Hospitality: Still at the Starting Line

I’ve been an avid reader of Frederick Schmidt’s blog for nearly a year now.  I’ve really enjoyed his columns which urge us to ask what it truly means to follow Jesus in our modern world.  Today he takes on some proposed changes in the Episcopal Church.  One such proposal asks that communion “ought to be offered knowingly and in principle to anyone and everyone as an act of hospitality.”

To which Schmidt replies:

The Eucharist is an act of hospitality? I’ve heard the arguments. It’s an evangelistic opportunity. It’s inclusive to offer it to everyone. To suggest that it’s just for the baptized is exclusionary.

There’s a problem with those arguments: The Eucharist is for the baptized and it is exclusive. It’s for people who faced the darkness and said, I “renounce Satan and the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God,” then faced the light and vowed, “I turn to Jesus Christ” and I accept him as my Savior.

To erase those boundaries by offering the Eucharist as an act of hospitality is to erase the demands of the Gospel. It trivializes baptism. And it finally erases the reason for being a church.

Boundaries may sometimes feel as if they exclude, but they are, in the first place, the only way we have of saying what it means to belong, to commit, to follow, to journey into Christ. If you haven’t made that commitment, it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you. It doesn’t mean your mother doesn’t love you. It means you haven’t begun that journey.

Coffee, as an act of hospitality, is available in the narthex.

Now, I think hospitality is an important thing for the church to be a taking part in.  I’ve preached it often.   I’ve heard the same arguements and I’ve even made those arguements.  Disciples and Episcopalians have different understandings of the communion, but at its base, Schmidt’s argument is far more sound.

I’m not saying we should not be welcoming to people and I’m not saying that we should not be hospitable to all those who enter the doors of the church as well as those outside of the church.  When it comes to issues like welcoming LGBT folks, we should be hospitable.

But I wonder at times if we have basically jettisoned the “meat” our faith in order to have the rest of society like us.  Hospitality is a vital value, but too often Mainline churches tend to leave it at that.  We talk about welcoming folks and being inclusive, but we then go no further.  Sometimes I wonder if we’ve made hospitality an idol and in the end destroying the very thing we want to welcome people to: the church.

The whole topic of the gathered community has been heavy on my thoughts for about a year now.  I’ve been wondering what does it mean to be church and how we are called to be a light to the world.  We talk about mission, but without discipleship, without being formed by Christ and the community of believers we are left with nothing more than doing good works.  When Jesus called people to follow him, he was asking them to take a pretty hard journey.  Are we willing to share that part of being a Christian with others?

Hospitality is good and important.  But it’s time that Mainline churches get past the starting line.

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