Summary: To become a vibrant, fruitful, growing congregation requires a change of attitudes, practices, and values.
Romans 15:1-12 (the Message)
“Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Radical Hospitality” (Based largely on the book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by: Robert Shnase)
Rev. Ken Sauer
Grace United Methodist Church
9833 Hixson Pike
Soddy Daisy, TN
During a recent Bible study here at the church we were discussing how more and more young people are growing up without a church family, and how that is effecting the fabric of society as a whole.
We talked about, how, without being brought up in the church a child is being robbed of the opportunity to witness the love of Christ and have the building blocks which can be essential to making the decision to follow Christ later on in life.
When I was a kid my family went to church every single Sunday.
Even if I spent the night over at a friend’s house on Saturday night I was expected to come to church the next morning.
It was not an option.
I am so thankful that my parents were aware of how important it is to bring their children up in a loving Christian environment.
I can’t imagine life without Christ, or life without a knowledge of Christ and Christ’s love.
Yes, every Sunday my entire family would load into the station wagon and head off to Sunday school and worship...but it wasn’t always that way.
My dad, being a very busy and hard working father, used to use the Sunday school hour to have a little bit of time for himself.
So my mom would drive my sisters and I to Sunday school and my dad would join us later.
I am told that when I was about 5 years old I decided I didn’t want to go to Sunday school anymore: “Dad doesn’t go. Why should I?,” I exclaimed.
From that time on, my dad sacrificed his hour of “peace” in order to be a good example for his son.
He’s been attending Sunday school ever since.
I’d call that radical!
Today, more than at any other time in this country’s history, young people are growing up without the love and unconditional acceptance which is experienced in the Church of Jesus Christ.
Today too many children are growing up thinking that Jesus Christ is a curse word and nothing else!
So what are we, “who are strong and able in the faith” going to do about this?
In our Scripture Lesson for this morning Paul instructs us to “step in and lend a hand...and not just do what is most convenient for us...
...Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’
That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out.”
That’s what I’d like to call “Radical Hospitality!”
And vibrant, fruitful, growing Christian churches practice Radical Hospitality!
They do this out of a genuine love for Jesus Christ and for others.
Their members focus on the people outside of their congregation with as much gusto as they have for those who are on the inside, and they use their utmost creativity, energy, and resources to welcome the stranger, exceeding all expectations…no matter what the cost!!!
The words radical and hospitality are not usually linked together in one sentence.
But in the Christian Church, these two words should walk hand in hand.
Hospitality streams through Scripture.
In the Old Testament passage that Judy read from earlier in Deuteronomy, God reminds the people of Israel to welcome the stranger, the sojourner, the wanderer.
“For you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
We too, were once strangers to the faith, residing outside the kingdom of God.
We too were in the darkness, lost and lonely…without the hope of Christ.
We now belong to the Body of Christ because of someone else’s hospitality.
Someone invited us, received us, and helped us feel welcome—a parent, a spouse, a friend, a pastor, or even a stranger.
By someone’s love, we were engrafted onto the Body of Christ.
If we had not felt welcomed and supported in some way, we would not have stayed.
Jesus says, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me...Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine you did for me.”
Would we change our behaviors toward strangers if we lived as if we really believed this?
Taking Jesus seriously changes our behavior.
John Wesley and the early Methodists practiced hospitality in ways so radical in their day that many traditional church leaders found it offensive.
Wesley preached to thousands on roadsides and in open fields in order to reach coal miners, field laborers, factory workers, the underclass, and the poorest of the poor….
…people that the upper-crust had given up for lost…