Our emphasis for this morning sermon is on Radical Hospitality. Therefore, I believe the way to begin my sermon is by defining what the word “Radical” means. According to de Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “Radical” among others means: Extreme, very different from the usual or traditional. And it Also means favoring extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions.
The way Jesus and the Early Church practiced welcoming others is within the definition of Radical. We read Romans 15, let us listen again verse 7, it says: “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” This statement from Paul my sisters and brothers, was a radical statement for those times, because they used to welcome people according to their social status. Let us see some examples.
The Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15 describes the event when Jesus was invited to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee where the most distinguished guests were seated in the places of honor, and the least respected were seated in the lowest places. James also, in his letter in chapter 2, describes how a man wearing fine cloth and gold ring was offered a good seat, while the poor man was seated on the floor. Those were and still are the standards of the world. However, Jesus turned those standards upside down.
Matthew chapter 18 addresses to whom the Christian community is to focus its welcome in. According to Matthew, the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” and Jesus answered by taking a helpless child and saying, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven… And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” “Unless you change,” that expression gives us an idea of what answer they were expecting to hear. Maybe they were hoping to hear something like, “the powerful, the wealthy, persons of high status and accomplishments.” Never “those who become like a child.
To have an idea of how radical Jesus was when he asked them to be like a child, we must understand the value of a child in Jesus’ times. In his book “The Complete Guide to the Bible,” Stephen Miller gives us an idea, he says, “Children lived at the bottom of society’s barrel in most of the ancient Middle East. People today debate abortion. But in Bible times, parents had the right to do what the comedian Bill Cosby jokingly threatened his son, “I brought you into the world. I can take you out.” Stephen Miller also mentions an Egyptian letter from 1 BC found by archaeologists. This letter was written by a man named Hilarion to his wife who was pregnant. He wrote, “if you have the good luck to deliver another child if it is a boy, keep it. But if it is a girl, set it outside and let it die.”
That gives us a good idea of the value of children in those times. So, according to Jesus, the persons to whom the Christian community extends a welcome must include the very least and the humblest. Because in doing so, we don’t only welcome Christ, but we honor him too. So, welcome one another as Christ welcomes us, -as Paul asked the church in Rome- and embracing the least; those who have no rights are the standards of hospitality for Christ Church.
Leaders in the early church believed that these standards of hospitality reflected what Jesus did and what Jesus continued to do among his people and in the world. Paul, following Jesus example in 1 Corinthians 11, rebuked the church of Corinth because, at their gatherings, some people went hungry while others indulged themselves. Again, this was radical. Why was radical? Listen to verse 22, “Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?” Paul tells the rich -who possible were the masters of the slaves within the church- to wait, and not go ahead, so they could all eat together with the poor and the slaves. Maybe their slaves. What Paul meant to say was: at Jesus’ table, we are all equal. Equality in those times was radical.
What makes our hospitality “radical”? The extent the church is willing to go to welcome and engage people of every condition into the community of Jesus Christ without favoritism. Hospitality becomes “radical” when we realize that it is not about our comfort; instead, it is about Jesus’ commandment to make disciples.
Hospitality becomes “radical” when we realize that it is not about our comfort; rather, it is about the sensitivity and commitment we have towards those outside our congregation.
For many Christians, hospitality and welcoming others is typically say, “hello, welcome” or shake hands, maybe a hug or saying, “how are you?” Yet hospitality is more than that. Hospitality in the Bible always included a meal, a place to stay, and security for travelers. That is what the story of the Good Samaritan was about, someone who practiced deep and radical hospitality to a stranger.
In His book “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations,” -I will be mentioning this book during the next four Sundays- Bishop Robert Schnase says, “To become a vibrant, fruitful, growing congregation requires a change of attitude, practices, and values. Good intentions are not enough. Too many churches want more young people, as long as they act as old people, more newcomers, as long as they act as old-timers, more children, as long as they are quiet as adults, more ethnic families, as long as they act like the majority in the congregation.”
Schnase also says: “Church leaders cannot keep doing things the way they have always done them.”
I will end my sermon with another radical story from the gospels. I will use Mark’s version. In chapter 5, Mark says, “They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills, he would cry out and cut himself with stones.”
There is no need to say that all “normal” persons avoid passing by the area where this man lived. But, not Jesus, He came and had a transforming, healing, and liberating conversation with Him. Jesus dared to do a radical act, He did what others were afraid to do. When this man was healed he tried to go with Jesus; Jesus told him, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”
Now, listen to Mark 7:31-32, “Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There, some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.” Listen to Matthew’s version in chapter 15:29-30, “Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them.”
Both gospels talk about people who already knew about Jesus. Did they hear the message from the man Jesus liberated? Were these great crows Matthew mentions the fruit of Jesus’ radical approach to the demon-posed? Provably.
My sisters and brothers, we have a great challenge before us: if we want changes, we must change. Changes are good, changes are necessary. John 21:4-6, “Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.”
If you believe that we have been casting out net without catching any fish, it is time to cast our net on the other side.