Friday, February 10, 2012

Fellowship and Hospitality…

Here’s a ‘learning scenario’ I encountered in seminary.

Imagine you’re a pastor, visiting a new family to the church. Y’all shake hands at their front door. They introduce you to their dog. When escorted into the living room to sit down for a chat, on the table is a platter of fresh-made cookies. Ms. New Person says, “Please, pastor, have a cookie.” But you’ve a) just come from another engagement that included cookie eating, and b) made a New Year’s resolution to cut down on sweets. What, the teacher asked, do you do?!

I, of course, get to cheat on this test, since my honest answer is, “I’m sorry, I never eat sweets” (substitute buffalo wings, however, and I’m in trouble!). But you can imagine how unintentionally tricky that could be, right? After all, many Christians feel compelled to give and receive graciously. Hospitality, in fact, is so central to our ideals, our value system, that every week we replay a ritual of table fellowship. “All are welcome at Christ’s Table,” we say, claiming that as our reason for gathering.

And that’s right! We are people of the Table! Called to serve and be served, opening our lives to all. But in the real world of everyday worship, work and rest, unconditional and unlimited hospitality is tough. When someone wants to serve us, we may not like what they’ve prepared. When someone needs serving, we may not want to step in. A new person may seem to us strange or uninviting. Or maybe we’re simply feeling timid or insecure.

Nevertheless, we’re called to reach out constantly to others, to become, if you will, hospitality experts. And as anyone with expertise in anything will tell you, what separates pros from amateurs is how well one does under pressure. When the doing of something is tough, and yet you get it done, that’s when you know you’ve become good. For instance, I suspect many people given enough time and second chances could cook a wonderful meal for guests. The great dinner party hosts, however, do it every time, and with last second notice, if required. Sure, the work may be hard; s/he might be exhausted by evening’s end. Still, dinner would be amazing, and guests would leave satisfied.

That’s an easy, if incomplete, metaphor, I think, for what you and I are called to do as Christians. Every Sunday, someone new could walk into our building. And that Sunday, you or I may feel tired, annoyed or distance. We could, of course, just say, “Well, let someone else welcome them. It’s my turn to take today off.” But I suspect we feel some urge to suck it up and be nice. Similarly, we could be in the grocery store line, or at a local meeting, hoping to just be left alone, when something happens unexpected- a person nearby needs help or engages us in polite conversation. As Christians, people of the Table, do we ignore the opportunity or step up?

I won’t push this idea too far. I’m sure we could create many alternative scenarios to complicate the issue. All I’m hoping is that we take a moment, this week, to remember that hospitality- welcoming others into fellowship- is a fundamental call of being Christian. It’s a ministry that each of us (in our own way, sure) is asked to undertake. A consequence of baptism, or something.

One way we do that at our church, of course, is by supplying something simple to gnash on after worship each Sunday. FYI, there’s a new sign-up sheet available that has many empty slots, and I’m hoping that y’all will soon change that fact! If you have procedural questions, let me know. You needn’t do much work; Mike and Donna make the coffee. Just bring treats, or healthy snacks, or whatever you feel best says to guests, “Hey, I’m glad you’re here! We hope you feel welcome!”

But even beyond that, I invite you to ponder anew this week- In church, at home, in my everyday life, how am I reaching out to others, making neighbors feel welcome, offering the same hospitality our Lord’s already offered me?

Grace and Peace,
Read more!