September 1, 2019
1 Corinthians 11:2, 17-26, 33
I commend you because you remember all my instructions, and hold on to the traditions just as I handed them on to you. But in the following instructions, I can’t praise you, because when you meet together, it does more harm than good. First of all, when you meet together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. The best that can be said for it is that the testing process will make it clear who is genuine.
When you get together, it isn’t really to eat the Lord’s supper. Instead, when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own private meal. One person goes hungry while another is drunk! Seriously, don’t you have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and humiliate those who have nothing? What can I say to you? Should I commend you for this? No, for this I don’t praise you.
For I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: that on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, and after giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is broken for you; do this to remember me.” After they had eaten, he did the same thing with the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.”
Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. So, my brothers and sisters, when you come together at the Lord’s table, wait for one other.
* * * * *
I don’t know whether I’m more appalled or relieved by this passage from scripture. On the one hand, it’s like, really? Even the early Christians were like this? Being selfish, putting their own needs first, missing the whole point of coming together… On the other hand I think, well, there’s some comfort that it’s always been this way. Always.
Not that I think our church is really this way. I think we do pretty well at looking out for each other. But as we finish our series on Radical Hospitality, I think it’s worth diving deeper to see what helps – and hurts – our ability to practice what Christ invites us to enjoy – which is a deep connection with him, and with each other. How can we do this better? How can we keep our eye on the prize of this amazing spiritual depth and connection Christ is offering us – and how do we offer that to others? What might Radical Hospitality look like here, for us?
Let’s start with what helps...
A friend of mine works in the hospitality industry, and in the newsletter this week I shared a list of ‘Hospitality Ground Rules’ he gives his staff. It’s a list of ten expectations – ten commitments – to make if you want to offer effective, consistent hospitality. These are the things to commit to:
1. I will treat everyone with courteous respect.
2. I will maintain high levels of professionalism.
3. I will embrace and value our differences.
4. I will make you feel important.
5. I will pay attention to details.
6. I will greet you warmly by name and with a smile.
7. I will strive to anticipate your needs and act accordingly.
8. I will ask, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
9. I will hold myself and others accountable.
10. I will listen and respond enthusiastically in a timely manner.
Can you imagine if the Corinthians had been doing all that instead of just looking out for themselves?
At the core of Radical Hospitality is the basic assumption that we are the ones offering hospitality. We are the hosts, not the guests. So when we come together it’s not with the expectation of being served, but of serving. It’s not all about me. We can’t come together with a sense of entitlement, or else we’ll all be going down.
Or at least, we need the right kind of entitlement. Let me say more about what I mean.
I recently read a scathing indictment of the attitude of entitlement of some churches. It was an opinion piece written for Baptist News; not something I usually read, but a friend posted it on Facebook, and the title caught my attention:
“Entitled Millennials aren’t killing the American Church; entitled churches are.”
The author, Eric Minton, describes himself as “one of the few real, live Millinnials actively participating in Church life without getting paid to be there.”[i]
His beef is with the bad rap Millennials get about being entitled, that they’re being written off as the “Me Me Me Generation,” and that they’re being blamed for the demise of the church because they’re not ‘committed’ enough.
But what really turned my head was his understanding of what “Entitlement” means. Because in his view, we’re all entitled. That’s right – we’re all entitled.
Here’s what I mean. As a psychotherapist rooted in a school of family therapy known as New Contextual Family Therapy, I was taught that all humans – regardless of cellular makeup, nationality or socio-economic status – aren’t just entitled to food, shelter and water, but also to what the fathers and mothers of this movement refer to as “love” and “trustworthiness.”
And, here’s the kicker: These psychiatrists and therapists even go so far as to say, unequivocally, that parents are to work to ensure the delivery of these two entitlements without expectation for repayment.
Children don’t choose to come into the world; they’re brought in kicking and screaming – quite literally! What their parents owe them is love and trustworthiness. And there is no repayment. There’s only paying it forward.
What happens when children don’t receive those two things, is that something called “destructive entitlement” sets in. When children grow up not getting the love and trustworthiness they need, these children grow up looking for it from other places. Like from their own children. These parents, Minton says,
instead of giving love and trustworthiness sacrificially to their children, begin demanding love and trustworthiness from them instead.
Destructive entitlement. That sounds an awful lot like what the Corinthians were practicing, doesn’t it? It was destructive to them being the body of Christ. And it can set in to church life today.
Churches get in trouble when they are caught in their own “Destructive Entitlement.” They get caught when they slide into judgment of people who are different from them, who don’t want to become like them, and who don’t want to buy what they’re selling. They get trapped when they’re more caught up with their own survival than they are in giving what they always needed to people who can never pay them back.
In the book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, the author paints a picture of what that looks like.
Too many churches want more young people as long as they act like old people, more newcomers as long as they act like old-timers, more children as long as they are as quiet as adults, more ethnic families as long as they act like the majority in the congregation. To become a more fruitful congregation requires a change of attitudes, practices, and values. [ii]
The core question is this:
Are we about giving love and trustworthiness, or demanding it from others?
Of course there are times we need it from others. Of course there are. God knows I’ve needed – and received it – from you. And I dearly hope this is a trustworthy place where you will find what you need when you need a place that will hold your broken spirit, be by your side when your body is broken, and bring food when you are hungry and wanting – no matter what need you bring to the table.
But when we’re able – when we are in a whole enough place to give – then it’s we who need to offer radical hospitality. Which means giving without expecting payment in return.
What would happen, if we could practice Radical Hospitality? What might that look like?
Two weeks ago I was in Oyster Bay, New York, to preside at the wedding of a family friend. Colleen’s mother and I were best friends in Des Moines, and I was thrilled with Colleen and Charlie invited me to be part of the service. It was unlike any wedding I have ever done. For one thing, the family began to gather a week ahead, staying together in a mansion they’d rented at the tip of Centre Island.
Over the week, something magical happened. People who had never met made dinners together, swam in the ocean, and helped the couple with the details that still needed to be done. Estranged family members were together for the first time in years, and worked hard to be their best selves. Charlie and Colleen were the hosts, but the magic was that the guests became hosts, too. We all took part, and as we did, people bonded together. Their separate families became one. And love and trustworthiness grew.
Which was exactly as they intended.
Which is exactly what God intends, for us. What God hopes for us. And from us.
Because at the end of the day, this isn’t our church. It’s God’s church. And as Minton says,
God… loves and dies for the world without expectation that the world will love and die for God in return… [T]his… God isn’t terribly interested in… getting all the credit… Instead, this God would rather free captives, recover sight for blind folks, feed hungry folks, clothe naked folks…
When a sacrifice is demanded, the Christian God ties himself to the altar, and in so doing embodies an inherent truth at the center of all this entitlement – namely that when you and I and even the Creator of the Universe give what we always needed to people who can never pay us back, we are participating in… the repairing of the world.
Years ago I read Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl was a psychologist who was a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps, and he witnessed how different people responded to the horrific deprivation and threat of death that was every day life. Some of what he saw was absolutely breathtaking.
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.[iii]
That’s what it looks like to give what we always needed to people who can never pay us back.
That’s Radical Hospitality.
Can you imagine??
[i] Eric Minton, “Entitled Millennials aren’t killing the American Chruch; entitled churches are,” Baptist News, July 20, 2019. https://baptistnews.com/article/entitled-millennials-arent-killing-the-american-church-entitled-churches-are/#.XWq5DS2ZPBJ
[ii] Robert Schnase, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2018), 40.