Welcoming the ‘prophets’

Sally Oakes's picture

Here are two real-life encounters of people who attended a church for the first time:

1) From a Catholic Church in Scotland: “After I had stood (hanging around) for a few moments, someone came over to say hello. We talked for several minutes about what I was doing there, her impressions of the community, etc. She introduced me to a few other people, and I was invited to a ... barn dance taking place that evening. But the thing that really touched me was that, on finding that I was very new to the area and alone here, she gave me her phone number and offered to meet me for coffee mid-week if I felt in need. ... (What I’ll still remember in one week) is the kindness of (that) stranger.”

2) From an Episcopal Church in Michigan: There seemed to be no official greeters on duty. Small groups of congregants stood around visiting; they welcomed our party with stares as we entered the worship space. Service leaflets and announcement bulletins were stacked in two different places, and we followed the regulars who seemed to know what to pick up from where. In the end it was more of a “fend for yourself” arrival. Everything seemed rather bland and that was a distraction. I kept thinking how nice it would be to have the servers a bit more coordinated, if there were a bit more expression in the reader’s voice, etc. The theme was decidedly “offend no one.” (www.ship-of-fools.com)

I doubt that there is a church on earth that does not describe itself as “friendly,” whether or not they really are. Even when churches succeed in being friendly or tolerant, they may not necessarily be welcoming. Friendliness and tolerance are good, but in Matthew 10:40 – 42, Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” He doesn’t say tolerate a prophet in the name of a prophet or to be friendly to a righteous person. He says to “welcome” them.

Welcoming involves hospitality. Many churches have a coffee and doughnut type hour to help facilitate that. But it’s more than that. Welcoming is like when a family welcomes a new baby into the household. Things are forever changed. The family has to adjust to the baby’s needs and the baby is fully included into the family. Jesus didn’t ask us to be friendly; he asked us to be welcoming and there’s a little risk to that. The risk is having to give up a status quo, bringing to mind Jesus’ words in Matthew: “Those who find their life will lose it,” said Jesus, “and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Can we welcome a prophet in the name of a prophet? This is an odd-sounding phrase to our modern ears, but back in Jesus’ time it would have sounded something like this: “Welcome a prophet because you are a prophet.” Saying, “Welcome!” to someone is nice, but it doesn’t go far enough; even restaurants know to teach their staff to say “Welcome.” It may be professional, but it’s not a prophet’s welcome.

Dr. Trace Haythorne recently said, on Day One,
“Perhaps the measure of true welcome is the ability of the host to make the guest feel at home. There are some places where one can go and always feel at home ...
“For Jews and Christians, ... hospitality has always been a part of who we are. The call to welcome the stranger is anchored in the Torah and was a part of the measure of the Hebrew community’s faithfulness to God. When a traveler came to town ... it was incumbent upon the townspeople to house and feed the visitor for the night.

“Of course, these travelers were rarely family. These were folks unknown to the community. They were aliens, often foreigners, people who had different foods, different languages. Opening one’s home was risky. But such hospitality was central to the Hebrew identity. The risk did not define the people; their hospitality did, for they knew such hospitality was central to the character of their God.”

You may have heard the term “radical hospitality.” Radical hospitality is the Christian value that recognizes that as long as there are people suffering, we cannot sit on our hands, but that we must first be the prophets who do whatever we can to meet the needs of God’s people by either helping them directly or standing up for human rights or simply offering compassion.

And When a household radically welcomes a prophet, God will bless that household.
The United Methodist Church says, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” Jesus says, “whoever welcomes a prophet in a prophet’s name gets a prophet’s reward.” That prophet’s reward is the ultimate blessing — a right relationship with God.

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