Hi friends! Since the Year of Mark is over, we are taking a few weeks to talk about hospitality before we kick off the fall with a new sermon series. I’m not sure where we will go next – the Year of Mark was compelling because of the continual narrative, which we all really liked. We’ll see! I’m still trying to think through some stuff. To be continued!
We kicked off our summer sermon series on hospitality with a very hot and humid day and worship in the air conditioned Fellowship Hall! It was definitely a wonderful alternative and a nice example of how sometimes you have to adjust your plans if circumstances change! The topic was, why is the important anyway?
Rehoboth Congregational Church
July 21, 2019
Why Is It Important To Talk About Hospitality?
When I looked at the forecast this week and saw that the temperature was supposed to hit 98° degrees on the same Sunday we were scheduled to start a sermon series on hospitality, I decided the most hospitable thing we could possibly do would be to move worship into Fellowship Hall. I figured whatever point I might have tried to make in the sanctuary likely would have been lost as we sat sweltering, 25 feet from a room with functioning air conditioning, just because we are used to worshiping in a specific location.
And so this might be the first lesson that we all learn during this sermon series: Hospitality means that sometimes we might have to change our plans and do things a little bit differently if the circumstances change.
And that is okay. God is still with us even though we are sitting on folding chairs instead of old pews.
A few months ago, every single member of the Executive Board looked at me as if I had lost my mind when I was ten minutes into my defense on why I thought we needed better-smelling hand soap in the bathrooms.
“This is a hospitality issue!” I said as I vigorously shook my finger at the table of people sitting around me. “We do not want people to remember us by how badly their hands smell after they wash them here.”
Admittedly, it was not one of my finer moments in ministry.
However, I have had some time to reflect on my soap-ocalypse of 2019 and what I have come to realize is that my escalating opinion about soap scents really was not just about the soap – it was about the experience I wanted people to have when they walked through our doors.
Last fall, my entire family spent a week at Disney. And what always amazes me about Disney is the way that no detail is left unturned. For example – our first full day there, we went to Animal Kingdom. Bruce and I spent a lot of time in Dino-Land that day, because there was a lot of stuff for little kids to do and it was perfect for Harrison. I had never been in this particular part of the park before, so I was looking around and I remember my gaze fell to the ground at one point and I realized that when they build this part of the park they intentionally molded tire tracks into the sidewalk to make it look like there were these big excavating trucks driving around digging up the roads.
No detail left unturned.
When I returned to Rehoboth I started noticing things more and thinking about the ways that we could be more attentive to the details that surround us as we gather every week. And I realize we do not have the budget or the bandwidth to do what Disney does, but I also think there is a reason that millions of people visit their parks every year; it is about an experience.
And I think there is an important lesson in this for us. Because we have a really important story to share with the world, right? But we need to think carefully about how we tell the story so that people feel compelled to listen. We need to pay attention to the details. We have to create an experience; an experience that touches people as they walk through our doors and enables them to connect with God and strengthen their faith.
This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Letter to the Romans.
Now – we are officially done with the Year of Mark, which means that, for the next six weeks, anyway, as we work through a topical sermon series, we are not going to be looking at a linear story or piece of writing, we are going to be jumping around the bible a little bit. But context is still important, right? So before we get into the passage we just heard, let’s first let’s talk about Romans.
If you start at the beginning of the New Testament, the first four books are the Gospels, which are the narratives of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The next section of books are called, epistles, which are letters; letters written to churches and communities that were later canonized as part of scripture. Many of these letters were written by the Apostle Paul and they were arranged in order of length – from longest to shortest. The letter to the Romans is the longest of the epistles, so it is the first in this section.
Paul wrote this letter to the church in Rome, however this was not actually a church that Paul, himself, established, so he really did not know the people he was writing to on a personal level. But he wrote this letter addressing rumors of tensions between the Christian Gentiles and the returning Christian Jews – tensions about how to interpret the Gospel and now live out this mission in community with others.
This is actually a reoccurring theme in a lot of Paul’s letters – on the one hand, you have Christian Jews were raised with rules and traditions who now believe in the promise and hope of resurrection and redemption in Jesus Christ, but who also believe you still have to follow the old rules and traditions. On the other hand, you have this community of new believers, who are drinking up as much of the Gospel as they can and do not understand why they also have to follow the structure of this old religion that they do not claim as their own.
And so the reason I chose this particular passage to kick off our six weeks of talking about hospitality is because, in the midst of conflict between two different groups of people, Paul did not take sides or try to bring everyone to one opinion; instead, Paul called the Roman people to simply welcome one another as they built this community together.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
I realize it might be a stretch to say that my newfound soap obsession is for the glory of God, but think about it for a second – we want to put our best face forward. We want people to walk through our doors and see the pride we have for our community and our space. We want people to know that we love this church so much that we do not leave an detail unturned. We want it to look like we believe this story is still worth telling – and still telling well. We want people to feel like this is home, like there is a place for them here. We want to create a space where we can, like Paul told the Romans, build one another up.
And this we do for the glory of God.
We are coming off of the Year of Mark, which means we know what it means for Christ to welcome us. We saw Jesus put the needs of others before the needs of himself; we saw him feed people who were hungry, heal people who were sick and welcome all people into his ministry.
Paul said that mimicking this welcome with one another is one of the foundational pieces of what it means to be in community as the Body of Christ. This is how we transcend differences and find unity. This is how we build churches that not only thrive, but change people’s lives. This is how we share the Gospel and invite others into the narrative of Jesus.
Paul never held back in his letters and, while this is certainly one of the things that often challenges me about Paul, it is also one of the things that I admire and respect about him, as well. Because he was unapologetic about who he was and the story that he was telling. At the end of this passage he told the Roman people that he was writing “rather boldly by way of reminder … to be a minister of Christ Jesus.”
We should all be so bold.
We should all be so bold in how we tell this story, how we welcome people into our space and how we work together as a community, for the glory of God.
I think the details matter. I think paying attention to the details is a testament to just how important you think something is. And so while people still may think I am off my rocker when it comes to the soap thing, I think we can all agree that, as a church, we need to be bold in how we welcome others.
I think we need to be bold in how we welcome one another and bold in how we welcome people who walk through our doors for the very first time. I am talking about everything from the soap in the bathrooms to the bulletins people are handed before worship. I am talking about the name tags we wear to the coffee they drink. I am talking about what people see, hear, taste and smell when they are here and also what people feel when they are here.
This summer we are going to talk about hospitality. We are going to talk about why it is so important, celebrate what we are already doing and then think about how we can be better. We are going to try to practice what we preach throughout the summer and then (hopefully!) kick off the new program year with a renewed vision and focus in the fall.
So may we all welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed us, for the glory of God.
Thanks be to God!
Romans 15:7, NRSV