Jan 02

Deacon Richard BeckettHospitality is a word we use a great deal at the University Chaplaincy when we are talking about the welcome that we give students.

As individual Christians and churches we can learn a lot about the welcome we give people from the example set by Abraham when he welcomed three strangers to his tent. You can read about Abraham’s actions in Genesis 18, verses 1-8 but here I want to just highlight some of the striking details and share some thoughts on their significance for us.

Abraham sits at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day and he looks up and is startled to see three men standing there.

And suddenly out of habit the whole Jewish tradition of hospitality kicks in and even though Abraham was ‘already very old’ he hurried from the entrance to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

I remember visiting a church in Bermondsey (the majority of the congregation were Ghanaian or Zimbabwean.) I was there for the first time that day and I was surprised when the minister asked the congregation if there were any visitors there and would they stand and introduce themselves!

That’s the normal tradition in many churches and a sure sign of hospitality but as a leader, I am not sure I would ever have the nerve to ask newcomers to do that myself (too British and reserved perhaps?) but actually it felt quite special to me and there was no doubt who the new people were and were especially warmly welcomed after the service too.

  • Our welcome when people come to our churches needs to be appropriate and practical – simple things like making sure families with children know about the facilities available and what provision is available for them can make all the difference; Perhaps showing them the rooms where their children will be, and yes, even asking people to introduce themselves during the service might be appropriate. Such things as making an effort to overcome barriers where English is not the first language can help too.

Then Abraham springs into action and offers more hospitality – he urges the visitors to stay – offers foot washing and rest and ‘ a little water….and something to eat’, which turns out to be bread made from the finest flower, a choice tender calf and curds and milk!

  • That says something about how we go out of our way to be generous when welcoming people. Do we offer the best we can? Have you done a quality check on your tea, coffee or biscuits lately? Are cups and saucers the easiest thing to handle when you have young children?

Amazingly Abraham and Sarah demonstrated their hospitality even before they knew who their visitors were which says so much to us about how we too should express God’s unconditional hospitality as we welcome others into our churches, our homes and our lives.

Happy New Year

Deacon Richard Beckett

written by Park Avenue Methodist Church

Dec 02

TinaBlessed are you, O Christ Child, that your cradle was so low that shepherds, poorest and simplest of earthy people, could yet kneel beside you, and look, level-eyed, into the face of God. Blessed One, we come to you in reverence. (Prayer from Uganda)

I love Christmas cards. I have one with the usual picture of Mary and Joseph and the star and the animals and the kings and the shepherds. And yet, this very pretty image misses out the energy, the love, the transforming life affirming love of God, made known to us in the Incarnation.

And so I send you this one.

The wonder of the Natal Christ is both profoundly empowering and deeply humbling, for it witnesses to us that God is with us, especially in the frailties of life, and in them, transforms them with a love which bears all things, hopes all things and endures all things and which never ends.

God, being all powerful did not have to become Incarnate in a human birth. Pregnancy and birth are a vulnerable time, a time of dependency, of wonder surely, but also with no guarantees. Anything can happen, and sadly, does. The child is utterly dependent on the mother and the mother is at risk to nutrition, environmental factors and numerous other things beyond her control. Yes, the odds are better now, than in Mary’s day, but not for all women, and not completely so.

Why choose such a way of coming into the world? God the all powerful all knowing all seeing all loving, eternal strong to save whose arm hast calmed the restless wave, surely to be so humble, so dependent on another is a profound statement of love.

We too are frail and vulnerable. But it is in vulnerability, that God, in the Holy Spirit can dance and set the whole creation free. In vulnerability, people were healed in Christ Jesus. In vulnerability, we witness to whose we are and why we are.

Manger and cross and empty tomb are intimately linked. It is God’s will to gather all creation in the gift of Christ. And as a reflection of our communion in the Triune God, of manger cross and empty tomb, the church is God’s instrument in fulfilling this prayer. For in vulnerability, in being present in the vulnerabilities of the world, and in being vulnerable in their midst, the God of manger, and makes all things new.   In the cross and empty tomb, we know that God is drawn into the brokenness of life, and brings forth healing and wholeness, and right relationships with all of Creation.

God comes in humility and asks us live our faith in such a way, for humility is an antidote to arrogance. Further, humility recognizes and is at peace with our limited knowledge, creativity and moral character and keeps our hubris in balance. In humility, we find our strength.

We are not islands; we need and depend on each other. Sometimes that feels good, other times, it is a challenge. For whatever reason, we bump along, in the glorious wonder and messiness and confusion and insight and joy that is the human condition

The Incarnation helps us to see this truth. The measure of a healthy, life affirming society is not whether it privileges those who have much with much more, but whether the vulnerable, the fragile, the humble, the dependent, the shepherds of our time, are privileged and honoured and lifted up.

This is no sentimental Christmas card, but one which is life for all. Let us go and live the wonder and the mystery and joy of Christmas every day. May you know God’s richest blessings this holy season and in all seasons.

Tina

written by Park Avenue Methodist Church