We’re about hospitality this week. That sounds like a casual, or maybe even an extra kind of thing. “It’s not something essential,” we might think. It’s part of the social niceties that make us look good. But, in fact, we would be wrong, if that was our position. Jesus sees hospitality as central to our discipleship. Here we consider how we receive hospitality and how we offer it. We are wrestling with grace. For some, it is easier to be purveyors of grace than recipients. Others find accepting a gift easier than giving one. Either way, we are called to pay attention to how we welcome, how we include, and how we help others feel a part of all that we do and are.
The worship team might start by considering whether there is “insider language” in the worship liturgy. Do we assume knowledge of practices and understandings, or do we go out of our way to use words that include others, even the stranger or seeker, skeptic, and doubter? Do our words open up the images of God at work in the world, or do we unnecessarily limit the depictions of our Lord? Words matter; pay attention to the language that we use in worship.
But what else can we do? How do we make folks feel welcomed into our worship experience and into the community that we are? This is about more than the order of worship, that is true. But what we do during worship can help or hinder our hospitality. We start by paying attention to the performance of worship: what instructions can we give to help folks feel at ease with what is going on? How do we identify our guests? Not by making them feel uncomfortable by being the center of attention in an unfamiliar setting, surely. But we do want to identify them so that we can be good hosts.
Hospitality is outward-focused. But is not exclusive to guests or visitors. The worship team could spend some time considering who else is feeling excluded by how we do worship. Do those with disabilities in hearing or seeing feel welcomed and included? What about those with mobility issues? How do we make worship intergenerational so that everyone feels heard and seen in the midst of the community during worship each week? How wide is our definition of family so that we can give space to non-traditional families of various kinds?
Implied in our theme for this week is the idea that everyone is thirsty and that we are in the thirst-quenching business. The world is indeed our parish, but the world begins in our sanctuaries and fellowship halls. The world begins at our front door.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.