Re-blog of a sermon I preached on January 24, 2010 at the Warren Avenue Presbyterian Church, Saginaw, MI
Genesis 12: 1-9
THE CALL OF ABRAM
12Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’*
4 So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak* of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your offspring* I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. 8From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. 9And Abram journeyed on by stages towards the Negeb.
Romans 15: 7-13
7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
‘Therefore I will confess* you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name’; 10and again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’; 11and again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him’; 12and again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.’
13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
For months I have been hearing a ground-swell of interest in a book written by a United Methodist Bishop, Robert Schnase, titled “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations”. I have given copies of this book to the Elders on the session . I am hoping they will come up with some new ideas on how to improve on what we do around here.
My purpose in preaching from this book, today, simply put: GOD IS NOT FINISHED WITH US! There is always room for growth in my/our relationship with God.
God is not finished with us personally. God is not finished with me! As the winter months drag on, the cabin fever begins to set in. Personal struggles, health challenges, economic issues, family challenges: there are a host of things going on in our lives that never seem to let up or go away. We may feel that God has given up on us. Yet simply put, God is not finished with me – or any of us!
God is not finished with the church! Yes, the church also gets tired. Who wouldn’t be tired at the age of 143! The work that needs to be done in the neighborhood is always challenging. Maintenance issues are always going to be with a church this size and age. Because of our age it is more and more challenging handling some basic jobs….like moving tables and chairs around for meetings — or shoveling snow. We are continually challenged to find creative ways to match resources with needs. Yet this point: God is not finished with us.
The key question: ARE WE GOING TO GIVE UP ON GOD? I hope your presence in worship; your participation in fellowship events; your working as an officer or on one of our ministry teams – demonstrates the point: We have not given up on this church! We have not given up on what God can do for and with us! How do I know this? One example is the 19 members who came to the Panda House for the monthly Lunch-Bunch fellowship gathering. 19! This is over 20% of our active membership! This is nearly half of you who come to worship on Sundays!
So back to this book: God is not finished with me/us – the church. The five themes in this book give some clues that can help prompt us to be engaged in making a difference in the lives of others through:
Intentional Faith Development
Risk-taking mission and service
Today’s message on the first topic in this book: RADICAL HOSPITALITY. One of the gifts God gives us that continues to sustain us as a church: Hospitality! Something that can never be taken away from us: the friendships we nurture; the open hands of compassion and fellowship; the open hearts we offer others in the name of Jesus our Lord. There is no denying this fact: WE’RE A HOSPITABLE CHURCH!
So my thesis this morning: Out of genuine love for Christ and this church and concern for others in our community, what does it mean for us to take the initiative to GROW in our hospitality….as an inviting, welcoming church?
II. SCRIPTURAL GROUNDING
In our scripture from Romans 15: 7, Paul knows all about hospitality. Wherever he went, he implored followers of Christ to be proactive in offering hospitality.
“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you,
for the glory of God”.
What does this mean? Perhaps we are having an impact on the lives of others without even knowing it? Perhaps we are just doing what comes natural in responding to the needs of others? How many times, in reflecting on good friendships we have made over the years, first came about because of a chance encounter with someone in this church? How many of you are here today in this church, because someone else in this church offered you a warm and caring hand of friendship? Think about it: It what ways were you first introduced to this church?
Hospitality, though not complicated, is the heart of the church. On the one hand it’s not hard at all to open our hands and arms to the stranger…..in our midst….on our turf…..on our terms….from where we are in our lives in our homes in our church. Hospitality from where we sit is rather comfortable. On the other hand, how easy is it to meet others from where they are in their lives? The real challenge is going further a step further with our hospitality in following up a new friendship with a phone call or visit or note saying: “I am sure glad we met!” “Would you like to join us for lunch next month when the Lunch Bunch meets?” “How would you like to get a cup of coffee?” “Can I offer you a ride?”
You may want to note that the title of this sermon isn’t just HOSPALITY! It is RADICAL HOSPITALITY! Radical hospitality involves not just accepting friends into our fellowship – but also listening for what our new friends may need….and meeting them from where they are in their lives….
A principle that has been a guide for me in my ministry for nearly a quarter decade: whenever we receive a new member or friend into our midst, the personality of the church shifts a bit as we grow as the “living body of Christ”.
If I may share a close, personal story:
The late Robert Weiss who died on January 8th hadn’t been a member for all that long. He shared with me that he wasn’t sure he would “fit” in with our congregation. He would speak his mind. He had a unique personality….and was simply a loving, caring kind of guy. Think about how much he gave us. The fact that I miss him so much….is part of the legacy of his being part of this church. This church went through a change when he joined the church. We are also changing in his absence….and this is good! The church is not meant to always be the same, doing the same things with the same people. The church is organic. The church is the “living body of Christ”! As in all life, we change and grow…..adding to our fellowship and saying good-bye to friends when they die is part of life.
The culture of the church changes and grows: ONE PERSON AT A TIME!
Honestly: RADICAL HOSPITALITY is challenging is because we get pretty set in our ways….I get set in my ways. The danger for the person who has been around ten or fifty or seventy years is in opening our minds and hearts to grow and change as we meet and welcome new people into our fellowship!
- FROM THE BOOK
Briefly, from this book:
- “Radical Hospitality stretches us, challenges us, pulls out of us our utmost creativity and hard work to offer the welcome of Christ.”
- Churches that practice Radical Hospitality don’t just have ushers and greeters…they don’t merely point, they escort, they don’t merely pass out papers, they make people feel at ease. They take notes of names and introduce visitors to others in the church…
- Churches that practice Radical Hospitality are strategic with communications….not just cutting back mailing lists to save money but adding to mailing list to increase exposure.
- Churches that practice Radical Hospitality typically have web pages to reach out to younger adults who are known to check out churches on the internet before considering a visit
- Churches that practice Radical Hospitality see their care for the building as a ministry. When someone approaches the church what do they see and experience? Does the signage give clear directions? Is everything neat and clean?
“To become a vibrant, fruitful, growing congregation requires a change of attitudes, practices, and values. Good intentions are not enough. Too many churches want more 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 as quiet as adults, more ethnic families as long as they act like the majority in the congregation.” WE CAN DO BETTER!
- ONE LAST THOUGHT
Let’s make sure we don’t miss one thing that scripture teaches this morning.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you,
for the glory of God”.
“FOR THE GLORY OF GOD”: We must always ask: Why are we here? Whom do we serve? In what ways can we grow as a Christians? In the end we come into this church because Jesus welcomes us into this church — “for the glory of God”. ‘Radical hospitality’ is not just celebrating what God through Christ has given us – but finding creative, proactive ways to share what God has given us with others.
“FOR THE GLORY OF GOD”: It’s okay to struggle with what it means to be radical in our hospitality. It’s okay to feel a bit uncomfortable in dong Christ’s work. It’s okay ….because we are never alone. We have each other. We have God.
“FOR THE GLORY OF GOD”: Let us continue to search for ways to grow into the likeness of Jesus Christ our Lord….for after all….we are, in fact, the “living, organic, Body of Christ.”
“FOR THE GLORY OF GOD”: Let us continue to embrace God who loves us, cares for us, nurtures us – as we share these same gifts with others.
Finally, from one of my favorite hymns (#358)
Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us;
Teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace.
Be present, Lord, among us and bring us to believe
We are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live.
 “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” by Robert Schnase, 2007, Abingdon Press
 Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church, Previously, pastor of the First United Methodist Church, McAllen, Texas.
 Ibid. page 24ff