A Life of Worship and a Life of Hospitality (2/4)
Scriptures: Matthew 4:18-22 and Romans 12:1-2, 9-18
Other sermons in this series
Through the years, different films have set out to present the story of Jesus. These films include:
- 1961’s King of Kings
- Jesus of Nazareth, a television miniseries made in 1974
- the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ, from 1988 (which openly admitted wasn’t based on what’s present in the Bible but, rather, upon the fictional exploration of spiritual conflict and how Jesus might have struggled with temptation)
- Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ, released in 2004
- Son of God, a 2014 film based on the ten-hour miniseries The Bible, which aired on the History Channel
Of course, for the stage there were Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell.
A more recent adaptation of the Gospels has been underway, one which has utterly captured my heart and brought the written Gospels to life for me. It’s called The Chosen. (The first two seasons are currently available on Amazon Prime Video, but it’s also available for free on the website of the production company, AngelStudios.com.) Personally, I highly recommend watching The Chosen, if you can. To me, it’s inspired. It stays true the Bible, while creatively filling in many of the “blanks” in the written record with dialog and storylines that could easily have happened in real life. The fact is the Gospel writers only provide a snippet of the conversations between Jesus and his disciples, and report only a handful of the miracles he performed. They were together for three years, and only a small portion of what happened in their lives was written down for posterities sake. The writers of The Chosen, I think, do a wonderful job of filling in some of those missing pieces of what could have taken place in real life.
One of the things I especially appreciate is how they present his core group of followers as real people with real struggles—you know, the same struggles we all have. For example, we know that the Twelve experienced conflict within their group. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each include a story of them arguing with each other (Mark and Luke record the same argument). But you have to know that the tensions they experienced weren’t limited to those two occurrences, not over the course of being together for three years.
One possible and very believable tension depicted in The Chosen has to do with Matthew being a disciple. Prior to following Jesus, what was Matthew’s occupation? (answer: a tax collector). He was Jewish, and because he worked for the hated Romans, he was hated and despised by his fellow Jews who saw him as a traitor. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see that Jesus inviting Matthew to be a part of his inner group of followers was highly upsetting to those were already a part of it. This very believable storyline was expertly woven into multiple episodes in which the audience witnesses this growing tension. And in one scene in which Jesus is not present, it finally reached its boiling point and there’s a huge argument within the group about Matthew being a part of them.
My point is this: the very people Jesus invited to follow him, to learn from him, to emulate him, to eventually tell others about him, were no different than any of us. They were not super-human. They were not super spiritual. Most likely, they had limited education and, therefore, limited exposure to and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. As we would say today, they probably didn’t know their Bible very well. They struggled with understanding the things Jesus tried to teach them, probably for the same reason we struggle with it: because it went against their default way of viewing the world and the way they believed they were supposed to interact with it—including the sinner, Matthew. Jesus didn’t call perfect people. And he didn’t call people for the purpose of making them perfect. He called them because they were open to learning from him and, eventually, telling others about him. He knew they would make mistakes along the way, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was their willingness to stick with him, and to slowly figure out how to order their lives around him.
In this regard, nothing has changed in the time since then. Today, Jesus calls imperfect, broken, hurting people to follow him, learn from him, and figure out how to order our lives around him. And for what purpose, ultimately? For the purpose of sharing with others the difference he’s made in our lives.
With that important point made, let’s turn back to our working definition of a disciple and take a few minutes to focus on the first of the three main themes.
In response to God’s loving invitation, a disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ who is committed to:
- being a part of the body of Christ
- becoming more like Jesus
- joining Jesus in ministry
Notice the natural progression of how one lives into a life of discipleship. Being…becoming…joining. Those three verbs describe a very normal process of our involvement in anything new. At first, we’re good to just show up and be present. That’s where we’re just being something. And that’s OK.
A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ who is committed to being a part of the body of Christ through a life of worship and a life of hospitality.
As we spend time being a part of the body of Christ, God slowly works on the inside of us, drawing us closer to himself, giving us a greater desire to know him. In this sense, God’s changing us on the inside so that we’re becoming like Jesus on the inside.
Finally, as we find ourselves growing in our likeness to Christ, we find we have an increased desire to put our faith into action so that we’re also like Jesus on the outside. This is when we join Jesus in acts of service and love for the sake of others.
Discipleship really is a journey. It was a journey for the original Twelve, and it’s a journey for us. And the journey we call discipleship begins with being a part of the body of Christ. Let’s look at two of the most vital ways we best express this particular commitment.
A Life of Worship
A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ who is committed to being a part of the body of Christ through a life of worship and a life of hospitality.
The two obvious keywords here are ‘worship’ and ‘hospitality.’ As it is, each of the three overarching themes has two associated expressions, giving us a total of six essential ways we’re called to live out our discipleship. And what I need to point out is that each of these six actions is expressed as “a life of.” For today, it’s a life of worship and a life of hospitality. “A life of” means that these expressions of discipleship are not one-time events. We’re in this for life. It becomes a lifestyle, if you will.
So, when it comes to being a part of the body of Christ (which is the church), the first way we express this commitment is through a life of worship.
What do I mean by that? Well, this one’s fairly self-explanatory. A life of worship means first of all, participation in corporate worship. Typically, this is the Sunday morning worship service. Until 2020, this meant coming together in a sanctuary. These days, the physical location from which we participate in corporate worship has evolved considerably. More than ever before, participating remotely has become an acceptable practice.
As we live into these new days of livestreaming our worship, I’d say that it has both its pros and cons. One obvious pro is that it allows people who can’t be present for in-person worship (because they’re ill or traveling) to participate. It also reaches people who’d normally never come to in-person worship. A con is that even if the technical quality of the livestream is very high, worshiping remotely will never be the same as physically worshiping alongside other people. Many of you have told me that on a particular Sunday you were very glad to have had the option of worshiping via Facebook, but as nice as that was, it still wasn’t the same. So, we’ll continue to offer the option of worshipping remotely, but my guess is that for those who are growing in their faith and have the ability to participate in person, they’ll eventually move in that direction. Regardless, though, the point is that a vital aspect of our worship life is worshiping with the community of faith.
But worship isn’t only a corporate experience. Personal worship is just as important. Personal worship entails things like reading the Bible, reading a devotional and spending a few minutes meditating on it, journaling, private prayer, walking through the woods and contemplating the beauty of God’s creation, prayer walking, and even singing in your car. These are all ways that we can worship God each day on a personal level, which is an important aspect of our worship life.
If worship can be loosely defined as consciously coming into the presence of God and giving yourself over to him in response to his grace and glory, then hopefully, over time worship becomes a lifestyle of sorts. Worship isn’t limited to something we do on a particular day of the week or at particular time of the day. Rather, it becomes the manner in which we interact with God throughout the day and how we respond to our everyday experiences in ways that glorify God. This is reflected in Romans 12:1 as found in Eugene Peterson’s The Message: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” Placing before God our everyday life experiences as an offering. That’s a life of worship. Being conscious of God throughout the day.
A Life of Hospitality
When it comes to being a part of the body of Christ, the second way we express this commitment is through a life of hospitality. Here’s how Phil Maynard describes what this entails. He writes,
“A life of hospitality includes the traditional roles of being a part of the church community and welcoming new people to worship, but it also includes our personal relationships with, and our acceptance of, people who are outside of the church and quite unlike us, even to the point of intentionally building relationships with persons beyond the church in order to embody Christ’s love for them.”
Maynard’s description points to the fact that hospitality is about being in relationship with people. Being in relationship can be expressed in any number of ways, many of which we associate with hospitality, such as having people over for dinner, putting someone up for the night in your home, or taking a meal over to a neighbor whose spouse has died. At the heart of each of these acts of service is a commitment to being in relationship with them. One can practice godly hospitality without necessarily hosting a dinner party or inviting the youth group to your home. There are literally endless ways that we can express a commitment to being in a loving, encouraging, relationship with people.
The other thing Maynard’s description points to is the fact that we’re called to display hospitality both at church and in our personal lives. And in the case of both, the deeper we grow in our discipleship, the more we recognize the importance of connecting with those who are different than ourselves. Show me a church family who consists of people from a wide array of backgrounds, passions, skin-color, political leanings, worship preferences, lifestyles, economic realities, etc., and I’ll show you a church that takes hospitality seriously. And ideally, God desires for this to be carried over into our personal lives, where we’re intentionally connecting with people who are different than us.
In terms of hospitality within the context of church life, I want to quickly highlight two practices which are key to living into this call. Maynard calls the first one intentional hospitality, which is having the wherewithal to engage with guests on Sunday mornings and provide space and opportunity for building relationships.
Here’s a fact that you may or may not know. Most guests who are looking for a church and show up on a Sunday morning will have already decided before the beginning of the worship service whether or not they’ll return the following week. And if not by that early point in the morning, definitely by the time they walk out. But research shows that the level of hospitality a guest experiences between the point they enter the parking lot and the point they enter the sanctuary is the greatest determiner of where they will be the following Sunday morning.
Let’s think about that for just a second. If this is true, then, by and large, the decision to return isn’t based on the sermon, the music, or even the style of worship. It’s almost always based on how welcomed they felt when they first arrived. And what we must remember is that simply being provided a space in the sanctuary to sit doesn’t constitute being actively welcomed. Hospitality on our part means us actively approaching guests with a friendly smile, and introduction of ourselves, maybe introducing them to a few others, finding out if there’s anything we can do to help—like showing them where the nursery is or where the restrooms are, etc. It means inviting them to sit with you for worship, and afterward, inviting them to have coffee and cookies afterward…and sitting with them if they accept. Even if all some of us do is speak to them, find out if their guests, get a name and welcome them here, that’s SO MUCH MORE than not speaking a word to them. Friends, here’s a good rule of thumb: if we don’t want people to return the following week, all we have to do is fail to practice intentional hospitality.
The second practice is what Maynard calls invitational hospitality, which boils down to inviting others to worship and other church-related events and activities. In essence, we’re extending an invitation to be in relationship with our community of faith. Obviously, if they take you up on your invitation, then it’s imperative that you, of all the people here, practice intentional hospitality when they arrive.
Now, one important aspect of corporate hospitality that often gets overlooked or simply ignored is the commitment to creating an environment where the guest experience is the highest priority. Let’s say that over the course of 6 months we were able to get lots of good feedback from every person who visited here on a Sunday morning about their experience of worshiping here. Let’s say that from their feedback, we identified five or six things which, if were incorporated into how we do things on Sunday morning, would likely result in significant guest return. Most of us would probably support doing those things, right? Well, what if incorporating those new practices had the effect of infringing on the way we’ve always done things, things we rather enjoy and have come to expect? What if the new practices detract from our experience? What then? Whose experience gets prioritized? The classic example of this is walking into the sanctuary and discovering that a guest is sitting where you always sit. An inhospitable response—which happens more than we’d care to admit—is asking them to move. Even asking kindly and with a smile is a sure way to make sure they’re sitting in the pew of a different church the following week. An act of hospitality that priorities their experience over our own would be to sit down in front of them and then turn and greet them, introducing yourself and letting them know how glad you are that they’re here! And never mentioning that they’re sitting where you usually sit.
So, a disciple is a follower of Christ who is human, has hurts, and struggles like everyone else. We’re real people. We’re not perfect, but we’re open to being shaped and molded by the One who is perfect, Jesus Christ. A disciple is a follower of Jesus Christ who is committed to being a part of the body of Christ through a life of corporate and personal worship, slowly moving in the direction of living a worship lifestyle; and through a life of corporate and personal hospitality wherein we make it a priority to be in relationship with people, expressed through intentionally welcoming people into our lives and our church, and even inviting people into relationship with us and our community of faith. A life of worship and a life of hospitality. Those are two really good ways to express your commitment to following Jesus.