Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lent 5 - C

5 Practices: Extravagant Generosity

Maritmers are pretty hospitable, wouldn’t you say?

I remember a time when I was just starting out living on my own, the summer came and I was working at a Youth Centre in Hampton New Brunswick, while my girlfriend at the time was living in Fredericton. One night we had a fight and I decided I was going to hitchhike up there and straighten things out. So I set off, and got a ride to Sussex.

That is when it started to rain.

No one picks up hitchhikers in the rain, not even Maritimers. I suppose we have seen too many horror movies or something; bad things always happen when you combine strangers and rain.

Anyway – for some strange reason, walking kilometre after kilometre in the rain made me more and more thirsty... until finally, about 11 o’clock at night, I was passing a house with a light on and I stopped and asked for a drink of water... which was more than freely given, along with a piece of cake, and an offer of a place to sleep – but I had an argument to won so I kept going.

Still, mighty hospitable of the folks if you ask me.

You will remember that as we talk about the five best practices of a Christian congregation we are talking mostly about the adjectives. We are called to work on mission and service, well, we all do that, we give money to lots of different causes; but to be truly at the top of our game, we should be doing “Risk Taking Mission and Service.”

Last week we talked about “Intentional Faith Development” about how we are called upon, if we are serious about following Jesus, to learn as much as we can about our faith, to not take things for granted, and to expand our minds and our souls as we journey through this thing called life.

Now I want to talk about hospitality... and not just any hospitality, RADICAL hospitality.

As a church we practice hospitality when we invite, welcome, receive, and care for the people who are already sitting beside us week after week, and also for those who might be coming for the first time.

So, we are talking about a genuine love for others; a love that motivates church members to openness and adaptability, including a willingness to change behaviours in order to accommodate the needs and receive the talents of newcomers.

But how is that radical?

Robert Schnase argues that Radical means "drastically different from the ordinary practice, outside the normal, and so it provokes practices that exceed expectations, that go the second mile, that take welcoming the stranger to the max. It means people offering the absolute utmost of themselves, their creativity, their abilities, and their energy to offer the gracious invitation and reception of Christ to others.”

So let me ask you a question... in your house, what would normal hospitality be? If someone were coming for dinner you might set a nice table, you might use the best china, depending on who it is... Cook something that you think they will like.

If they are staying overnight you would change the sheets, lay out fresh towels, maybe some extra toiletries in case they forgot something... we have all done stuff like that.

2000 years ago it was really not all that different. The one main difference in the Middle East would have been ritual washing. Us Westerners never really took to washing all that much until modern times. In fact, the Crusaders probably lost most battles in the Middle East because they were itchy from the fleas, and the Ottoman Turks smelled them coming.

But I digress; my point is that at the doorway of every house was probably a bowl to wash your hands in and a basin to wash your feet. These were people who wore sandals all day in the Desert, it only made sense; that was the hospitable thing to do.

So if that is what you are expecting – and try to put yourself in that situation.... you come in from a dry and dusty road, you are coming to supper and you can’t wait to dip your feet in the cool water and sit in the shade... but as soon as you are done that, your host comes over and washes your feet with a ten thousand dollar bottle of oil. Then they uncover their hair and dry your feet off.

Does that not seem, I don’t know, radical?

Is it not going further than you can imagine anyone going in order to make you feel at home?

Now, what would you have to do at your house for the welcome to be that radical?

Of course, that is the easy question. The more difficult question that faces us is how do we as a Christian Congregation practice radical hospitality...

I think it is a question of what else we could be doing with what we’re already doing. Radical hospitality is our next step. Radical hospitality is the addition, the something new that not only welcomes folks into our congregation but invites them to church in the first place.

What if we were reaching out to people that we normally wouldn’t? What if we were inviting the homeless, the street kids, the prostitutes, and the criminals? What if we made a place for people no matter what they looked like, what they did, what their sexual orientation was, or whether or not they spoke our language?

I think that might qualify as Radical.

Schnase says this:

"Practicing hospitality is not launching a membership drive for a civic organization or inviting people to join a club in order to enhance revenue through dues. We invite people into that mysteriously sustaining community that finds its purpose in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

So Mount Royal is a friendly church, right? That may be true – it certainly seemed friendly to me when came; however, what Schnase is saying is that even if we are friendly, even if we have great music, even if we serve good coffee, we might not be doing enough to share what we have.

Hospitality means we pray, plan, prepare, and work toward the purpose of helping others receive what we received from God. Hospitality is more than common politeness to newcomers... Hospitality is a quality of spiritual initiative, the practice of an active and genuine love, a graciousness unaffected by self interest, an opening of ourselves and our faith community to receive others.

Radical Hospitality might simply mean loving like Jesus loves... and inviting others to do the same.

Let us pray:

God who welcomes us with extravagant and radical hospitality, we know that we often fall short of the mark. Widen our circle, help us to see who most needs to be welcomed into our midst; allow your spirit to make our love complete, so that in sharing it, others may come to know you. Amen.

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