Summary: As much as the church is about serving one another, it's even moreso about serving the world in Christ's name! If we are really being hospitable and welcoming in the way that Christ teaches us to be, we would extend those acts we do for one another out in
Have you ever thought what the church would look like if we really, and I mean really, ministered the way Christ calls his followers to minister? You know, if we did things the way Christ did. It's possible we wouldn't even have church buildings! We would just be out in the world, preaching and teaching about the good news of God's justice and mercy, and the promise of God's coming kingdom! That's what Jesus did, isn't it?
So what exactly would it look like if the church really acted as the Body of Christ in the world? A few weeks ago at the Chattanooga District Conference, our new District Superintendent told of a colleague in ministry who made an observation that went something like this: "If the church was really being the church in the way that Christ calls us, we would never lock our doors. We might walk in and find homeless people sleeping on the pews and that would be 'OK.' We might discover that some of our Bibles or hymnals have gone missing, and that would be 'OK.'" The list could go on. And, unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that issues of safety these days prevent the church from working in such ways. But that doesn't mean that we should be any less hospitable. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't always be seeking radical ways to welcome the stranger, the sojourner, the least, the last, and the lost.
Our gospel reading from Matthew this morning invites us to explore in depth the quality of the welcome that we offer to one another within the Body of Christ, the church. But with it we must also reflect on the welcome we offer to those who are not yet a part of this body! As Jesus speaks to the disciples here, he is preparing to send them out to preach the message that "the kingdom of heaven is near." He is giving them authority to heal the sick, to raise the dead, and to drive out demons in his name. Christ knows that he is sending the disciples into a difficult situation, as they will surely face much opposition along the way. And so Christ urges others to be hospitable to those who come in his name. During times of persecution, hospitality was especially important, and could even be dangerous; think "harboring a criminal." So Jesus says to all who will hear that those who provide hospitality and show kindness to God's people will be greatly blessed!
So who are God's people? To whom, exactly, are we called to be hospitable? Obviously, this passage implores us to be welcoming to missionaries and those who carry the good news of Christ around the world. But Christ calls us also to serve the poor, the outcaste, the sick, the lost, the sinner. These are all people of God as well, these too are bearers of the Christian message, and they need our hospitality as much as any other!
Have you ever given much thought to what keeps you coming to this church? What is it that you love about this church? There are certainly many different factors that bring us into a certain church. But I think that when it comes to those things that keep us at a church, it boils down to the fact that this is the place where we experience the love of God in Christ Jesus in the most real and tangible ways. This is our family. They care for us when we are going through difficult times. We hold one another accountable when we are not living our lives in a way that is consistent with our Christian faith. We share with one another the love of Christ in the same way that we have experienced Christ's love ourselves. I think it's fair to say that we experience from one another genuine hospitality.
But just as much is the church is about serving one another, it's even moreso about serving the world in Christ's name! If we are really being hospitable and welcoming in the way that Christ teaches us to be, we would extend those acts we do for one another out into the world. We would build relationships with those we don't now know. We would serve our neighbors in the way we serve one another. As you sit here, I imagine that each of you could name people you know who are not attending any church this morning. And each of you could probably think of as many people who are not in church as there are here! That's hundreds of people WE know who are not a part of the Christian community!
More and more we find that people are drifting away from church; that young people are growing up without the love and unconditional acceptance which is experienced in the church of Christ. Children are raised thinking that "Jesus Christ" is a curse word and nothing else! So the question for us today is, as the faithful of Christ, how are we going to follow his example and serve those beyond these walls? Welcome others as we have been welcomed? 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. He waded right in and helped out! This too is genuine hospitality, and it is the kind of radical hospitality that Christian churches should practice!