Glen Rose 5-P:
The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations #1
The Disney movie, The Greatest Game Ever Played is based on the true story of a young caddy, Francis Ouimet, who is invited to play in the 1913 US Open against his personal golf hero, Harry Vardon and American Golf hero Ted Ray. The movie is not only about golf, but about the struggle for acceptance and the breakdown of the class system as you can see from that clip.
Can you imagine being told, “You may have been invited, but don’t get the idea that you belong here.”
Believe it or not, research shows that’s one of the fears visitors have when they visit a church. They fear they may be rejected and told they don’t belong. Today we begin a series Titled Glen Rose 5-P. It’s our take off on the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Bishop Robert Schnase. Today we are going to look at Radical Hospitality or how to be an inviting and welcoming congregation where everyone feels they belong.
Before we go on, let’s look at the passage of Scripture for today. Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 (NRSV)
 Let mutual love continue.
 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.
 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
 Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.
 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
A. One of the scariest, most anxiety filled things someone can do (besides an IRS Audit or meeting your in-laws for the first time) is to visit a Church. It’s scary because you know that everyone knows everybody else and you know nobody. It’s scary to worship where you aren’t familiar with the order, the songs, the Bible, or how and why things are done.
It’s scary when you walk into a church and try to figure out where to sit. You don’t want to make someone mad because you sat in their spot.
I need your cooperation this morning because I want us to do something very radical this morning. It may shake some of you up a little but I think it will give you a little different perspective. I would like you to stand up and move to the exact opposite part of the church from where you normally sit. If you sit on the left, move to the right, if you sit on the right move to the left. If you sit in the back, move to the front. If you sit in the front, move to the back. Let’s play fruit basket turnover. (Let’s Move)
Sometimes it’s good to look at things from a different perspective. You see, when a visitor enters the church, they have no idea where you sit and they’re trying to get in as inconspicuously as possible. They don’t want to be embarrassed by being told they are in someone else’s spot.
When I was about 11 or 12, I’d been going to Sunday School with some friends and decided one Sunday to go check out the Worship Service. I sat down in a pew about half way down the aisle, right on the aisle. I had my legs stretched out in front of me and was trying to figure out what was going on. All of a sudden I got whacked on the shin by a cane and a little old lady rather gruffly said, “Move over, sonny, you’re in my spot.” She whacked me on the shin. It hurt. I not only moved, I was out of there like a flash.
B. Seating isn’t the only question that causes anxiety. Where are the restrooms? How should I dress? Do they have a nursery? Are my children welcome? Will I be welcome? Should I carry a Bible? Will I have to stand up in front of everyone? Will they ask me to pray? Will they embarrass me or will I embarrass myself?
The list goes on and on. And when they do make it through the door and are sitting in worship, they have questions like “How much should I put in the offering. When do I stand or sit or kneel? Who in the heck is this Gloria Patri person and why are we singing songs about her?
Radical Hospitality endeavors to ease all those anxieties and make people feel more than just welcome. Hospitality helps people feel welcome. Radical Hospitality helps people feel the way Jesus made people feel, like they belong. Like their part of the family?
II. JEERS AND CHEERS:
A. I want to share a tale of two churches this morning. A few years back, Mary and I were on vacation and stopped in Vicksburg, Mississippi to see some of the Civil War Battlegrounds and what not. We spent Saturday night and, as is our custom, we got up the next morning and looked for a United Methodist Church where we could worship. There were several but we found one about a mile from the motel. Off we went.
When we entered the church, the ushers didn’t say a word to us. They didn’t welcome us. They hardly even looked at us. WE picked up the bulletin, it wasn’t handed to us.
We were about 10 minutes early and purposefully chose a seat in a group of about 20 people. Nobody spoke to us. NOBODY, NOT even during the greeting and passing of the peace time; even though I stuck out my hand. They were all too busy greeting each other. They even reached across the pew to shake hands with the people in front or behind us. It was like we were invisible.
The preacher had a good sermon. After the benediction, Mary and I stood around hoping someone would notice us or speak to us. Nobody did. So, we waited until everyone else had gone. I approached the pastor, introduced myself and told him how we had been “welcomed.” What we felt wasn’t hospitality. Instead it felt like passive hostility for invading their space. Needless to say, the pastor wasn’t very happy.
B. Now, contrast that to the little United Methodist Church in Westcliff, Colorado. As we were getting out of the car people started coming over and welcoming us. We had at least 6 different people say, “Hello, Welcome” and introduce themselves before we ever got into the building. It wasn’t pushy, it was just warm and friendly.
When we did get into the foyer the ushers handed us bulletins, pointed out where the restrooms and drinking fountain were located. Invited us to stay for their coffee and cookie fellowship after the service and then introduced us to another couple. In less than five minutes we met at least a dozen people.
During the service, when this church did a passing of the peace, another dozen people introduced us and almost everyone of them invited us to the coffee time after the service. We vacationed in the same cabin in Westcliff the next year and went to church in the little Methodist Church and they remembered us. Not our names but they remembered that we had been there before. The Westcliff Church practiced Radical Hospitality.
The Vicksburg Church, not so much. No church can afford to be like that Vicksburg church. No church can be faithful or fruitful if they act like that Vicksburg Church. In my opinion, no church can call itself Christian if it acts like that Vicksburg church because Jesus himself, was warm and inviting. He practiced Radical Hospitality.
A. So, what do we need to do, to get it in Gear, so to speak. in order to do Radical Hospitality? Well, I think the first thing we need to do is to adjust not only our point of view as we’ve done with moving around this morning but to adjust how we think about those people we call “Strangers.”
Somebody wrote: “A stranger is a just friend whose acquaintance you haven’t made yet.” And that’s a great philosophy, especially for Christians. It fits right in with what the author of Hebrews 13:2 says: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
We don’t know when we are entertaining angels. We don’t know when we might touch someone’s life through a simple act of hospitality. I’m not a Benedictine Monk and doubt I could live like one. But I like some of their basic core values. Especially the Rule of St. Benedict that calls and challenges them to receive all guests as if that person was actually Christ in person.
That was the chief the spiritual practices of Mother Teresa in her ministry among the poor.
B. Bishop Robert Schnase, we were in seminary together, in his book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations writes some very challenging things. He writes:
“Radical hospitality stretches us, challenges us, and pulls out of us our utmost creativity and hard work to offer the welcome of Christ. . . . To become a vibrant, fruitful, growing congregation requires a change of attitudes, practices, and values. Good intentions are not enough. Too many churches want young people as long as they act like old people, more newcomers as long as they act like old-timers, more children as long as they are quiet as adults, more ethnic families as long as they act like the majority in the congregation.” Then he says: “We can do better. . . Radical Hospitality begins with a single heart, a growing openness, a prayerful desire for the highest good of a stranger. It begins when one person treats another respectfully and loves the stranger enough to overcome the internal hesitations to invite that person into the life of Christ’s church.”
All it takes is a willingness to make a change in our own lives so that a stranger or visitor can feel welcomed and loved. Little things we do can go a long way to making someone not only feel welcomed but like they belong. For example: Invite a visitor or a newcomer to your Sunday school class or small group or circle, even though you know it might change the dynamics of the group.
Keep your eyes open for people who seem lost in the building and be willing to interrupt your routine so you can show them around. Wherever we are on the campus make a point of saying “hi” and introducing yourself to whoever comes through our doors. Don’t just yell across the parking lot. Walk over and greet them.
Set personal goals for yourself whenever you come to church – like the goal of taking the first five minutes after the benediction to visit with visitors, new members or people you don’t know so you can get to know them, THEN spend time with your friends and family.
Of course, hospitality is something that we can practice even outside the walls of church, too. Look for opportunities to invite someone who doesn’t already have a church home or who hasn’t been in awhile. A perfect opportunity this week is our VBS closing at the camp and next Sunday’s Worship service which will feature the VBS kids singing at the 11:00 am service. That’s just part of what it means to offer Radical Hospitality.
As United Methodists, one of the greatest sign of Radical Hospitality has always been our Sacramental Table. We have always offered Radical Hospitality through inviting everyone to share in the Lord’s Supper. It is the perfect opportunity to offer God’s Hospitality at God’s table, It is the Lord’s Table. It’s His meal. It’s His supper, prepared not only by his own hands but made possible through his life, death and resurrection.
Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, whatever we call it is an open invitation to partake of the Means of Grace. Through these elements we experience a taste of how good God truly is. This table represents The Kingdom of God; God’s Love, Mercy and Grace; God’s forgiveness and the offer and promise of Eternal Life. What if those were cut off except for only a few. What it would mean to us if this table were closed. What would it say to our visitors? It would tell them they weren’t welcome, wouldn’t it?
Radical Hospitality is one of the reasons we offer both kinds of cups, the chalice and the small communion cup. We want to honor both traditions and make everyone welcome.
Did you know that for centuries the Pineapple has been a symbol of hospitality? There’s even a pineapple shaped house in Scotland. The pineapple is native to Brazil and spread from their throughout South America, into the Caribbean, North America, Europe and Asia. Columbus is credited with introducing the pineapple to England after his second voyage. At the time it was a rare and expensive fruit which only the rich and royalty could afford.
As a symbol of hospitality, the pineapple adorns gates, finials on roofs and other forms of architecture.
It became associated with hospitality through the custom of keeping the dining room doors closed until the meal was completely ready. The hostess would do the great reveal showing the entire spread. When friends and visitors saw pineapple topped food displays they knew the hostess had spared no expense in preparation for the meal and for her guests.
Jesus spared no expense to make people feel welcome. He spared no expense to offer this table to us today. He gave his very life to make you feel welcome, wanted and forgiven. There are no strangers or visitors at this table. Each of us have been personally invited. As you come this morning, not only is there bread and wine but there is also pineapple chunks to help you feel welcome.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.