The reflections over the last three weeks have focused on what comes from within. The first week we reflected on the message from Jesus that everything that defiles comes from within. Evil cannot come from anything that comes from the outside. Rather it is our heart the leads us and if we allow it to be touched by evil then we risk acting in an evil way. Therefore we should always protect our heart.
Two weeks ago we reflected on another area led by the heart, judgment. We tend to filter our response to people based on how we might judge them. This judgment is influenced by past experience of others we may or may not have met, but judged. With every judgment we are deciding what filter to use when interacting with people. Jesus’ example is to take the deaf man aside to cure him and build a relationship. We should practice non-judgment so we can meet and get to know people before we think they are to sit at the lowest or highest seat. Always guard against judging the person standing in front of us.
Last week the reflection spoke about service, how we are called to serve and how serving from within is actually transformational. If we truly die to our self as Jesus requests speaking on serving one another than we are truly brought to the face of God and we grow and deepen our love. If we serve as Jesus calls us to serve we demonstrate our love for our brothers and sisters and we see the face of God. By serving from within we are changed from within and discover God’s presence in us more deeply.
The readings this week are from the Lectionary for Sunday the Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary time; we can infer a common thread reading them together: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; Ps 54: 3-4, 5, 6, 8; James 3:16-4:3 and Mark 9:30-37. Cast in the idea that the Christian is led by what comes from within, the heart drives our direction, defining who we are and what we do as a disciple. These readings challenge us to look at how we are to be radically hospitable and welcoming to one another.
The reading from Wisdom concerns wicked people challenging and persecuting a good person. They want to see what God will do to protect the good person if they treat that person unfairly. Those who don’t know God say if we condemn and shame him God will take care of him. Seeing the person being persecuted we can compare him to Jesus who received the same treatment. We learn God doesn’t come to Jesus’ rescue rather Jesus treats the evil doers kindly and with a hospitable heart.
In the reading from James we are told that the wise person is peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits and they cultivate peace. The reading speaks about how conflict, war, killing begin through our desire to want to possess, in our earning to receive. If we ask for things without keeping Christ in the center we will experience frustration and factions in our communities. This ceases to be love and does not cultivate an approach of welcome and hospitality. James gives us two approaches; a peaceable, hospitable approach which is the way of the wise and an approach of possessiveness that cultivates evil and not love, either of which we know can come from within.
In the message from Mark, Jesus again shares about his coming death and resurrection, declaring that the disciples don’t get it. The disciples are more concerned with their place, which of them is greatest. Jesus lets them know if they want to be first they will in fact be last. Then using a child as a reference he says if you receive a child then you are receiving Jesus himself and not only Jesus but the one who sent him. There is nothing special about the child, rather Jesus wants them (us) to receive everyone as if Jesus or his Father is the one being received. Our approach to welcome and hospitality must come from a heart of love, a heart that recognizes the image of God in every person we meet, treating them as if we are meeting God.Our approach to welcome and hospitality must come from a heart of love, a heart that recognizes the image of God in every person we meet, treating them as if we are meeting God. Click To Tweet
We can pull from these readings a common theme of having a heart that welcomes and is radically hospitable. We can discover how to be a person who looks to others through a lens that is love. God sees all people as his children. How we treat one of God’s children is important to God. Our duty as children of God ourselves is to treat others with love, but not just to love them but to have a heart full of love. To do this we must be radically welcoming and hospitable. How we greet someone, how we first meet someone usually lays a foundation of how they will remember us. More importantly they will see how they are greeted by Jesus. If our heart is filled with welcome and love than we are meeting others as the wise person who puts others first, as if we are meeting God. People will know they are welcome not only by us but by the one who sent us.No one has ever been more radically welcoming than Jesus, who was always accused of associating with the wrong kind of people Click To Tweet
No one has ever been more radically welcoming than Jesus, who was always accused of associating with the wrong kind of people. The people he associated with are probably not people we would invite to our homes. To be welcoming like Jesus we must view everyone as Jesus describes, like a child who is the image of God. To be hospitable like Christ we must seek out those who have nothing to give us, but are people who need something from us. In particular they need to know Jesus and the love of a community that finds Jesus at the heart. Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32) Jesus message is clear, we must look out for others, put others first and do whatever we can to make them feel welcome.
Richie, Radically Welcoming
I had a friend, Richie, we traveled together, hung out on weekends, we were good friend. He was a person who had special needs, he could live by himself but needed someone to come in and make sure he had food to eat (usually only microwave food) and other things were in order in the home. Near the end of his life Richie needed more care and supervision and moved into a group home.
He and I did many things together, usually going for a meal, or to church, he loved to go to church. We took trips together, one time going from Florida to Washington, DC. Other times we traveled together to attend an annual retreat. Richie turned out to be quite the life of any party, I was to discover. I was as surprised as anyone when I walked in a room and saw and heard him playing the drums. I met him late in life and he had his whole childhood and young adulthood before we met and I didn’t know anything about. He didn’t talk much about growing up, he was a guy who lived in the present. He was a fun man who loved to be with people and celebrate.
Richie had the most welcoming nature of anyone I have ever met. Before I go on I think it is important for the story to give a physical description of Richie. He was an overweight man, with his weight all in his belly, it stuck out quite far. As a youngster he should have had braces but Richie’s parents were in an age when doctors were telling families to have their child with special needs put in an institution and don’t worry about them again. His parents couldn’t push their son aside as was suggested, but for most of his life kept him home. He didn’t attend to the normal things like dentist, school, and sports. So when you saw Richie as an adult his teeth were running in many different directions and sticking out of his mouth. When he walked his arms swung as if they were doing it on their own, you would think they were on a swivel. He waddled when he walked, his arms would swing rather dramatically and as someone rather short he was recognizable just by his walk. None of this bothered Richie and in fact it all seems to make for the beautiful man that he was.
Needless to say when Richie entered a room, you could tell by looking that there was something a little different about him. And people did stare. Richie loved it. All the people looking at him made him feel special. As he approached a group or table in a restaurant, people looked and when they looked, he looked right back and gave them a huge smile. He greeted them as warmly as anyone could. Walking behind Richie you could see the faces change as he passed. Just his presence, and those simple words “how are you?” or “hello” had an effect on everyone he met. You could not encounter Richie without being instantly lifted. I believe this happened because Richie’s greeting came from his heart. He was not a man you would choose as a friend perhaps but he would show his heart in every greeting, he was genuine. His radical welcome came from within and he let you know he really was glad to meet you. I was amazed how we could go to a local dinner and recognizing he was responsible for completely transforming it into a happy, noisy place. All from his welcome. He really made a difference. He was able to walk around and provide a radical hospitality. All of which came from his loving heart that always revealed the true image of God.
Radical Hospitality from within
This hospitality that comes from within can’t be faked, and it can’t be superficial. We must meet people with our heart exposed and a greeting of mutuality. To be welcoming from within is not to be filtered, but to be real. It is to show an inner welcome and not a greeting with insecurity and fear. To be welcoming is not just something that happens at a threshold, it is an attitude, it is the constant openness of the heart. It is saying to people every moment, “come in”; it is giving them space, it is listening attentively.To be welcoming is not just something that happens at a threshold, it is an attitude, it is the constant openness of the heart. Click To Tweet
This openness and welcome will challenge us to go beyond our fears, to go beyond our judgments to enter into compassion and understanding. We need to welcome the marginal person, someone who has been alone, perhaps too much. We must welcome the sinner, the person who thinks of only themselves, the one who may have been hurt in their life and not know how to return trust. For these people a radical welcome can be healing. It can say to the person I want to trust you, I want to love you and so I am vulnerable for you. Revealing our heart is risky but our trust in it may be the only way to show who Jesus really is to the other person.
There are no easy answers when it comes to welcome, we must take a risk. Especially when we welcome the poor and the outcast. We cannot do it with fear in our heart. They will know we are not real and they will not feel welcomed. In the reading from Wisdom we know we will meet people who are wicked, who do not want our best, but Jesus example is to be hospitable. In James we are cautioned not to worry about protecting what we possess, rather be peaceable, gentle, and genuine and we will meet people with peace and love. In Mark Jesus tells us to greet like we are greeting a small child, trusting, and open and know we are meeting Jesus and Jesus’ father. Meeting God we must be open, we must reveal a heart of love, we must meet God from within. Then we will have a true meeting, where love is shared and our hearts are transformed as much as those we meet.Meeting God we must be open, we must reveal our heart of love, we must meet God from within. Click To Tweet
Where do we welcome?
Where do we welcome? Certainly at our churches. Everyone who comes must feel welcome. Many experts say that people decide if they will return to a church in the first ten minutes of their first visit. Returning depends on who welcomes them in the parking lot, who meets them at the door, how they are shown and led around your facility, how they are introduced to programs for their children, how they are shown to a seat and how they are greeted by those around them as they take those seats. Radical hospitality in your church requires everyone to succeed. Usually the service has not begun and you and your church have communicated to someone new whether they should feel welcome or not. How you welcome will determine if they return.
We should also welcome in the neighborhood and community. When you are out shopping or driving, behave as if all around you are children who are to be received like we would God. Wear your welcome on your sleeve, say hello in the grocery store, at the gas station, dinning, anyplace you encounter the stranger be child-like in your approach to welcome, be radical. You can transform a diner like my friend Richie, just with your smile and exposed heart.
Do you welcome people into your home? Let them know you are glad they are there and that they are very welcome. You don’t need to do anything unsafe, or that scares you, but if you meet people on behalf of Jesus you will know peace.
Yes, as followers of Jesus we are called to a radical hospitality. We are to be a meeting with God for the stranger. We are to be the one others see and realize they have encountered someone special. We are to be the one who lets them know God wants to welcome them with open arms. We will find when we are radical welcomers, our heart is changed. We encounter the stranger in a new way. We encounter everyone in a new way, as if we are meeting God. This is what we are told. If we are meeting others as if we are receiving God, then we too are being received by God. But to meet and be God our welcome must come from within and be radical!Yes, as followers of Jesus we are called to a radical hospitality. We are to be a meeting with God for the stranger. Click To Tweet