Apr 06

revromeoA short time ago, a Hungarian couple came to one of our churches in the circuit – they couldn’t speak much English. Upon the advice of one of our stewards they returned the next Sunday and there was someone who advised them where to go for a Hungarian speaking congregation. To my surprise they said that they wanted to return to our church (even with the language difficulty). That witnessed loudly, I think, to the hospitality that that church offers. In fact, I understand that that church now includes 17 nationalities in its fold.

Henri Nouwen said that one of the major spiritual movements in a Christian’s life is to go from hostility to hospitality.

In the Bible, the original Greek word for “hospitality” means “love of strangers.” The Bible contains references to a number of exemplary hosts. Abraham was venerated as a model for hosts: Genesis 18 tells how Abraham and Sarah were blessed with a child after they welcomed divine strangers. Ruth (Deuteronomy 23:3-6) and Rahab (Joshua 2 and 6), as unlikely hostesses, are precursors of the Good Samaritan, a person from a despised group of people who exemplifies hospitality. Joseph, the father of Jesus, is an example of a person who lived out the values of hospitality and justice. Had Joseph not welcomed Jesus into his house of lineage, Emmanuel (“God is with us”) would have been blocked from entering God’s house on earth.

For Jesus, hospitality meant not only welcoming strangers, but also doing justice. In Jesus’ parable of the two sons (Luke 15:11-32), the father shows hospitality to both sons, the one who has stayed with him and the one who has returned after wasting his inheritance on riotous living. He encourages the older son, who is angry about the good treatment of his prodigal brother, to be hospitable, too. The host does not judge whether or not the guest is worthy to be loved and helped, but simply provides hospitality.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the New Creation of God avoids judgmental/exclusionary ways of relating to people by offering an ethic of hospitality and justice. In the ancient world where Jesus walked and talked, society established boundaries to protect itself from “contamination.”
Among the outcasts were persons with leprosy and other skin diseases.

Lepers had to be announced by the words, “Unclean, unclean!” and lived alone or in small groups separated from the rest of the community (Matthew 8:1-3). Into such a world entered Jesus. He reached out and embraced not only lepers and other outcasts, but the whole world.

Into the world today comes Jesus. The modern world is very different from the ancient one. Yet, in terms of human hopes and fears, today’s global community is so similar. Society still stigmatizes and discriminates against groups of people. Into the contemporary world, the Divine Healer brings the same gospel message of compassion, love, forgiveness, and justice as he did two thousand years ago. Jesus reaches out and embraces the whole world.

He invites us to join the household of God and asks us to offer hospitality to all. The One who says on Good Friday: “Woman, here is your Son. Son, here is your Mother” (John 19: 26-27), “calls us out to meet new brothers and sisters, new mothers and fathers and new sons and daughters” … and in so doing we will create a “new family that violates all old boundaries of exclusion and defensiveness” (Walter Bruegemann). The one who is the Resurrection and the Life shows us how to live and to help others to live.

My prayer is that we shall emulate these Biblical – and Jesus examples – that our churches shall become places of welcome and embrace. I salute the example set by one of our churches in this regard (I am simply using them as an example and I am sure that this is happening all over the circuit).

Prayer: Dear God, help us to become more hospitable, to open the doors of our hearts to you, to find more ways in which we can open the doors of our churches to all people. Teach us to be holy, to reach out to all those who have been created and loved by you. Amen.

romeosig

 

 

written by Park Avenue Methodist Church

Mar 02

revjohnBy the time you receive this hopefully winter will be behind us and the signs of spring will be well underway, with the birds singing, the sunshine becoming warmer, the colour of the, bluebells, snowdrops and crocus coming through. The buds will be formed on bushes and trees ready to open outwards and add more colour. The grass will start to grow and be a more vibrant green colour.

These are the signs of spring and more importantly they are signs of new life and creation, something that we need to be aware of, to enjoy and be part of. Spring is a time of reawakening and growth, and these signs help and contribute to our outlook on life.

In our modern and contemporary life we have all sorts of signs all around us in many forms, giving us information, to act in a mandatory way or advisory way, to make us aware and be alert.

We live in a very visual age and looking around us we can become overloaded by all these signs and information so much so that we can lose something or lose clarity in what we are supposed to be seeing.

Over the last few months I have been reading a book by Prof Steve Peters called The Chimp Paradox. It was a Christmas Gift that I asked for. He is  noted as a highly qualified and expert sports psychologist who has helped many people who are elite sports men and women in what they have been able to achieve in their chosen sporting profession. He has worked with and been able to help such people as Snooker Player Ronnie O’Sullivan, Olympic Gold Medallist Sir Chris Hoy and the British Cycling Team both men and women’s.

In his book he talks about the character and makeup of the Chimpanzee and goes into great depth about the behaviour and makeup of the chimpanzee and human behaviour and characteristics.

He speaks of how the two are very closely related and you may be thinking this is not “Rocket Science” and that you don’t need to be told this. One of the biggest challenges each of us face is that the human has to manage and work with the chimp, either male or female. Both have many common characteristics, with some dominant and unique ones, depending on which gender perspective you are using.

One of the things I have learnt is that the chimp is five times as strong as a human so you don’t fight it, you manage and work with it. You try to channel all the chimps energy into helping you. Chimps with this strength can cause a lot of damage if it decides to go on the rampage and is allowed to.  The positive and negative aspects.

One other thing that I learnt is that the capacity of our mind is twenty times quicker than that of the chimp to compute and to understand, so I should be able to see where the chimp is coming from, recognising the signs quicker or more effectively.

So as I use this book to reflect and think more deeply, we are all people who are full of signs and signals, joyful or sorrowful, active or passive, a person is full of feelings.

I am a living sign, and it is a well-known fact that words alone don’t communicate the whole story very well. We use our whole bodies and character as signs, known as non-verbal communication.

Jesus is the ultimate revelation and expression of this and of God. Jesus also said “love one another as I have loved you” by this people will know that you are my disciples, in word and in deed. We are witness to transformational love of God that we find in Jesus, as Lord, Saviour and friend.

The Church that we share in the life of, which is God’s Church, also needs to be a sign and witness of having a living and vibrant faith in community. The sign of true life in God is the empty cross and the empty tomb. Isn’t it strange how we find a sign in something being empty?

But the cross is a place where God has sorted out the one problem that we could never sort out ourselves, that is our sin.

Our journey as Christians in Lent should take us to the foot of the cross, where we find we are forgiven, loved and free. We now can be the sign that God wants each of us to be as his disciples in a living faith community.  Every blessing in Jesus.

Rev John Marriott

written by Park Avenue Methodist Church