Radical Hospitality by Heather Vais
Rev. Heather J. Vais is the minister of Thornhill Presbyterian Church in Ontario.
I have seen many churches struggle to discover their mission. Once they find it, they inscribe it on letterhead and bulletins; write it on banners and share it with all who enter their doors. I’m not trying to belittle that exercise, but sometimes I think we look so hard for something which is right there in front of us.
To my mind, our mission is clear. It is laid out to us in a sermon. It was our Lord’s last sermon he preached before his arrest, trial and crucifixion. Jesus was on the Mount of Olives with his disciples and he was giving them final words of teaching. These would be Jesus’ last words of teaching before his death. His message is less like a parable and more like a prophecy from the book of Revelation: “When the son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.” This is more than “a certain man went out into his fields…” These words are sit up in your seat and listen words. Jesus makes his message clear. When the King sits before all of humanity he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. And to those on his right hand he will say: “Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance”. And then explains:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
The late Rev. Dr. Art Van Seters, past principal of Knox College in Toronto, comments on this passage this way: “At the last judgment, what is the absolutely most important thing of all? Is it making a right confession of faith? Is it belonging to the right community? Is it having standing in the community?…No, it’s hospitality!”(Sermon: Surprised by Generosity preached at Thornhill Presbyterian Church, Thornhill ON) Imagine! The most important thing of all is hospitality!
We usually think of hospitality in social terms; you know, having someone in for a meal or serving coffee at church. But Kingdom Hospitality is different; it is radical hospitality. It’s the kind of hospitality that reaches out and serves the outcast and stranger. Radical Hospitality grows out of a realization that all people are created in the image and likeness of God; that we all have worth. When Jesus tells this story about hospitality, he is trying to help his followers see what the Kingdom of God will look like. He describes what it is his followers need to do and be in order to live the Gospel out as true disciples. So he summarizes what is important and punctuates it all with the statement: “In as much as you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me”. In other words the disciples were being told “when I am no longer with you … after the crucifixion and the resurrection and the ascension, when I am physically no longer with you, I will be seen in those who are the least in society. I will be seen in the stranger who comes to you. I will be seen in the lost, in the sick, in the outcast; in the needy. I will be there”.
That is why, in the second chapter of Acts, as the church was having its birth the early believers shared everything in common and welcomed the stranger. They were not concerned about themselves. They weren’t concerned about protecting their assets. They gave freely according to every person’s need.
That is what happens when we truly grasp the implications of the love of God poured out on the cross. When the spirit of true hospitality finds its place in our lives then our mission finds its life and its meaning. True Christian mission is seen in radical hospitality.