All Are Welcome

Way back in October, we did a church planning retreat. One of the things we did was check in on our values. Many of the faces have changed at Church in the Cliff over the last few years, so I wanted to make sure we were on the same page in what we care about before we started planning where we go from here. But we only spent a short time on that. It wasn’t a lot of discussion, mostly just naming things. So, for the next few weeks, I want to talk about little more deeply about those values and connect them to Scripture and theology. We began the series this week talking about hospitality.

When I first came to this about a decade ago, I heard Pastor Laura Fregin talk about hospitality as a core value, not just of the church, but of what it means to be Christian. That was not something I heard growing up in church. Then, it was about sin and judgment, but hospitality says “all are welcome.” The idea is so common in churches today that it has become a marketing slogan, best exemplified by a smiling greeter at the door. We want it to mean something more.

In Isaiah 25, we find that God is preparing a feast. The table that God sets if for all people. In the setup to Isaiah, all people are suffering. God promises to wipe away all tears, to destroy the shroud that hangs over us, to devour death forever. There are no conditions set. This is for all people.

Jesus lives out this vision in the Christian Testament; he will eat with anyone. Just as Isaiah’s God is a refuge for the impoverished, Jesus’ table is for everyone, especially those who have no table of their own, those who have been excluded. In Luke 14.15-24, Jesus tells the parable of the man who held a banquet and no one came. All his well-to-do peers had better things to do, so he swept the streets inviting anyone to come. He was determined to have a party, no matter who showed up!

This is the spirit in which St. Brigid imagines heaven as a lake of beer. We would all sit around it, the family of heaven, drinking cheerfully. She wishes barrels of peace and cellars of mercy. She wishes the poor to be gathered around from all parts.

Remember, “the poor” in theological language signifies a group of people who have been made poor. Something has happened to them; they have been marginalized by those at the top, those who have the resources to throw a lavish party. Poverty is not intrinsic to their being or caused by their own character flaws or poor choices. They have been left for dead. But God promises to devour that death. Jesus calls those people in from the streets. Tears are wiped away and they find new life. They have found a table and a home with God where they can be fully themselves, not hidden behind a burial shroud. It’s not just a bright smile and a firm handshake, a defense against the shadows, but seeing within those shadows to the whole person standing in front of us. Hospitality means taking seriously the hunger of another, whatever that hunger may be, and endeavoring to feed them. In doing so, all our lives get a little bit brighter, so we can celebrate fully who we are.

We will see over the next few weeks that hospitality is at the root of everything we do and at the heart of the Gospel. In the rest of this series, we are going to talk about sacred space, creativity, authenticity, and service. None of those things make sense, none of them work, if we can’t fully welcome one another to God’s table.

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