Radical Hospitality, Jesus Style

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September 23, 2018. Hospitality toward others is the way to welcoming God more fully into our lives. When Jesus’ disciples argued about which of them would be greatest, he showed them what greatness meant by welcoming a child. Pastor Stephanie preaches on just how radical a thought this would have been for the disciples, and invites us to break down walls to welcome others into our lives.


*** Transcript ***


I imagine that many of you are familiar with the side of Jesus that wasn’t what we’d call “meek and mild,” right? Like for instance, the time that we read that he came into the temple and looked around, didn’t like what he saw, so he started tossing some tables upside down. Yeah, he didn’t much like how people were being exploited, so he made a rather dramatic show of his displeasure. Admit it, you love that, don’t you? You love Jesus going and getting ’em and telling ’em what’s right and what’s wrong, as long as those aren’t our tables. We love it that Jesus stands up for the little people against authorities that are taking advantage of them. I would also love to read a story about Jesus knocking down some walls. I mean, walls divide people all the time. And we like to talk about building bridges rather than building walls. So, walls that divide have to go. Wouldn’t it be cool for Jesus to tear down a few? You who love action films have to be with me on this one: Jesus takes a karate chop or two and demolishes a barrier that the big shots have constructed to keep their own kind in and everyone else out. I’m sure you have an idea or two yourself how you’d like to see Jesus go about this.


Well, I might invite you then to sit down for an hour or two some time and read through the entire Gospel of Mark, and look for the many ways that Jesus does at least three things. He turns things upside down. He knocks down preconceptions. And he challenges conventional thinking. If you do that, I’m guaranteeing that you will find a pretty good-sized list of his words that do just that. These stories may not show a literal turning of objects upside down like tables, but they do an effective job of causing people to go, “What’s that again, Jesus? You might have to run that past me again, because that isn’t how things really go in this world.”


Jesus was a master of knocking down walls that we build to keep our own ways of thinking and operating in, and his ways of operating out. That is pretty much the case when his disciples are walking along with him while he is talking about the suffering, dying, and rising again that he will be doing in the near future. Apparently, all they are hearing is the “wah wah.” That happens sometimes, because this is not something that they want to hear about. Instead, they’ve been having their own little discussion walking behind him. Knowing this but calling them out on it, when they get to the house in Capernaum where they’ll be staying, Jesus asked, “What was that that you were arguing about while you were walking behind me?”


We aren’t told that anyone admitted to what they’ve been arguing over and that it was about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom that they just knew that Jesus was ushering in. In fact, the gospel writer Mark says they were silent because they did not want to own up to their aspirations for greatness. So can’t you just imagine Jesus sighing once again and sitting them down to have a little lesson? This is how I imagine the conversation going based on the parts that we do have recorded before us:


“Okay, now as you know,” Jesus says, “I’ve been teaching you about how different God’s ways are than human ways. You think you know what greatness is, but…” (And I insert my own comment here. This could be easily addressed to our own contemporary culture, couldn’t it? How little our society has learned over the years. It’s hard now to even use the word “greatness” for things that actually are great, since “Make America Great Again” has become a thing — and a thing that demonstrates anything but greatness.)


But back to Jesus’ conversation. As he tells them, “You people think you know what greatness is, but you do not. You think that power, prestige, status, wealth, and social position are the great things. Not true at all. Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” That was probably met with silence again from the disciples. After all, Jesus just knocked down an invisible wall that they were leaning on.


“What?” They must be thinking. “Nobody, but nobody, gets ahead by going for last place or by doing menial jobs.” Jesus goes on, “Here, let me show you.” He took a little child into his arms and said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.”


So now he really has their attention. All they see is a child, whom they cannot imagine playing any kind of important role in this kingdom of love that Jesus keeps talking about. From our vantage point this act seems cute. “Aw, Jesus picks up and hugs a child.” But it was likely not so cute to Jesus’ disciples. In his day children were definitely seen but not heard. They had little to no inherent worth, in and of themselves. John Pilch, in his work The Cultural World of Jesus, sheds light on the customs and culture reflected in Jesus’ actions and words. A child in our culture is deeply valued and put high on our priorities. At least we insist this is so, in spite of the number of children in poverty and other difficult circumstances. But for the most part, most people would agree that children are our treasures. However, in the time of Jesus, a child was lowest on the priority list. Children weren’t worth much until they grew up and proved themselves. They were actually considered nobodies. Their worth was tied up in their potential to maybe someday becoming productive adults, who could support their families in their old age. Even in medieval times, I was surprised to learn, Mediterranean cultures put a low value on children. Thomas Aquinas himself taught that in a raging fire, a husband was obliged to save his father first, then his mother, next his wife, and last his young child. That kind of thinking is so hard for us to fathom.


But it helps to know that, to see just how radical Jesus’ words were to his disciples. He’s essentially saying this: you are worried about your greatness? I’ll tell you what’s great to me, and to the one who sent me. It’s welcoming others, like this little child who has value to me far beyond what you can see. In fact, I want you to knock down all your preconceptions about who is important to me. Everyone is important to me, regardless of social status, or ability to be productive, or pedigree, or anything else. And I will demonstrate that every time. I welcome them all. To the extent that you welcome those like these little ones, you welcome me and my father who sent me. In fact, the way you show hospitality by welcoming others, that is what’s greatness to me.


As preacher theologian Barbara Brown Taylor puts it, Jesus didn’t just tell them, but showed them who was greatest by calling their attention to a little child. It’s as if Jesus were creating a business card or a LinkedIn profile for a child bearing this message under the child’s name: 26 inches tall. Limited vocabulary. Unemployed. Zero net worth. Nobody in the eyes of many. And then, in all capital letters, GOD’S BELOVED.


I hope not many of you can personally relate to being the most insignificant. Yet each of us often has something going on inside our heads that says that we really don’t have any place getting too close to Jesus. We rule ourselves out from being someone whom he would like to have near him yet. Nothing could be further from the truth. The stories of Jesus’ intentional actions, of going to dinner with a social outcast like a tax collector, of going to parties with people who are considered disgraceful by others, means that all of us, no matter our personal history or feelings of not being good enough, can find a place of welcome near Jesus.


We are all welcome: the little people and the big people who will make themselves little enough or humble enough to sit on the lap of Jesus, so to speak. And what’s more, we are all invited to be God’s agents in welcoming others. All of us who know we’ve been welcomed, not because we’ve had anything special to offer, but just because we’ve come to know that God loves us anyway. Well, we all have a special job. We get to invite others to come and to know the same for themselves. We get to knock down a few walls ourselves. We are commissioned to let people know there are no barriers to being welcomed by God. That puts us all on God’s hospitality team now. We get to let others know that they are welcome just as they are, too. No special requirements need to be met. Just come and symbolically sit on the lap of Jesus. There’s a lot of room there. It’s a very big and welcoming lap. There aren’t many places where you can find hospitality or welcome like that. In fact, there’s nothing anywhere that can compare.


So Christ Lutheran Church, as all churches do, has a special job description. It’s to exhibit radical hospitality, Jesus style.


I’ll admit there is even something in it for us. Whenever we start with, as the disciples were doing here, “What’s in it for us?” well we don’t get much in God’s operation. But when we do what God wants us to do there’s always something in it for us as a side benefit. When we welcome others, Jesus says we welcome him and the one who sent him. Somehow God makes it fulfilling and joyful to welcome others, because we get to see God in action in that as they respond, and know God. The way we show hospitality by welcoming others is what is greatness to God.


Hospitality toward others is the way to welcoming God more fully into our lives. After all, we’re told some have entertained angels unaware as they have knocked down walls to welcome others into their lives. Because where love and graciousness to others is present, there is God in the midst of our gatherings. It’s exactly what the song we opened with envisions.


Let us build a house where all are named
Their songs and visions heard
And loved and treasured, taught and claimed
As words within the word
Built of tears and cries and laughter
Prayers of faith and songs of grace
Let this house proclaim from floor to rafter
All are welcome, all are welcome
All are welcome in this place




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2018, Christ Lutheran Church, Webster Groves, sermon, podcast, transcript, Pastor Stephanie Doeschot