Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sunday Sermon-January 20, 2008

“Hospitality. Enough Said.”
John 1:29-42
January 20, 2007
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

In the business world, what makes a company good or bad, what makes it thrive or fold up, is how good its service is.

Several years ago, I was in need of a new car. My 1992 Chevy Corsica was on it's last legs and I needed something soon. On the advice of a friend, I drove down one snowy afternoon with a friend to Northfield to look at cars. We stopped first at a GM dealer and looked around. What was interesting was that no one came out to say hello. Usually in car dealers, someone is there before you even have a chance to look. But the sales staff kept away. Then I went to a Ford dealership nearby and found a car that I like. We went in to start doing the numbers and see if I qualified for a loan. Since I was in school and working part time, I didn't qualify for a loan on my own. Not a problem, I thought, since I had never bought a car before and because I knew that my Dad would co-sign the loan. But I remember that the finance guy was worried. I have no idea why, but he was. I decided to put down a deposit and started writing out the check. At that point, our timid finance guy said the most stupid remark ever. “Will the check bounce?”

I was taken a back. I mean, why in the world would I drive 40 miles in a snowstorm, in a car with bad breaks, no less, to write up a bad check? I thought his statement was a bit bigoted. Looking back, if I had my wits, I would have stopped writing the check and left immediately. But I was thinking clearly so I did write the check. That did not bounce, I might add.

The thing about the experience, was that I did not feel any sense of hospitality. I didn't feel like I was welcomed at either dealership and made to feel like common criminal instead of someone who was going to fork over some money their way. It made me not ever want to consider buying a car in Northfield again.

We may not think that hospitality is something that churches should be concerned about, but in reality it is something we might want to start taking seriously. The fact is, bad “service” in a church has negative effects on the church as a whole. In a book called “unChristian” by David Kinnaman of the Barna Group (which does religious research) found at that a large majority of young people aged 16-29 view Christianity with in his words, “resentment, hostility and disdain.”

Here are some the findings about how this group views Christians. 91 percent view the church as anti-homosexual. 87 percent view Christians as judgemental and roughly an equal number view Christians as hypocritical. 70 percent thinks the church is insensitive to others.

None of these numbers are good. In fact, they are horrible.

The gospel has Jesus encountering John his cousin and some of John's disciples. John greets Jesus as the lamb that takes the sins of the world. Two of John's disciples were so intrigued that they came up to Jesus wanting to know more. Jesus responds by saying, “what do you need?” When they answer, he responds, “come and see.” They do and end up staying the whole day talking to Jesus. This propels them to share what they have witness with others who then have an encounter with Jesus.

If you want to know about hospitality and how important it is, look to Jesus. Jesus welcomes these people who have interest in him. He welcomes their questions and his actions have an impact on their lives. Now, they truly knew Jesus was the lamb of God, not because John had told them, but because they had seen for themselves.

Jesus had this knack of welcoming people. He welcomed the Pharaisee Nicodemus who had questions to ask, the woman at the well who was a woman with a shady reputation, and many others. In every case, his hospitality brought these people to truly encounter Jesus. It was the actions of Jesus, not words about him, that made the difference.

Lake Harriet is at an interesting juncture in its life. We are deciding our next steps and what this church will look like down the road. I sadly can't join you this afternoon as you start part two of this process, but I do want to leave you with this message: how hospitable are we? Do we welcome those who might be different from us? Do we welcome those of different races, ethinic groups and sexual orientations? Can we provide ways to actively live that out in our own lives, but also as a community?

This question is just as important as the congregation's financial health or choosing a new pastor. I would say it is even more so. The fact is, many in my generation and the generation behind me, think the church is full of hateful, bigots. Now I know that isn't true, but there are many who have bad experiences and that has colored their whole lives. The only way that can change is by having a group of people who can prove to people that their negative perception isn't all true. That means creating and maintaining communities of inclusion and hospitality that are truly living this gospel out as Jesus did.

During my time with Community of Grace, I was amazed out how many people had a negative perception of Christians. Some people had been treated harshly because of their sexual orientation. But there were other reasons people stayed away from church; a manipulative pastor, a cold congregation and so on. I realized that the church has a big job on their hands: trying to change the perception of a group that is supposed to be about love.

A few years ago, my partner Daniel was looking for a new car. We stopped at a Toyota dealership here in the Cities and met a nice older woman named Nancy. She showed us the car we were interested in and was all around a helpful person. She was well aware that we were a couple and wasn't scared away. What was amazing is that she shared a part of her life with us. She told us of her children and what they were involved in. I was impressed by the experience, and when my friend Erik was looking for a car, sent him her way. He ended up buying a car from her.

When people met Jesus, they wanted to tell others. We who are called the followers of Jesus, encounter people who will not know Jesus unless we are Christ to them. Get this wrong and we lose more than a potential member; we end up becoming an obstacle.

When people darken the doors of this faith community or your own home, they are looking for something. What will our answer be? Will we be like Christ and say, “Come and See,” or will we tell them to get lost?

Hospitality isn't just about manners; it's about the gospel itself. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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