Foundry UMC

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Who’s Locked Out?

April 3rd, 2016

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC April 3, 2016, the second Sunday of Easter.

Text: John 20:19-31                                                               


“On that day, the first day of the week…the doors of the house where the disciples…met were locked…”  In the context of the story, we know that the doors were locked out of fear—fear of harm, of facing the same fate as Jesus.  We know that some of the disciples had seen the empty tomb and that Mary Magdalene had seen the risen Jesus.  But it is only when Jesus himself appears in that locked room that “the Twelve” understand that Jesus is alive.  They are then ready to chime in with Mary’s refrain: “We’ve seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18, 25).

 

Today’s story is best known as the “doubting Thomas affair.”  There’s plenty to say about Thomas who, by the way, is a favorite of mine among “the Twelve” for his willingness to be honest and to push back even on Jesus (see Jn 11:16, 14:5).  But today, as we move into a new sermon series on Christian hospitality, it is that image of locked doors at the place where Jesus’s disciples met that takes center stage.

 

Here at Foundry, we celebrate that our doors swing wide and offer a warm welcome to all people no matter what.  This commitment to diversity is among our core values.  And “to practice radical hospitality and inclusion” is part of our vision for Foundry.  We want to be a faith community that really has open hearts, minds, and doors.  We intentionally practice this in a number of ways and I celebrate the deliberate, faithful work that has created the vital culture of welcome that is such a hallmark of this Foundry community.  But are we offering “radical hospitality?”

 

And what makes hospitality “radical”?  Bishop Robert Schnase, author of the widely used book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, says that “radical hospitality” is the first practice of fruitful congregations and that “Radical means ‘drastically different from ordinary practice, outside the norm,’ and so it provokes practices that exceed expectations, that go the second mile, that take welcoming the stranger to the max. By radical, don't think wild-eyed, out of control, or in your face. Instead, imagine people offering the absolute utmost of themselves, their creativity, their abilities, and their energy to offer the gracious invitation and reception of Christ to others.”[i]

 

One of the most striking experiences I’ve ever had of radical hospitality wasn’t at a church, but rather at a little place here in DC called Rose’s Luxury.  These days, you can barely get into this restaurant on 8th Street, SE—because they take very limited reservations and the line is always literally down the street.  That may not seem very hospitable, but my first experience of the place was before it got famous—and my bet is that the place’s hospitality is one reason the line stays so long.  The night Anthony and I went there was no waiting and we were welcomed in the way you’d treat someone you were really looking forward to having in your home. The environment was warm and charming.  It felt like you were walking into a fabulous dinner party in someone’s fabulous home.  Then the servers came, one after another, whoever had free hands to offer whatever was needed next.  There was a sense of everyone equally sharing the work and having fun doing it.  And each person who came by was so visibly, authentically excited to share information about the food they were serving, about the place, the chef, the ingredients, all of it.  Halfway through the dinner, it occurred to me that this is what we are called to offer in Christian community.  What if the members of the church were like those servers, working together, looking for ways to welcome guests, sharing excitement and information about what is offered, helping everyone receive what they need to be fed? 

 

In all the churches I’ve served, however, it has been a challenge to cultivate this sense of shared responsibility for hospitality.  Instead, it tends to get siphoned off into a “ministry area” that is handled only by the people who serve as greeters, ushers, or stewards of the “Welcome Table.”  It is absolutely critical to have an increasing number of persons in those roles who have both comfort and a sense of calling to extend welcome to all and who are excited to share what is happening in the life of the faith community.  But it is quite likely that regardless of how called, trained, and abundant the greeters are, there will be instances where a guest or visitor could use a friendly word or assistance when one of the official folks is not around.  The point?  Hospitality is the work of the whole community—just like the servers and greeters at Rose’s Luxury. I would suggest that hospitality is the beating heart of what it means to follow Christ—because Jesus was all about making space and welcoming others and making folks know they are loved and accepted.  Hospitality is at the center of being Christian community.  This doesn’t mean you have to be comfortable approaching strangers to just chat it up, but it does mean that you can be mindful of those around you—smile!—and seek to assist if there is need instead of assuming that it’s someone else’s job to do that.  Most of you sit in exactly the same space every Sunday…so maybe you get to know who is usually in your “pew neighborhood” and at least warmly acknowledge someone new.  Just think about what it would be like to be warmly greeted at the door, hear words that express a warm and wide welcome from clergy, and then have the people sitting next to you act like you’re not even there? Or, worse, give you dirty looks when they see you’re in “their” seat or get noticeably aggravated by you or your children? Often, neglect and inhospitality is benign, driven more by our tendency to look for and connect only with those we know instead of making a point to recognize and greet the folks who are standing alone at coffee hour or who may not know what book to use when we sing or how to participate in Communion. 

 

In our Gospel today, the disciples are in a locked room and would, I imagine, let other people in IF they knew the secret knock.  But what if someone wanted to join Jesus’s disciples and didn’t know the secret knock?  The “secret knock” can be those things that, if you’ve been around awhile—around the church in general, or Foundry in particular—you just “know.”  But lots of people won’t have a clue.  If we don’t identify and remove the invisible obstacles and “secret knocks” then we are, in essence, locking some people out of full participation or a sense of being truly welcomed.  Some examples of things that may seem obvious to us but really aren’t: How do I find my way out of this parking garage? And then what door can I enter?  Where are the All Gender Restrooms?  What is a “narthex”?  Why do you want my personal information?  What does it mean to be a member here?  Where is the church office?  Do I have to have money or a home or a certain kind of clothes to worship here?  Where is the nursery?  //  One of the places that I consistently get lost is in hospitals.  Over the years, I have found myself wandering around the halls of every hospital in which I’ve made visits.  Despite what I’m sure are very well thought-out signs, I still get confused about which wing or ward I’m in.  Often, the people working in the hospital are confidently and comfortably on their way to wherever it is that they are going—alone or together—and oblivious to my increasing frustration and fear that, because I don’t know the “secret knock,” I will end up inadvertently locked in the boiler room… And then, once in a while, someone comes along who sees me and recognizes that I need help.  It is nice when that person takes the time to give me clear directions.  It’s even nicer when they walk me to the place I need to go and open the door.  What if each one of us took responsibility to open some doors for folks instead of expecting them to know the “secret knock?”

 

Perhaps one of the most challenging issues for us here at Foundry in terms of wrapping our minds around “radical hospitality” is the temptation to think we’ve already got it all covered.  We welcome all people.  We have persons who are black, brown, white, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, young, old, Democrat, Republican; we include persons with disabilities, homeowners, renters, and those living in transitional housing or on the street, recent immigrants, Mayflower descendants, Southerners, Yankees, and everything in between.  Hard work has been done to raise consciousness and to do justice.  But that doesn’t mean that we get it all right.  We still have work to do, we can still end up locking people out—not maliciously, but because we have failed to continually listen and learn and expand our words and ways of welcoming others.  Privilege—of whatever kind—can leave us unaware of assumptions we make, of things we miss, words we use that are hurtful, of actions we take that devalue another person’s dignity or authority.  Recently, Dawn and I were made aware that we were both using ableist language in some of our worship leadership.  We needed to listen, take that seriously, and change our language. You will notice we now invite persons to “rise” instead of “stand.”  Over the last year, I’ve realized how much I have to learn about language and pronoun use that will truly welcome our members and guests who are transgender, gender nonconforming, or non-binary.  Just yesterday, around the Foundry Board table, there was meaningful conversation about the ways that we “lock people out” by making fellowship or study events cost money or through our expectations and assumptions about race.  Several weeks ago, in one of the many honest conversations Pastor Dawn and I have had about race, she shared with me that among her black friends and colleagues there is agreement that white liberals are among the most hurtful and infuriating in the ways that we think we think we know stuff or understand things and then act, for example, in terribly condescending or dismissive ways even as we think we’re being so progressive.  And then, if we get called on our behavior, we can get defensive or “hurt” because it wasn’t our intention to do any harm.  (“Black lives matter more than white feelings”)  We don’t want to lock people out; here at Foundry we really want to get it right and welcome and value all people.  “Radical hospitality” requires some vigilance and humility—to admit that we always have more to learn and to be committed to look for and change language, behaviors, and structures that inadvertently lock people out.

 

I’ve been talking about metaphorical “locked doors” and the ways that we can shut people out physically, emotionally or spiritually.  But the truth is, just as Jesus “came and stood among” the disciples in the locked room on that first Easter day, every time we gather, Christ wanders in.  The ancient Rule of St. Benedict says that every guest is to be treated tamquam Christus, as if they were Christ.  Over the next several weeks, we’ll be thinking about how to really practice that rule. Why not look around to discover where Christ has appeared today?

 

 

 



[i] Robert Schnase, http://www.ministrymatters.com/lead/entry/518/radical-hospitality-the-first-practice-of-fruitful-congregations