Tag Archives: radical hospitality

Getting our ACTS together – sermon on Acts 4:12-19 Easter 2B

April 8, 2018

The New Testament is mostly letters – letters from Paul to various churches, letters from Peter, and from James, Jude, and John. It’s mostly letters, but not entirely letters. There’s the Revelation of John at the end of the New Testament, and the four gospels at the beginning. And sandwiched in between the gospels and the letters there’s a book called The Acts of the Apostles, or simply, “Acts.” Some Bible scholars like to call it “Second Luke” because it continues the story of Luke’s gospel beyond the resurrection of Jesus. So it’s appropriate that the assigned readings for the season of Eastertide include passages from Acts, or “Second Luke.” Because, as we learned last week, the story isn’t over when Jesus rises from death to life. It’s just beginning. Continue reading

Extravagant Hospitality – Sermon on Luke 7:36-8:3

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost C
June 12, 2016

For five long years, my mom was a single parent. As I look back to that period of our family’s history, it seems that those five years were my entire childhood. I was eight years old when my father went to prison. He urged my mom to divorce him and “find those girls a decent father.” I was thirteen when my mother re-married. A lot can happen between the ages of eight and thirteen. Five years can be an eternity.

During those five years, my mom worked her fingers to the bone to keep us fed and clothed and sheltered. She often worked two jobs to try to make ends meet. Mom’s work required her to be on her feet all day, and when she got home from her day shift, we four girls had a routine. Mom would collapse on the living room couch. One of us would bring her a fresh cup of coffee. One of us would brush her hair. And two of us would sit at her feet, remove her shoes, and give her a foot massage. We’d run a warm washcloth over each tired foot, then rub lotion into it, slowly massaging away the aches and pains of the workday. During this daily routine, we’d talk about our experiences of the day and listen to mom’s stories about the factory where she worked.

My mom was faithful to make sure we got to church, that we read our Bibles every day, that we prayed at bedtime and before every meal. But I think it was this holy moment we spent together every workday afternoon that really held our family and our faith together. Rubbing mom’s feet, brushing her hair, bringing her coffee – these were ways we could thank her for the sacrifices she was making for us. But the time it took to do these things was the real gift. This was time spent staying connected to her and to each other. As I pondered today’s gospel lesson about a woman who anoints the feet of Jesus, I couldn’t help thinking about rubbing lotion into my Mom’s tired feet, and what an important lesson of love I learned from that simple act.

This woman we read about today has something in common with the centurion and the woman whose son had died, that we met earlier in the seventh chapter of Luke. She is yet another person whose name we will never know. Some have claimed she was a prostitute, but the Bible never says that about her. Luke uses a different word to talk about prostitution (15:30). Here he only calls her a sinner, and it’s the same word Luke uses to describe Peter (5:8), a tax collector (18:13), and others (Luke 5:30-32; 19:7). We don’t know what her sin is, but it is one known to the rest of the community. She has a reputation. Maybe she eats pork, or has been caught lying or cheating or charging interest on loans. We don’t know. But she knows. And Jesus knows. And Simon the Pharisee does, too.

 

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”  Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.”  “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 

 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 

Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. – Luke 7:36 – 8:3

How would you feel if a woman you didn’t know came up to you, took off your shoes, and started weeping over your feet? The tears would roll down between your toes, as she wiped them with her hair. And then she would suddenly pull out a beautiful jar of salve, and start rubbing the fragrant ointment into your feet, as she continued to weep. Would you be surprised? Uncomfortable? Would you push her away and ask what on earth she thought she was doing?

It’s one thing to rub your mom’s feet in the privacy of your own living room, but what if this happened in someone else’s home, at a dinner party they were giving in your honor? Would you be embarrassed for your host? For yourself? Would you be embarrassed for the woman?

I’m sure that Simon the Pharisee and all his other guests were appalled when this party crasher let down her hair and started kissing Jesus’ feet. Her behavior was scandalous. It was shameful. And I have to wonder what prompted her to behave the way she did. Had she known Jesus before? Had he already shown her mercy that others did not show? Had she already met Jesus, talked with him, expressed a desire to be cleansed of her sin, and been forgiven?

I wonder if she had, because later in this story, when Jesus speaks directly to her, he says “Your sins have been forgiven.” The Greek verb here uses the perfect tense, and that means the action has already been completed in the past, with effects that carry forward into the future. So, what had already happened to her that brought her to this room, carrying a jar of ointment? It must have been something amazing, to have prompted this very public and scandalous display of devotion.

But Jesus doesn’t flinch. Instead of condemning this woman for interrupting a meal to which she had not been invited, Jesus asks the host for permission to speak. “Speak, Teacher,” the Pharisee says. And Jesus launches into a parable.

At first, this story about two debtors seems innocent enough. Which one will have more love for the person who forgives a debt, the one who owed fifty, or the one who owed five hundred? “I suppose the one who owed more,” Simon shrugs. “Right,” Jesus answers. And then he asks the real question:

“Simon, do you see this woman?”

Keep in mind that this woman has entered Simon’s house without permission and has behaved in a scandalous manner from the moment she came into the room. Simon would have to be blind not to see her.

Keep in mind that this woman is a known sinner – whatever her sin, it is public knowledge, and Simon has already judged her, just as he has already judged Jesus for not recognizing her obvious sinfulness. Simon has been thinking, “If this guy were a real prophet, he would know who is touching him, making him unclean right here in my own house!”

Keep in mind that this woman, any woman in that time and culture, would have normally gone politely unnoticed, completely invisible to the men reclining around this table. Yet, Jesus asks:

“Simon, do you see this woman?”

“You did not offer me any of the normal signs of hospitality, but she has gone above and beyond normal. She has shown extravagant hospitality, even anointing my feet. At best, you might have put oil on my head after greeting me with a kiss and giving me water to wash my own feet. But this woman, because her many sins have been forgiven, shows greater love than you do.”

It’s easy for us to look back at Simon and smirk a little bit. “Gotcha!” we might be thinking. We see how Simon the Pharisee thinks he is better than others, how he judges another’s worth only in relation to the value he gives himself. We snicker and think, “Obviously he wasn’t paying attention back in chapter 6, when Jesus was preaching the Sermon on the Plain and spoke these words: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)

But then it hits me. When I judge Simon for judging others, I am no better than Simon. When I look down my nose at someone else’s sin, I am just as guilty as they are, no matter what sin they carry. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Paul writes (Romans 3:23). My sin isn’t any nicer or less offensive to God than the sin of someone who steals, or murders, or commits sexual sin. When I judge others for their sins, I am sinning, too. When you judge others for their sins, you are sinning, too. We are all guilty.

But here is the good news: Guilt does not equal shame. Our guilt may make us feel ashamed for our sins, but Jesus does not shame us, and he asks us not to shame each other. Jesus did not shame this woman, who was behaving in an extremely shameful manner. Instead, Jesus offers forgiveness when we repent, and he asks us to forgive much, and to love much.

Jesus reminds this woman that she has already been forgiven, and that her forgiveness extends through all time. Jesus tells her, “Your faith has made you whole; you are no longer broken. So go in peace.”

And then Jesus leaves. But he doesn’t go alone. Just as he called a dozen men to follow him, he also calls women to be his disciples. This is no less scandalous than the woman kissing his feet and wiping them with her hair. Jesus invites women to travel with him, to be with him. They are women from all walks of life. Some have been cured of diseases, some have been released from demons, some are married to influential men, some have come from the lowest rungs of society. All are like this woman, who has just been sent away in peace after Jesus has made her whole by forgiving all her sins.

Jesus offers you the same forgiveness. No matter what you have done or thought about doing, Jesus is ready to forgive you. No matter how you have judged others or thought yourself better than someone else, Jesus is waiting for you to let him speak into your heart in love, to make what is wrong in you right. No matter what guilt you carry, Jesus is ready to take away your shame, and invite you into his presence. You need no longer live in your brokenness. Christ offers you forgiveness that takes away all the sins of the past, and gives you a new future, a future of wholeness and peace in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Opening the Door to Holy Week

When I arrived at First Church, I noticed a sign on the inside of the “front” door – the original main entrance to the church, before the parking lot was added, and people started using the “back” entrance as the main door of the church. The sign said, “Do Not Open This Door.” Not even “please leave this door closed.” Do. Not. Open. This. Door.

I preached about it. I asked the congregation to consider the implications of that sign. What did it say, not only to the community on the other side of the door, but to us on the inside? I mentioned it in Trustee meetings and Council meetings. It’s been a year and a half, and last Sunday, I asked if we could open the door for Palm Sunday and Easter, as a sign of radical hospitality to the many people who drive past our church on Sunday mornings. Continue reading

We Want to See Jesus – Sermon on John 12:20-33 Lent 5B

March 22, 2015

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. – John 12:20-33

When Bruce and I lived in Kansas City, we belonged to Westport Presbyterian Church. In the pulpit of that church, there was a brass plate, installed there by Stuart Paterson, who was pastor of Westport Pres for more than thirty years. Stuart read the message engraved on that brass plate every time he stepped into the pulpit, and he wasn’t alone. Apparently, during the middle of the 20th century in America, it was quite the fashion for John 12:20 to be posted somewhere in the pulpit where the preacher could see it. “Sir, we would see Jesus” encouraged a whole generation of preachers to remember their primary task: showing Jesus to people who need a Savior.

In fact, the entire Gospel of John was written with this very purpose in mind. Near the end of the book, John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

If seeing is believing, we can imagine that these Greeks who came to Philip were hoping for more than a glimpse of a celebrity. They were hoping for more than an autograph. They not only wanted to see Jesus, they wanted to believe.

The phrase “we would see Jesus” or “we wish to see Jesus” can’t be fully translated into English so simply, but the literal translation sounds awkward to our ears. It sounds awkward, but to get a better understanding of what they meant, the literal translation might be helpful. Here’s what they were saying: “Mister, we are willing to be perceiving Jesus.”

Not just “we’d kinda like to see this Jesus guy” or “we want to see him so we can tell our friends back home that we did.”

We are willing. Our desire includes the understanding that this encounter is going to change us in some way, and we are willing to take the risk.

We are willing to be perceiving. We want more than the opportunity to lay eyes on Jesus. We want to perceive him, to know him, to understand him, to recognize him as the Son of God. And we realize this isn’t a one-time-and-we’re-done sort of thing. It’s an ongoing relationship. We are willing to be perceiving Jesus now and indefinitely into the future. Mister Philip, sir, we want more than a backstage pass. We are willing to know Jesus personally, whatever that means.

John’s account doesn’t tell us if they get a face-to-face meeting with Jesus, but it does describe the way such an encounter usually happens. The Greeks approach Philip, and he goes to Andrew, and together they go to Jesus. Why do the Greeks go to Philip first, and then why does Philip go to Andrew? Their hometown was Bethsaida, a place that had a history of sometimes being Jewish and sometimes being Gentile. Philip and Andrew both have Greek-sounding names, so that might have something to do with it. It’s possible that these Gentiles came to Philip first simply because they were more comfortable approaching someone who seemed a little bit more like them.

That’s often how evangelism works. It’s a chain reaction. One person experiences God’s love, and shares that good news with a friend or family member. They usually don’t go out looking for someone they don’t even know to tell about Jesus – they share their experience with people they know and trust, people who are a lot like themselves. And when those people experience the same life-changing love of God, they tell their family and friends. And those people’s lives are changed, and they tell more people…

It works the other way around, too. If you are thinking about buying a new car, or maybe a computer, you do a little internet research, and then you ask people close to you for recommendations. You trust the people who are most like you to have the same values and viewpoint you do. As every marketing expert will tell you, word of mouth is the best form of advertising, whether you’re telling someone about your own experience, or asking them for advice and help.

So it’s no wonder that these Greek worshipers approach the disciples who look and sound most like them, when they try to get an audience with Jesus. But the very fact that Gentiles are looking for Jesus is a signal, and Jesus recognizes his cue.

The “very truly” (amen, amen) that opens verse 24 is an attention device: Jesus is about to say something really important. But what follows is not comforting news. He announces that his hour has now come, and the seed must die to bear fruit.

Jesus knows he has come to save more than the Jews – he has come for everyone, Jew or Gentile. Now that the Gentiles desire to “perceive” him, he recognizes that the time has come for him to die, like a seed planted in the ground, so that new life can begin. And it’s hard news for us, too. Jesus says, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” Only by embracing death, hating life, and following Jesus through death to life can we be true disciples.

We might not like the idea of dying to self, or “hating” ourselves – it doesn’t sit well with our culture’s emphasis on self-esteem, and even Jesus said “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” But that isn’t what he’s talking about here. Jesus is referring to the life we live in this broken world, where self-centeredness prevents us from being God-centered. That life is doomed to death, but by dying to it, Christ offers us eternal life.

John uses two different words here for the word we see as “life.” When Jesus says, “Those who love their life” and “those who hate their life in this world,” the word for ‘life’ refers to our inward being, our sinful soul. But when Jesus talks about eternal life, he uses the word “zoe” – which means a way of living. So giving up our inward selfishness, dying to sin, as a seed planted in the ground must die, makes it possible for us to experience new life, an eternal way of living.

And this is what brings glory to God. Throughout the Old Testament, “glory” is used to describe the evidence of God’s presence among his people. God’s glory was the pillar of cloud or smoke that stayed with the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. This same cloud of smoke filled the temple to indicate God had moved into his home among the people of Israel. In the psalms, when David speaks of his own ‘glory’ he means “all my being.’

Likewise, a name embodied all of a person’s being. A name’s meaning described that person’s deepest identity. To be named is to be recognized for who we are at our very core. When Jesus says, “Glorify your name,” there are rich, deep layers of understanding involved. In effect, Jesus is asking his Father to make himself completely known to all humanity, to show that he is present among all people, and to reveal his core identity to everyone.

And a voice from heaven answers him. We have heard this voice in the other gospels at Jesus’ baptism and the transfiguration, but in John’s account, this is the only time “the voice from heaven” is heard. What does that voice say? “I have already done it, and I’m going to keep on doing it. I have revealed the deepest core of my identity to everyone, and I will continue to do so.”

And what, exactly, is God’s identity? Love. God is love (1 John 4:8). God’s love has been poured out for us so that, “while we were still sinners” who didn’t deserve it, “Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“Mister, we are willing to be perceiving Jesus,” the guests from out of town said to Philip. “This is a sign that my hour has come,” answered Jesus. “Father, glorify your name. … And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 

John writes, He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.” But John means more than the crucifixion. He means the kind of death that also includes resurrection and ascension. It’s a three-way “being lifted up” – on the cross, from the grave, and into heaven, just as we sang a few minutes ago [Lord I Lift Your Name On High].  The kind of death Jesus was to die was the kind of death that leads to life and eternal victory over death. And Jesus invites us to that same kind of death that defeats death.

So, how do you perceive Jesus? And how can we help others to be perceiving Jesus, on a continuous, present tense basis?

On Thursday, I drove to a retreat center to attend the Clergy Leadership Academy. I’m in the second year of a three-year program, and we meet five times a year to work with a mentor, gather with our peers, and learn from experts who work intensively with us on many aspects of leading congregations well.

This week, Bishop Bruce Ough led our workshops on Radical Hospitality. Radical Hospitality refers to one of Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, as identified by Bishop Robert Schnase. (The other four are: passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity.)

To begin our discussion, Bishop Ough asked us to define “radical.” The first thought that came to my mind was “extravagant.” Others called it “extreme” and “beyond the call of duty.” But one person looked up the definition on her phone’s dictionary and said, “it means going to the root” and that was the answer the Bishop was waiting for.

Radical hospitality is not about the quality of our treats at Coffee Hour. In fact, according to our Bishop, Coffee Hour isn’t about hospitality at all – it’s about fellowship. That’s a different thing. A very important, necessary part of being the church, and good treats are important to fellowship, but Radical Hospitality is something different.

Radical Hospitality means going to the purest, deepest root of our identity as God’s beloved children, and finding ways to express that identity to others. Schnase writes, “Radical Hospitality in our personal walk with Christ begins with an extraordinary receptivity to the grace of God. In distinctive and personal ways, we invite God into our hearts and make space for God in our lives. We say Yes to God and open ourselves to the spiritual life. We accept God’s love and acceptance of us. We receive God’s love and offer it to others.”

Here’s the thing, though. As we identify ourselves with Jesus Christ, he calls us to do what he did. He calls us to die to ourselves, so we can bear fruit, like that seed planted in the ground. He calls us to hate our life in this finite, broken world, so we can gain a way of living that is eternal. That way of living, dying to self, hating our earthly limitations, is the core of radical hospitality. When we open ourselves to others, we put their needs ahead of our own, we inconvenience ourselves for their benefit, we make sacrifices for their sake.

Isn’t that love? Putting another’s needs ahead of your own? And isn’t it a sign of being loved to know that someone has done that for you?

Radical hospitality is at the core, the root of what we do to open ourselves to relationship with God and with others. Just as glory and naming describe our core identity, being radical isn’t so much going to the extreme or being extravagant, but about going to the root of who we are as beloved children of God. It follows then, that radical hospitality is all about sharing who we have become as fully and honestly as we can.

What are some ways we could do that here at First Church?

What if we were to open the ‘old’ front door every Sunday, to show the people driving up and down Broadway that we are here, and we want them to know that the door is open for them?

Let’s take it one step further. What if we made it a practice to park over in the public parking lot, or at the attorney’s office across the street, and to walk to church, so that there would be room for more than one visitor space in the parking lot? In fact, what if we made all the spots in our parking lot into visitor or handicapped parking places?

It would mean inconveniencing ourselves. We might have to leave for church a few minutes earlier, to allow for the extra walking time, but imagine what it would look like to our community to see 70 or 80 people walking toward our church from every direction on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings! And the front door would be wide open to welcome each and every one of us! How radical is that?

How does Christ’s death show God’s glory to all people of the world? By the way we, his disciples, die to self so others can experience God. Our radical hospitality introduces people to Jesus so they can perceive and experience that deep, profound love God has for each of us, so they can have eternal life.

This is the good news: God loves you and is always with you, extending to you radical hospitality by revealing his intimate self to you through Jesus Christ. As we die to self and engage in an eternal way of living, Christ calls us to extend the same radical hospitality to others that he has shown to us. It will mean inconveniencing ourselves. It will mean changing the way we do some things, so that ‘others’ can become part of ‘us.’

The hour has come. What shall we say, “Father, save us from this hour?” No, it is for this reason that we have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name. Help us to show radical hospitality to everyone who is “willing to be perceiving” you and your Son, Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.