Hold the Door Open

In the Spirit of Pentecost, I continue to consider what it could mean for the Church of all Christian varieties & denominations to be radically inclusive. The story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is multi-faceted, but includes an act of hospitality- the Spirit empowering the gathered believers to speak in many languages & show hospitality toward other people who had not yet accepted the New Covenant of Jesus’ redemptive work in order to offer inclusion in the work of God.  “Inclusive” has become a buzzword, especially among progressive Christians, and is typically code for GLBT inclusion. When I write on inclusion I intend to include GLBT persons, but I also intend to include… well… everyone.


There are many overarching and significant themes throughout Scripture including Covenant & Hospitality. God is the initiator and center of both. As Abraham discovered in mystery, 3 visitors he received in hospitality. 3 visitors he was blessed by, in hospitality [Genesis 18]. The same imperfect Abraham who grew impatient with God’s promise & took matters into his own hands, fathering a child by Hagar [Genesis 16], and the same Abraham who put Sarah at risk by introducing her as his sister [Genesis 20]. Abraham, whose name literally means exalted father or father of multitude, is affectionately called Father Abraham and is listed as a hero of faith in Hebrews 11. Even in his messy life that at times resembles an episode of Jerry Springer, Abraham is called upon and opens himself to God through Covenant [Genesis 17], and Hospitality. What if Abraham had closed the tent door on Hospitality, or closed the door of his mind to God- that God was actually speaking to him?


The Bible’s stories are collections of imperfect people who don’t get faith or Covenant or obedience or love right, at least the first time. The Bible’s stories are also collections of God giving 2nd, 12th, and 7777777th chances. These stories are to show God’s grace, and to inspire future generations, including you and me, to be faithful to Covenant even with our mistakes and imperfections. You don’t have to be perfect or have your spiritual and otherwise act together to join Covenant or to be hospitable.


God is the perfect giver of hospitality, especially through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Hospitality is a choice, & God chose a certain time and place for Jesus to be born, live, die, and be resurrected. Hospitality begins with specificity- I will invite these people to my home at this time. Hospitality follows with action- I will serve this meal on that tablecloth. Hospitality does not demand a reciprocal invitation, though one can be desired. Whether or not a similar invitation is returned to me, I will have these people to my home at this time serving this meal on that tablecloth.


Each time Christians serve and receive Eucharist Communion, we remind ourselves and everyone present of Jesus’ humility and hospitality by breaking bread that symbolizes Jesus’ sacrifice, and Spirit’s mysterious presence in the Church. If you are of a Christian tradition that interprets the Eucharistic elements as Jesus’ presence, how much more then should you share Eucharist with any who sincerely come to The Table? Is not sharing Eucharist withholding Jesus? We do not break ordinary bread, we break consecrated bread. We do not break bread alone, but together. Hospitality and Covenant by definition include someone other than myself. Hospitality and Covenant in the Church means including someone other than people like myself.


Sometimes progressive Christians pride themselves in their tolerance or open minded-ness. However, there seems to be a significant intolerable group- anyone more conservative than themselves. Sometimes congregations truly believe that their church is open to anyone simply because they repeatedly say so or even have on their website that all are welcome. A truly genuine sense of welcome may not be the case if everyone in the congregation is amazingly similar to each other in age, race, education, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, etc. Hospitality and inclusion are not just about being nice. More importantly, a larger view of Christianity beyond my particular comfortable group is practice for Heavenly worship- every tribe & tongue.


I am not suggesting rounding up only people different than ourselves to be pet projects, or out of aggressive evangelism, or evidence of shared Covenant and Hospitality. Instead, reconsider your own biases. Who are you ‘comfortable’ around & why? Who is in your church and/or denomination & why?


As one of my favorite authors says, you know you have made God in your own image, when God hates all the same people you do.


Those outside of Christianity will know that we are Christians by our love. Sometimes love requires saying ‘no’ and being firm about particular boundaries core to orthodox faith, but too often ‘no’ is a quick answer to a person, or group, or idea that we do not understand. Too often unnecessarily tall walls are built around the impenetrable citadel of the congregation or Church in order to avoid change, keeping ‘these’ people in, or keeping ‘those’ people out. So-called protection is actually fear in action.


One of the highest forms of foolish pride is attempting to protect something that God already has under control. If Jesus is the head of the Church, all are ultimately under Jesus’ authority. “Protection” cannot be used as an excuse for excluding people. Christians today must not be guilty like the Disciples shooing away children from Jesus.


“When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” [Mark 10:14-16]


In the end, I would rather receive Divine judgment for being too inclusive and hospitable rather than cutting off people who desire Christian community. It is a serious evil to put myself in the way of someone growing in faith and understanding- greater than for me not to ‘protect’ an institution or idea of Christianity. As a minister, I am to guide and protect, but not in the form of excluding anyone who knocks on the Door.  


Far be it from me to close the door on someone, whether similar to me, extraordinarily different from me, or somewhere in-between. If God can open the door to Covenant & Hospitality, so can I. If Jesus Himself can reach out to all sorts of people outside of His group [Samaritans, tax collectors, sinful women, etc.], then so can I. To be Christian, a word meaning “little Christ”, means desiring to be like Christ, Christ Jr., in word and deed- including hospitality. Poco a poco; paso a paso. Little by little; step by step.


“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” [Philippians 2:5-11]