March 5, 2017

Sermon by the Rev. Amanda Currie

Good News for our Children:

Have you ever had someone come to visit you at your house? Have you ever had someone come over for dinner? If so, that means that you and your family have been the hosts… and I’m wondering what kinds of things you do to welcome people who come over to your house for a visit.

Take their coats, invite them to sit down, offer them something to drink, invite them to the table, serve them first before serving yourself, ask them if they would like some more, tell them how nice it was to have them come and visit…

You know, Jesus often went to visit people in their homes. People like Mary and Martha and Lazarus welcomed Jesus and his disciples, served them dinner, and listened to Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus was on the road a lot, so usually he was the guest at people’s homes. But there’s one important story about Jesus being the host at a dinner. Do you remember that one?

It’s meal that we sometimes call the Last Supper. When Jesus’ friends arrived, he welcomed them by washing off their dirty and dusty feet. And then when they sat down at the table, he gave them a simple meal of bread and wine.

It wasn’t a fancy meal. But as Jesus broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, he told them, “This bread is my body, given for you.” And as he passed around a cup of wine, he said, “This is my blood, poured out for you.”

Those are pretty strange things to say, don’t you think? What Jesus wanted to tell them, I think, is that he loved them SO MUCH that he was going to do EVERYTHING for them. He was going to keep at his mission of sharing God’s love with them and with the whole world, and he wouldn’t give up, even if it cost him his life.

And it did cost him his life, didn’t it? Jesus was actually killed because of what he did and what he taught.

At that dinner so long ago, when Jesus was the host, he told his disciples to keep on getting together to share bread and wine. And he said that every time they did get together, they should remember him.

So, even today, we keep on getting together around a table to share bread and wine (or juice). She share the Lord’s Supper, and we remember that Jesus is the host at the meal, welcoming each and every one of us to share in the feast.

One of the things that always surprised people about Jesus was that he liked to welcome everyone. He didn’t want to just spend time with rich or important people, but he wanted everyone to be his friends. And Jesus wants us to extend that same welcome to everyone today. We can invite everyone to come to the Table of the Lord, and we can invite everyone to worship with us and get to know Jesus as well.

When you go downstairs, you’ll be talking a little more about being welcoming, and maybe you’ll come up with some ideas for how our church can be more and more welcoming to everyone.

Sermon: “Radical Hospitality”

Luke 9:10-17

Every once in a while in the church, we like to pause, reflect, pray, and think about what God may be calling us to do next. For a while now, the Session of St. Andrew’s has been discerning that it may be time for us to do that as a congregation.

We’ve done congregational visioning and planning before. And as we look back on our history over the last 25 years or so, we can see that many of those planning processes led to new initiatives, new committees, or new directions for our ministry and mission together as a congregation. But it has been quite a while since we have paused to do that kind of whole-church planning.

Like good Presbyterians, Session set up a small committee to propose a process for our planning this time around. And when the committee began to discuss it, together with the Rev. Diane Tait-Katerberg, our Synod’s Congregational Development Coordinator, there was a strong feeling that we wanted to include as many people as possible in the process.

This led to the decision not to have a gathering during the week or on a Saturday, as there are always people who will be unable to attend. We decided instead to bring our discernment and planning process right into the worship services on Sunday mornings. So, for the next five Sundays (finishing up before Palm Sunday and Holy Week) each of our services will highlight a theme and offer a chance for the whole church to participate in discerning where God may be leading us next as a congregation.

The themes we will be reflecting on come from a book by United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase, and his book, titled “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.”

The practices are: Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity. And so, today we will consider “Radical Hospitality.” We have limited time, so we better get going!

Robert Schnase comments that “the words radical and hospitality are not usually together in one phrase.” But, “to advance the church, perhaps they should be.”

He says, “Christian hospitality refers to the active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ. It describes a genuine love for others who are not yet a part of the faith community, an outward focus, a reaching out to those not yet known, a love that motivates church members to openness and adaptability, a willingness to change behaviours in order to accommodate the needs and receive the talents of newcomers.

“Beyond intention, hospitality practices the gracious love of Christ, respects the dignity of others, and expresses God’s invitation to others, not our own. Hospitality is a mark of Christian discipleship, a quality of Christian community, a concrete expression of commitment to grow in Christ-likeness by seeing ourselves as part of the community of faith, ‘not to be served but to serve.’”

Here at St. Andrew’s, we’ve had fun, over the years, with our little slogan painted on the sign facing towards the hotel next door: “Come and worship with friendly Presbyterians.” And I think we have, indeed, lived up to the slogan by being a warm and welcoming place for newcomers and visitors alike.

But Schnase challenges congregations to go beyond friendliness, and to think very intentionally about the hospitality that is offered in our churches. He’s not talking about just the basics of having greeters and ushers, a coffee hour after worship, and church members who smile and shake hands. He says that fruitful congregations demonstrate “radical” hospitality. They fulfill Jesus’ call to welcome the stranger when he said, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

“A scenario at any church might look like this: a young single mom stands awkwardly in the foyer with her toddler, looking around at all the people she does not know on her first visit to a church. An acquaintance at work casually mentioned how she loved the music at her church and invited her to visit, but now she is not so sure this was a good idea.

“She is wondering about child care, self-conscious about the fussiness of her little one, unsure where the bathroom is, too timid to ask directions, doubting whether this is the right worship service for her, or whether this is even the right church. Where is she to sit, what is it going to feel like to sit alone with her child and what if her little one makes too much noise? She feels the need for prayer, for some connection to others; and for something to lift her above the daily grind of her job, the unending bills, the conflicts with her ex-husband, and her worries for her child.

“Now, imagine what would happen if people took Jesus’ words seriously. They would look at this woman and the whole bundle of hopes and anxieties, desires and discomforts that she carries and think, ‘This is a member of Jesus’ family, and Jesus wants us to treat her as we would treat Jesus himself if he were here.’ With this in mind, what would be the quality of the welcome, the efforts to ease the awkwardness? What would be the enthusiasm to help, to serve, to graciously receive and support and encourage? Taking Jesus seriously changes congregational behaviour.”

“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 neighbourliness and community service. It involves seeing ourselves as sent out by Christ and going out of our way, even at the risk of a sense of awkwardness and inconvenience, to invite people into some aspect of the church’s ministry. Hospitality is prayer, work, habit, practice, and initiative for the purposes of Christ.

“Paul implores the followers of Christ to practice an active hospitality: ‘Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God,’ (Romans 15:7). The grace received in Christ places upon Christians the joyful gift and challenging task of offering others the same welcome they themselves have received. The letter of Hebrews cautions: ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it’ (Hebrews 13:2).”

There are many, many stories about hospitality in the Scriptures. Jesus received a lot of hospitality from friends and strangers alike as he went about his ministry. And he offered hospitality to strangers, foreigners, outcasts, and people considered to be sinners. Whether or not he was the host in a home or at a table, Jesus consistently went above and beyond what was expected to welcome everyone, attend to their needs, and invite them into his heart and his life.

And as Jesus travelled with his disciples, he taught and challenged them to do the same. I think that Luke’s telling of “The Feeding of the Five Thousand” is a perfect example of the kind of radical hospitality that Jesus is calling us to enact.

The first thing I notice about the story is that Jesus and his friends are already tired. They are thinking of taking a break from all the work of ministry they have been doing, and spending some time in reflection and rest.

But the crowds find out where Jesus has gone, and they follow him. And instead of sending them away, or telling them to come back tomorrow or next week, Jesus welcomes them. He speaks to them about the Kingdom of God, and he heals those who need to be cured.

As the day draws to a close, Jesus’ disciples suggest that it may finally be time to send the people away. They’ll all need food, and they have few provisions out in the wilderness.

But Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.”

“What? Us? We only have five loaves and two fish. How could we possibly provide hospitality for all these people?”

“You can do it,” I imagine Jesus encouraging them. “Just get started, and it will be alright. Start by inviting everyone to sit down.”

Of course, when Jesus is present… when Jesus is the host… miraculous things can happen. A small portion of bread and fish becomes enough to feed five thousand. Ordinary elements of bread and wine become our spiritual food.

Simple acts of welcome, hospitality, and care performed by church folk become signs of God’s amazing grace and love in Jesus Christ for the least and the lost in our midst.

This morning, we are invited to consider and pray about our ministry of hospitality at St. Andrew’s. Please take out the yellow insert from your bulletin. We’ll spend a few minutes in quiet prayer and reflection on the questions there. And after that, I’ll invite you to talk to a couple of people sitting near you in the pew. Perhaps you might choose to speak to someone that you don’t know as well.

Make some notes on the sheet about ways you see St. Andrew’s offering hospitality today. And then focus on the second, and most important question… “In what ways is God calling us to strengthen our ministry of hospitality? What is God calling us to do that would be RADICAL hospitality?”

Let us pray.
Loving God,
you have welcomed us so freely and fully in Jesus Christ.
You have reached out to meet us where we are, and you have loved us as we are.
Guide us, by your Holy Spirit, to follow your way of service and radical hospitality.
Give us wisdom and insight, to discover the ways that you are calling us to welcome others in the name of Jesus.
And give us courage to step out in faith and put our ideas into action.
We pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.