“We ought to show hospitality to people so that we may work together for the truth”.  3 John 1.8

“It is hospitality that extends God’s church, God’s community, God’s front porch, into every life, no matter where they might be.” -Pastor Mark

This past Sunday we were challenged to put hospitality into practice. We would love to have you share ways that you are putting this into your every day life. This might be shown in small ways like buying a cup of coffee for the next person in the Starbuck’s line or letting someone go in front of you in the check-out lane. It could be displayed through the love and kindness you show to a friend who is struggling or helping someone in need in a meaningful way. We would love to build our community by sharing these opportunities.

Ways to share:

– Tell us by leaving a comment on this blog post.

-Tweet us @stlukeumclex.

-Like us on Facebook and share it on our wall.

– Post it to our blessings bulletin board in the Sanctuary lobby next Sunday.

If you missed the sermon, you can still participate! Read it below.

Sermon:  God’s  Front  Porch
Scripture:  I John 4:19
Date:  September 8, 2013

We are beginning today our series of sermons on Five Practices of Fruitful Living, based on the book and study The Five Practices Of Fruitful Congregations by Robert Schnase. We begin today by focusing on hospitality. And not just hospitality but radical hospitality.  Now there are a lot of scriptures dealing with hospitality but I have chosen to focus on this passage from 1 John and so if you are following along in your Bibles, turn there and we’ll get there in a moment.

Now that word radical is an interesting word to use, especially in relationship to hospitality. Often times radical is not used in a positive context. Bishop Robert Schnase in writing about radical hospitality says this:

By radical I don’t mean wild-eyed, out of control or in your face.  Radical means “drastically different from ordinary practice, outside the normal,” and so it provokes practices that exceed expectations, to go the second mile, that take welcoming the stranger to the max.

He goes on to say that the goal of hospitality is creating community and the goal of hospitality in the church is creating Christian community and that in today’s world true hospitality, true community is out of the norm and so any serious attempts to offer hospitality in today’s world might be considered radical. Phillip Gulley is a Quaker pastor who has written a book entitled Front Porch Tales in which he contends that one of the reasons for the decline of community is the demise of the front porch as a feature of American homes.  We have shifted to back porches and decks and do everything we can to shield those from our neighbors.  He writes:

Perhaps more things were resolved on America’s front porches than in any other place, and yet so few are used today.  When I was in fourth grade, I was a paper boy.  One of my customers was Mrs. Stanley.  She was a widow.  She’d watch for me to come down her street, and there’d be a  bottle of coke waiting for me. (I’d ask her how she was and) I’d drink while she talked.  That was our understanding — I drank and she talked. All she had back then in the way of community was a front porch rocker and her paper boys ear . . . I quit my paper route and moved on to the lucrative business of lawn mowing. (And I) didn’t see the widow Stanley for several years. Then we crossed paths at a church dinner.  She was spooning out mashed potatoes and looking radiant. Four years before she’d had to bribe the paper boy with a coke to have someone to talk with; now she had (found a church community and had) friends brimming over. Community is a beautiful thing.  It heals us and makes us better than we would otherwise be. I live in the city now.  My front porch is a concrete slab.  (But) community isn’t so much a locale as it is a state of mind.  You find it whenever folks ask how you’re doing because they care, and not because they’re getting paid to inquire.

Hospitality is all about building community, which more and more has become a radical proposition because authentic community is outside the norm in today’s culture. 

So the question is, where do each one of us fit in when it comes to this fruitful practice of radical hospitality?

First, radical hospitality begins when we understand that God loves us. If you are following in your Bibles turn to what John says in the fourth chapter of his first letter.  He writes about God’s hospitality through Jesus when he says simply:  “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). In other words, radical hospitality begins in the very heart of Jesus as He extends to each one of us His unconditional love. Paul Tillich was one of the great theologians of the 20th Century.  He wrote several books that have tormented seminary students for the last 50 years. In one of those books, Tillich writes that one of the first steps to a relationship with God is that we must “accept that we are accepted.” That before we can reach out to others with the hospitality of Christ, His love and grace and acceptance, that we must receive it for ourselves. Many of us struggle to feel the depth of Christ’s acceptance of us. And yet the whole testimony of the New Testament writers is that Jesus is ready to accept everyone where they are. It didn’t matter whether you dwelt in the palaces of men, or the Temple of God,  or begged by the gates of Jerusalem, Jesus offered His hospitality without condition. His invitation was the same to Nicodemus who held a place of prominence in Jewish society as it was to Peter the fisherman and Matthew the Tax Collector and the Blind Beggar who called out to him. Everyone can come. Everyone can follow. His love and grace is for all.  Even you. Even me. Tillich goes on to ask the question that makes it personal for each of us. “Do we know what it means to be struck by grace? We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace.”

In his book,  The Five Practices of Fruitful Living,  Robert Schnase writes:  The first movement toward the transformed life begins when we face the startling reality of God’s unconditional love for us.  The startling reality of God’s radical hospitality towards us.  When we have truly been the recipient of the radical hospitality of Jesus, then we can do nothing else but extend that same kind of hospitality to others. When we are struck by grace, when we accept that God accepts us unconditionally, then we will be overwhelmed by the love and grace and joy of Jesus and  we will desire nothing else  for others. And Tillich goes on to suggest that grace often strikes us at the most unexpected times – times when we are in pain, feeling restless, empty, alone, estranged,  disgusted, weak or even hostile – times when compulsions reign and darkness shadows – times when life seems to grind us down,  when we’re feeling empty. It often takes a radical hospitality to penetrate the ordinary practices of life, and strike us with the reality that what Jesus offers is drastically different from what the world has made us settle for. The radical hospitality of Jesus claims us and transforms us wherever we are. Schnase writes:  God’s love for us is not something we have to strive for, earn, work on, or fear.  It is freely given.  That is key;  that we are loved, first, finally and forever by God, a love so deep and profound and significant that God offers His Son to signify and solidify this love forever, so that we get it.  It is radical love offered to us through the radical hospitality of Jesus Christ. That’s the kind of love John had in mind when he wrote:  We love because He first loved us.

I believe that in every person there is that part of him or her that desires, that longs,  to be transformed by the radical love of Jesus. John Wesley called it prevenient grace, or grace that goes before preparing souls for Jesus’ love. I think that’s what Jesus means when He says to the Disciples, “my love, my peace, I give you” and then, watch this, “I do not give to you as the world gives.” The love of Christ is radical. It is transforming.  It is drastically different from that which the world offers. Radical hospitality offers the love of Christ, the opportunity to be transformed first to you and I, and then through you and I to all.

Several years ago I attended a workshop about transformational churches that was led by a pastor who had led his church, which was one of the fastest growing churches in the United Methodist church in a process of transformation from decline to explosive growth. As the workshop progressed He shared that one of the reasons for decline that they  identified was that the church was not doing anything in the way of outreach. They were only ministering to themselves – not doing anything to extend hospitality to new persons for Christ.  And so they began to require the church staff and leadership team to spend one day of their week hanging out in places that Christians would not normally frequent, encountering persons who would not normally  feel welcome in their church.  And then they would begin their weekly meetings reporting on their experiences and talking about how they could reach those persons they encountered for Jesus Christ. Well, one of the ministries they started as a result of those conversations was a Saturday Contemporary Worship service.  And the worship band from that service led the worship services that were a part of the workshop.  Now this was right at the beginning of the contemporary worship movement and most of us had not experienced the kind of music they played in the church. They did not just play the kind of praise songs that we sing, but they had taken secular songs and changed the lyrics enough to make the message Christian.  On the last night of the workshop they led us in worship.  The leader of the band was a dynamic young woman probably in her late twenties who had done a great job engaging all of us traditional Methodists in worship. And that night she led the group in a Christianized version of the Rolling Stones, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”. And when the song was finished the worship leader shared her testimony.

She told of a hard childhood in which she had been abused by her father and ignored by her mother. And she said that at a very young age she had run away from home and taken to the streets of Miami. She had fallen into prostitution by the age of 14 and gotten hooked on drugs and alcohol. But she had a beautiful singing voice and so she had taken up singing in bars for tip money in order to survive. She said by the age of 18 she was living on the streets, constantly high and drunk, singing in a dive and still working as a prostitute. She was completely without hope that her life could be anything different than it was and she had already tried to kill herself on several  occasions. She knew that it was only a matter of time before she would be successful. And then she said, one night a man walked into the bar where she was singing. It was obvious that he was not one of the usual patrons  of that place. And she said that after she finished singing,  he approached her. Now she said, it was not unusual for men to approach her, but what was unusual was what he said. He said,  “God has given you a wonderful gift with your voice. Sometime I’d like to talk to you about that.” And that’s all that he said. Well, she didn’t give it much thought. But then a few nights later, he was there again. And once again after she sang, he approached her. He again complimented her on her singing, and then he told her his name, and then he said, “I am the worship pastor at the Church a couple of blocks from here. We’re starting a contemporary worship service on Saturday nights and I would love to have you come and sing there sometime.” She said to him, “I doubt that your service is for someone like me.” But he replied,  “No, you’re exactly who the service is for. Please think about it. God loves you.” Well he kept coming back and inviting her to come and sing. And so finally, more to get him to leave her alone than anything, and a little out of curiosity,  she promised that she would come the next Saturday night and sing. “What should I sing?” she asked. “Anything that God puts on your heart” he said. And to her amazement, she did go the next Saturday, and she sang the song that the band had just sang, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, only without the Christian lyrics. And she said that she was overwhelmed by the love and hospitality of the others that were there. She said she recognized some of them from her time on the streets. And to her amazement the message that night was all about the satisfaction that Jesus offers.  She began to go every Saturday.  She would sing on occasion.  And after several months  she gave her life to Christ.  She worked to clean up her life, though she continued to sing in bars to make a living. And then one night the worship pastor showed up in the bar again and after she sang,  he came to her and said, “The leader of the Worship Band for the Saturday service is moving out of town and I would like for you to come and lead worship for us. God has given you a wonderful gift. Here’s your chance to give back to Him.”  Well she agreed to come on staff at the church full time,  but she said she still sings in the bars so she has a chance to share with persons who were where she was before she experienced the radical hospitality of Jesus in her life.  And she concluded her testimony with these words: “I would not be here today.  I believe that I would be dead because that’s where I was headed. And then that pastor showed up where I was and offered me,  of all people, me, the love of Christ. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever.” That’s radical hospitality.

It is hospitality that extends God’s church, God’s community,  God’s front porch,  into every life, no matter where they might be. “We love because He first loved us.”

You know, if we stop and think about it, most of us are here this morning, because there were persons who came to us where we were and offered us the hospitality, the love of Christ. We might not have been as lost as that young woman was, but we were certainly not where we needed to be. The hospitality of Christ invites us, compels us, to come into His family, His community,  and as His disciples hospitality becomes radical when it becomes not just what we are supposed to do, but rather becomes who we are. When everything we do and say invites persons into relationship with Christ. That’s when our lives  become fruitful. When the love of Christ becomes transformative in and through us.

And then, hospitality becomes radical when we understand that God loves and welcomes everyone as much as he loves and welcomes us. We need to accept that we are accepted and we need to accept that our neighbors are just as accepted as we are. Sometimes churches can get consumed by debating who we should be extending hospitality too.  On occasion, the disciples tried to limit who could approach Jesus, but he always rebuked them in those efforts.  Hospitality becomes radical when it is extended to everyone. Which means that everything that we do as disciples and as the church, as the community of God, should say to every person that they are welcome here. Come here and be accepted. Even when the world says you are not welcome, you are always welcome here. The church is where all can come and be “struck by grace.”

You know we live in a Teflon coated world. Nothing seems to really stick.  We move from the latest fad to the latest fad. Relationships often seem to slide into and out of our lives. Events seem to slide on by in short time. But people are looking for a place they can stick.  They are looking for a place to belong.  Radical hospitality offers a sticky faith in our teflon coated world. The radically hospitable person forms relationships that stick and offers a love that will not let go. “We love because He first loved us.” Jesus’ love never lets us go, and neither should our love for one another. And so when someone comes through the doors of God’s house, no matter what brings them here, we should be offering them a sticky love and faith. And that task does not simply fall to our greeters and ushers and those who run the welcome center. Sticky faith is the responsibility of every disciple. Hospitality becomes radical when every person who gathers here on Sunday morning or afternoon or Thursday night for worship offers the love of Christ to whoever comes. And hospitality becomes radical when every member of a Sunday School class, every volunteer in God’s pantry, every person who plays basketball or volleyball in the gym, everyone who sits down to a meal on Wednesday night, who sings in the choir, who cleans a toilet or fixes something that is broken,  understands that they are offering hospitality to whoever comes. Hospitality becomes radical when it is not just simply something we do, a ministry of the church, but rather becomes who the church is. Radical hospitality offers a sticky faith rather than a teflon coated one. Going out and inviting all persons into community with Christ no matter where they are and welcoming every stranger that comes seeking a relationship with Christ no matter where they’ve been. In the 25th Chapter of Matthew’s gospel we find Jesus story of the King who calls before him all the peoples of the world for judgement and separates them into sheep whom he places on his right hand and goats on his left. The sheep will be the ones who will be blessed and the goats will be condemned. And one of the reasons given that the sheep will be rewarded is radical hospitality. “Why us?”  they ask the King. And the King replies because “I was a stranger and you invited me in.”

When we practice radical hospitality our lives and Christ’s church will bear much fruit for God’s Kingdom.

And so, the first practice of fruitful discipleship, and fruitful churches, is hospitality – radical hospitality – hospitality that is dramatically different from what the world has to offer.  Hospitality that extends God’s front porch into the community and says all are welcome here.  Hospitality that transformed our life and  will transform lives and communities through us.  Hospitality through which people are struck by grace and come to accept that they are accepted no matter what. Radical Hospitality that becomes who we are as Disciples and who we are as the church of Jesus Christ.  “We love because He first loved us.”

If you are our guest here today, I hope you have felt our joy that you have come to be a part of this community.  And we hope that you’ll come back.  Please indulge me for a moment because I have something to share with those who have been around the church for awhile as I finish up here.  The church is God’s front porch and there are so many wonderful ministries here that extend His front porch and invite persons to join in community here.  We try to offer wonderful  worship experiences that touch as many segments of the community as possible – including our international brothers and sisters and young adults.  When I talk with guests, they almost always say that we are a warm and welcoming people.  The ministries of the church, the facilities, the people, witness to your hospitality.  And we continue to experience steady growth when many churches are in decline.  But here’s the thing.  With everything we’ve been given, everything we have going for us,  we ought to be exploding – bursting at the seams.  All five worship services ought to be filled to overflowing.  Sunday school classes should be packed and new classes starting.  There shouldn’t be enough space on this chancel area to hold the Praise Band and the choir. And the life center which is busy nearly every night should be packed with persons all of the time experiencing the radical hospitality of Jesus. And so why isn’t that happening?  It’s because we’re operating on less than 100% energy. By that I mean that about 20% of us are out there offering the hospitality of Jesus and the rest of us are simply coming to receive His hospitality.  Hospitality becomes truly radical, truly transforming, when all of us through what we do and say, inside and out of the church, are constantly inviting persons into community with Jesus. So how do we do that?  Well out in the foyer as you leave there will be some people to share with you ways that all of us can become the radical hospitality of God.

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