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There Is Room for Everyone

July 25, 2012

Welcome ImageLove is at the heart of the gospel, and at the heart of the Mission of the Church and the Mission of God (see 1 John 4).  Love drives and compels our relationships with God and with one another.  This is a love sprung from grace, a love that encompasses and embraces the entire world.  It is a love that binds us together as a community of believers, and it is a love that compels and invites us to welcome and embrace the stranger.  The Holy Scripture calls us to love the stranger—the alien—among us as we remember that we were once aliens in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:33-4).  Paul admonishes us to extend hospitality to strangers (Romans 12:13), Peter urges us to be hospitable to one another (1 Peter 4:9), and the author of Hebrews tells us to continue in mutual love and show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:1-2).

The practice of hospitality is rooted in our common life in the gospel and lived in our common life as Church in the world.  Rather than allow our identity as a community to isolate us and cut us off from those who are different from us or unknown to us, we must open ourselves to accept and acknowledge our God who came to us in love as a stranger and who we rejected (see John 1:10-18).  As disciples of the one who overcame rejection, suffering and death, we must strive to overcome the barriers that divide and the fear that separates us from God and from one another.  We begin to overcome these obstacles when we practice hospitality to learn and teach love.

Modernity has taught us that to be individualistic is to be human.  We are divided and separated by our autonomy and suspicious of those who are unlike us, especially those whom we do not invite or expect to come into our individualized spheres of personal experience (often even if that “sphere” is the pew next to us).  As Gregory Jones puts it in his book, Reading in Communion: Scripture and Ethics in Christian Life, “The practice of hospitality that is rooted in the love of the gospel is a dangerous practice.  It surrenders control and takes risks.”  The gospel of love is a gospel of risk-taking.  We must walk in the confidence of God’s steadfast love to overcome our fears of reaching out to the other, to the stranger, to the alien in our midst.

As an “Easter people,” we walk in love with Jesus who has changed the very meaning of life in his triumph over death.  Yet, the one whom we meet after the resurrection is himself a stranger.  Mary does not know him in the garden; the disciples do not know him on the road to Emmaus.  The encountering of the risen Christ as stranger is an invitation in love to open ourselves to the practice of hospitality.  That openness reflects the love through which God has acted to save us and walk with us in newness of life.  We are met by a stranger, and it is the encounter with this stranger which generates our own most central sense of identity, of ‘being at home,’ so that the believer can invite the whole human world to find a home in the same encounter.

The virtue of love is not a uniquely Christian virtue; it is a virtue of God, by God, and through God to all people.  God sanctifies and seeks to reconcile the whole world through the Incarnational reality of God as Jesus Christ.  In doing so, God is calling all people to reconciliation and mission rooted in the virtue of love.  We can obey before we believe.  We are called to follow the living, loving example of Jesus Christ whether we have been baptized into his death, resurrection and ascension or not.  The action of God was for the whole world.  God calls and compels us to newness of life in the virtue of love and compassion irrespective of our belief in Christ’s salvific action.

In his book, Transforming Mission, David Bosch specifically rejects salvation as the primary motivation for religion.  Bosch does not accept that a Christian is someone who stands a better chance of being saved, but that we are called to accept responsibility to serve God in our lives and promote the reign of God in all forms.  Hence the tension between “mission” in the traditional, Medieval model of conversion only, and our new call to mission in dialogue with all people in the post-modern, post-Christendom reality of today’s global culture.

Although we Christians hold and acknowledge Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation, we must also acknowledge and accept that God reveals the reign of God and the will of God in many ways.  The Holy Spirit empowers the whole world in the newness of our relationship to God through the Incarnation of Christ.  The Incarnation precedes the salvific action of the Paschal mystery.  Love became Incarnate to sanctify and restore a broken and fallen creation.  The sin of the world was borne by the Lamb of God upon the cross.  Sin and death are forever broken and all humanity is invited to share in the new life we have seen revealed through Jesus life, ministry and the power of God in the Paschal mystery.  Jesus is the Light that enlightens the nations.  Jesus, by breaking the bonds of sin and death is the supreme ruler of the world.  Jesus, Son of Man and Son of God, bore all sin and offers mercy, love and reconciliation though his passion, death, resurrection and exaltation.

Thus, it through the ultimate gift of love—the Incarnational reality of God in Jesus Christ—that the world receives the ultimate gospel virtue: love.  That love was a gift of grace to the whole world and the whole world is called to act in love toward reconciliation to God and to one another.  The Church is one vehicle to reach out in love to accomplish the ultimate mission of God.  We walk together in the reality of Love Incarnate with the whole family of the children of God in the created universe to respond to the love God has shown and continues to show throughout the cosmos.

The virtue of love is made manifest in our lives in the practice of hospitality.  We are not strangers to one another, but fellow travelers through time and space within the loving companionship of the Spirit of God.  We can neither learn nor teach love when we perceive one another as outsiders, interlopers or strangers.  We are reminded that when we welcome the stranger, we may be unaware that we are entertaining angels.  As Jesus was once a stranger to the world, we are all, in a sense, strangers to the world.  Strangers to the old world of sin and death, and strangers in a new global community that must strive to find the light of love in one another.  The virtue of love as it is learned and taught in hospitality compels us to open our hearts and churches to welcome the stranger—the alien.  We cannot do so in fear and hesitation, but in taking the risk that is implicit in loving openly and honestly.  The walls that separate and divide have been torn down by the God of the Incarnation, and we must strive to carry out the Catechism’s teaching of the Mission of the Church: to reconcile all peoples to God and to one another.

Scott+

Copyright © 2012 The Rev. Scott B. Monson.  All rights reserved.

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