This week our Worthington Presbyterian congregation is looking at the first of five “practices of fruitful congregations.” This first week we are talking about and thinking about and praying about “RADICAL HOSPITALITY.”
In Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats he says, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”
I was thinking about a friend of mine who is a seminary professor. He travels a lot and visits a lot of churches. After visiting one church he e-mailed the pastor because he thought she should know that no one spoke to him, no one welcomed him. She e-mailed back saying, “Maybe no one recognized that you were a visitor. “ Rodger replied, “I am 6 feet 3 inches tall and Japanese American. I kind of stand out in a crowd. My face screams: “Visitor! I’m a visitor!”
One “practice”—one “spiritual exercise” or “habit”—of the Christian life is showing “radical hospitality.” It is going above and beyond what would be expected. It is reaching out and welcoming and showing the love of Christ to someone we don’t know, someone who needs to know they ARE welcome. “Welcome one another,” the Apostle Paul writes, “just as Christ has welcomed you” (Romans 15:7).
It’s funny, but true. Church members have a common nightmare: You see someone you don’t know, you say, “Are you a visitor?” and they reply, “No ______, I’ve been a member here for 37 years!!!”
It’s embarrassing, to say the least. Here’s a secret. Rather than ask a question, make a statement: “Hi, I’m __________, and I’ve been a member here for ____years. I don’t believe we’ve met.” You’re not questioning whether or not they are a member. You’re introducing yourself, and opening the door. The “stranger” can then introduce himself or herself, and you two can begin the process of being strangers no more.
When I was on sabbatical I visited a wonderful African-American Baptist Church in Detroit. I slipped in before the service began and sat in the back. They could TELL I was a visitor (I looked different). A church member came from the front and asked me to join her in the front. She walked me up the side aisle and had me sit between her and a friend of hers. They turned to the correct hymn for me. They pointed to where we were in the bulletin. They had NO IDEA I was a pastor! (I could follow along just fine on my own…) They made me feel extraordinarily welcome and special, and continued to visit with me after worship.
Do you see what “radical hospitality” can do? It can overcome racial barriers. It can tear down walls. It can plant seeds of hope. Jesus says, “When you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:45).
May it be so!