.

 

1.     Within the community of faith

 

We heard Jesus’ words today in the gospel reading: “ A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all will know that you are  my disciples, if you love one another.”  Jesus expects that we in the household of faith, the church, are to treat each other with love, following the example of Jesus.  We do this to remind ourselves that we are Jesus’ people, and we do this to demonstrate to the world who Jesus is by looking at us, his followers.

 

2.    To strangers and visitors

 

Why do we show hospitality – gospel hospitality – to visitors, to all people we encounter, whether here at church or out in the community?  Bishop Mark Hanson writes about this in his Bishop’s Letter in the Lutheran.  He quotes Hebrews 12:1-2, Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.  Then Bishop Hanson asks us, “How are we doing in extending hospitality as a church?”  Many report of their congregations, “we are just like family.”  But is hospitality and love really extended to those outside of “the family?”  What if God is sending “strangers”, not to help pay the bills and expand our membership but to bring a message?  What message from God might the stranger be telling us?

 

Back to the article “Hospitality: it takes guts.”  Across the whole denomination we have just 3.5 % of our members who are non-white or whose primary language is other than English.  So a somewhat uncomfortable question is: are folks who don’t fit the Lutheran profile invited, encouraged, welcomed at Resurrection?

 

Here are some signs of the “inhospitable church”:

·         It’s hard for visitors to find parking near the building

·         The church entrance is not well marked

·         No one talks to you before or after the service

 

One last thought on hospitality in the church.  Publicity and evangelizing may bring people to Resurrection, but hospitality will keep them here and help them grow in faith.  Hospitality is so much more than just being friendly (though being friendly is a good thing).  Hospitality means a willingness to invite and serve our neighbors, without reservation.  I liked the sign I saw this week in front of an ELCA congregation in Richmond: Everyone is welcome.  After genuinely welcoming people, I see the role of a congregation is to help people grow in faith.  Jesus’ Great Commission says we are to go and make disciples.  We do so by modeling the actions of Jesus and then we teach people what the wonderful teachings of Jesus mean. 

 

My tag for this sermon is part of my reporting on the State of the Church.  Let me share with you some really good things that I see happening in this congregation these days that are sure signs of growth and new life:

 

·         Last evening I participated in an event that was a grace-filled gathering.  The Dance to support our LARCUM/Habitat Build was cancelled because the three

Participating congregations didn’t get the 100 minimum.  The Baileys invited us to their home for a potluck meal and all of us who had bought our tickets for $35 each were invited to contribute anyway.  As it turned out we had a great time and our contribution was so much more because there were no expenses for the Dinner or the Band.

 

·         Today we are blessing all these quilts that have been sewn by our Resurrection “Piecemakers” quilt group.  These will be sent as a love offering to needy folks overseas through Lutheran World Federation.

 

·          One of our youngest members, Laura Orzechowski, did something unselfish for her 4th birthday celebration recently.  She and her family organized a trike-a-thon on a Saturday in our lower church parking lot.  They raised funds (over $1200) to support  an excellent cause, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.   If that wasn’t enough, they gave a wonderful gift to our congregation, designated to provide a campership for one of our youth to attend confirmation camp next month.

 

It is my hope and prayer that more and more of our people will be seized by the spirit of love and graciousness that these folks are exhibiting in our midst.

 

Thanks be to God!  Amen.