“Radical Hospitality” Oct. 30, 2022
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4/ 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
A few years ago in 2009, I had the privilege to attend The Congress on Evangelism in Nashville, TN. The event was held at the fabulous Gaylord Hotel, and it was all I could do to keep from looking like the country hick that I was by staring at….well, everything. Anyway, it was a 3 day event with some great speakers like Bishop Schnase from the Missouri Conference and Mike Slaughter. There was a 3 part lecture from a prominent theologian from north Ireland which I promised myself I would suffer through – and I did, mostly, I think, because he had such a delightful Irish accent. But one of the speakers made a particular impression on me. He was a black preacher by the name of Rev. Tyrone Gordon that had revitalized the St. Luke’s Community United Methodist Church in Dallas, TX. In his speech, he talked at length about the key components of his success. He described how he went door to door evangelizing to the folks who lived close by, then as the church grew, he went farther. It was a black church – there was no question about it – and like many black churches, the music was lively, the preaching was full of fire, and folks left revived and full of the Lord. Word got out to the greater community, as you would expect, and before long some white folks started showing up. They liked it so much that they started telling their friends and before you knew it they were a presence in the congregation. Rev. Gordon then told the story of an Admin Council meeting that I’ll never forget. Business was going along like normal until they came to the agenda item of new business and he could sense that something wasn’t right. And so, after considerable hemming and hawing and shuffling of feet, one of the members finally blurted it out, “Pastor, we been getting white folks in our church.” Well, you can about imagine how the rest of his speech went. Rev. Gordon proceeded to explain a few things about the idea of “our church” and by the time he was done, his leadership team had a whole new set of ideas on what it means to be the church; to be the body of Christ.
And it all starts with Jesus. Who does he welcome into his church? Everyone, right? And how does he welcome everyone into his church? With love? Absolutely. With open arms? You bet. With forgiveness? O, yeah. Take Zacchaeus, for example. He was a short man even by biblical standards. Frederick Buechner describes Zacchaeus as, “a sawed-off little social disaster with a big bank account and a crooked job, but Jesus welcomes him aboard anyway.” You see, this sawed off little social disaster was a tax collector. I suppose the modern day equivalent of a tax collector might be a drug dealer. But he was also the head tax collector, the one in charge of all the other drug dealers in town. So the question is, “Why did Jesus open up to this guy? What did Jesus see in him that we don’t?” Now, in all fairness, we need to keep in mind that Jesus can read our hearts. I mean, Zacchaeus wasn’t holding a sign in the tree that said “I (heart) Jesus.”
All that Luke tells us is that this very short, very rich tax man was curious. (vs 3) And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.
He was seeking to see who Jesus was. For whatever reason, this little short man that everyone despised was seeking to see who Jesus was, and Jesus shows us the way to respond to folks who seek him. He not only acknowledges this little guy up in a tree, but he invites himself to Zacchaeus’s home. It’s radical, it’s unheard of, and it’s life changing.
Bishop Robert Schnase, who spoke at the Congress on Evangelism, wrote a book that we had adopted as a congregational group study, if you could call it that. The book was called, “5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations.” In it, he listed five practices that every congregation needs if they want to be…well, “Fruitful.” Bishop Schase lists these 5 practices as Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity. The Radical Hospitality practice came to mind when I read of how Jesus greeted Zacchaeus. It was a little bizarre if you think about it. He didn’t greet him with “Hey, how ya doing?” or even “Peace be with you.” No, (vs. 5) When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once, I must stay in your home today.” Wow… now that breaks all the rules. First, he orders this wealthy man down out of a tree and then orders him to take him into his home. It’s brash, it’s risky, it’s radical. But depending on the translation you read, either Zacchaeus promises to give back all he has stolen, or claims that he has already made amends. (vs. 8) Look, Lord, I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much.” Either way, this crazy and extremely honest expression of love caused a “sawed-off little social disaster” to have a change of heart. It’s over the top, but it’s powerful because radical hospitality not only encourages repentance, but it gives us the courage to repent; to seek a new life, a new way of doing things. It gives us the courage to seek Christ. Radical hospitality leads us to stop nibbling and to go for the whole meal. But most of all, radical hospitality is a living breathing example to the world that Christ is alive and lives within us and amongst us. He is here. He is now.
The church, as the body of Christ, can be a powerful force for good in this world. Sure, we get involved in a church for the fellowship of believers. We come to church to find meaning, to find hope, to find peace. But we also join the church because we believe that a combined body of believers can do wondrous things. It’s a radical idea, but when we worship Jesus Christ, radical ideas become our bread and butter. (vs 3) And he was seeking to see who Jesus was. In our world, there are many who seek him. Let it be our prayer that those who seek to see who Jesus is will find him in us.
Amen & Shalom