One of our family’s favorite vacations is Disney World. We love to go to Disney World. Before we even had kids, Josiah and I had been there twice. Now it’s been a few years since we have been able to go… something about four kids makes it a little less cost effective.
But I love it. Not just because it’s fun and magical, and the kids are just in awe of everything, but because of the hospitality. I love that they think of everything. From arriving at the airport, to checking in at the hotel, to buying souvenirs at the gift shops, to grabbing breakfast before going to the park, to waiting in line for a ride. It’s all thought about the best possible experience for the guest. Instantly, the guest is put at ease and all the details are taken care of. They are incredible at hospitality. In today’s scripture, Peter talks about hospitality.
Digging Deeper – 1 Peter 4-8
This scripture contains a list, all about how to take care of one another. There are a few instructions in this list to the persecuted Christians in Asia Minor… strangers he calls them. It is a letter that would have been sent out and copied and distributed to all of the Christ followers who were scattered and many without a Christian community. Now this letter starts by identifying the author as Peter. But it’s likely that it wasn’t Peter who wrote this letter, but someone who served with or under Peter, someone who had formal education and scholarly, not a fisherman turned Bishop of the church. Peter does say that Silas, his scribe, helped him with the letter.
This scripture starts with a call to love. In fact, love because it covers a multitude of sins. You don’t have to be perfect. Just love. And then he says something interesting, he says offer hospitality to one another, without grumbling.
Hospitality. Let’s talk about hospitality. What does hospitality really mean? In the ancient world, it meant welcoming someone, a stranger, into your home, offering cleanliness (which would have been essential at this time… washing hands and feet), food, rest (including a place to sleep), and social protection. When you showed hospitality you cared for the general wellness of the stranger.
Hospitality meant assuming responsibility for the basic well-being for stranger. But hospitality also meant putting your guest into a position of best wellness. You would give the stranger your best food, the best seat in your home, the best bed. Hospitality meant honoring their presence.
And Peter is saying that we should offer this hospitality without grumbling. Giving your best to a stranger even if it means you don’t get your best. This is radical hospitality.
But Peter goes on, it’s not just about showing hospitality, but it’s about using your gifts to serve one another and use your words to encourage one another. It’s about coming together to build one another up in faith.
Today we finish our sermon series, CATCH. Becoming fishers of people.
We talked about Embracing the Call, recognizing that the one of the last things Jesus said before the ascended was that his followers were to go out and invite to be disciples. “Go , make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey my commands, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Go make disciples, teach them, bring them into the church so they can go and make disciples. Who can then go and make more disciples…
Then we talked about the importance of Asking good questions. The questions we asked were; Why Jesus? Why church? And why this church?
And last week we were challenged to take the time to connect, make time to invite. Remember that statistic last week, the average Methodist invites someone to church every 38 years! I challenged you last week to begin inviting people to church, church activities, conversations about Jesus…
Today, we ae talking about hospitality. What happens when we do invite people? Do we do everything we can to welcome strangers into this home? Do we care for the general well-being of all who enter here? Do we offer them our best, even if it is inconvenient for us?
Over the past few weeks we have been talking about being invitational. Today we are talking about extending a hand, showing hospitality. What would that mean in our own lives, what would that mean in this church?
Little Prairie has a history of hospitality. When you built the addition and refinished the basement, you thought about how you can show hospitality to the community. And you made room for Health Finders, a free clinic that looks to the wellbeing of many in our community, most of whom you don’t even know personally. You didn’t build it for yourselves, you built it for others. This is radical hospitality.
But scripture doesn’t say show radical hospitality once. This letter was written to encourage the dispersed Christians to be able to continually seek out and show community.
So how do we show hospitality today?
Research says that most people will make their decision whether or not they will return to a church in the first 8 minutes. Think about that one. So from the moment of parking their car, walking into the building, being greeted at the door, to sitting in the sanctuary.
We definitely a community that takes pride and care of our building and property. Just the other day, one other day, one of the job coaches for EPIC was saying that when they come to clean here, it is clear that we are community that cares about our church. We take good care of our space.
But the challenge I want to offer is that we shift our thinking about why we take care of our building. Certainly, like the scripture says, we use our gifts to serve one another… but we also care for this space because we want to offer hospitality.
We pick up garbage in the parking lot or pull weeds, to maintain our space, but also to send the message to our visitors that we care about our space. We care about their experience coming into our space.
We have church wide work days to do the deep cleaning to care for our building, but also because we want our building to feel healthy, clean for our visitors.
We created our safe sanctuary policy to protect the children in our families, but also to make a public statement that we value the safety of all children in our building.
We want people to feel at ease, to feel welcome from the moment they arrive. Not because we are trying to impress them or because we want to be fancy, but because we want them to feel honored. We want them to be comfortable. It’s hard enough to walk into a new church, especially a church in a town where half of the people are related in some way. We don’t’ want people to feel like they are walking into someone else’s family reunion, we want them to feel welcome and at ease so they can focus on worshipping God. There are lots of ways to extend welcome, one is with a handshake, but it doesn’t start or stop with a greeting at the door.
We know what hospitality looks like in our homes, it usually means clean bathrooms. Maybe a good meal. A bed to sleep in. But have you ever stayed in someone’s home and they had radical hospitality? I mean they went above and beyond… A super fluffy bed, they had your favorite snack or soda, clean guest towels laid out for you, maybe fresh flowers, a specially prepared meal…
Radical hospitality. What would that look like at Little Prairie?
It starts with identifying our main entrance? Is it obvious? Is our parking lot safe and convenient? When we arrive at church do we park as close as we possibly can or do we leave the front spaces for visitors and those needing close proximity for mobility reasons? Where do you park? Radical hospitality.
We have greeters to welcome people and give them a bulletin, not just because it’s easier for us to know the order of service, but it helps visitors know what to expect.
When you sit in your pews, do you think about visitors arriving after you? Most visitors will come late to service and most will sit in the back. It’s a tough thing visiting a small church. You don’t have to know anyone in this church to know that people have ‘assigned’ seats. Or at least regular seats. That’s common church culture. Again, it’s a shift in thinking, but do we make room for our visitors? Do we leave space in the back, do we get cozy so there is extra room? Radical hospitality.
During the fellowship hour, do you sit at your usual table with your closest, oldest friends? Or do you go out of your way to introduce yourself to visitors?
Next week is our fall kick off, Cowboy Church. It is an opportunity for us to show radical hospitality. We’ve been focusing on three questions during this sermon series; Why Jesus? Because Jesus is the answer to everything. Why church? Because Jesus created it to be his representation here on earth. Why this church? Because we connect people to Jesus. We invite people because we desire for others to know and grow in Jesus.
And when people come, everything about the experience at Little Prairie should say, “We expect visitors, we value visitors, and we desire to help all people worship God and grow in their faith.” Radical hospitality!
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