Who's not here that you would like to be, Jesus?

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That’s the radical hospitality prayer, isn’t it? “Who’s not part of our congregation that you would like to be, Jesus?” It’s a more poignant prayer than it once was: United Methodist congregations, as a whole, now mirror less and less the demographics of their communities. There are all sorts of reasons -- and many more excuses -- offered as to why this is the case. It seems to me that the only spiritually honest response to our congregations embracing only people “like us,” is humbly to pray, “Lord, who would you have me reach out to today with your love?” 

As their second strategic initiative over the next four years, the Florida Conference is asking us to be: “Congregations where all people find welcome.” In a state that is among the most diverse of all states in a nation that is the most diverse of all nations in the world, this is nothing less than a vision of the God’s Kingdom “come, on earth as it is in heaven.” You just can’t read through the New Testament without acknowledging that Jesus expanded people’s sense of who “God’s people” are meant to include -- and then the Holy Spirit kept on expanding it. 

Can “God’s people” include common people struggling to keep body and soul together? Can they include prostitutes? How about tax collectors? And children? And the sick? And irreligious party-goers? What about sinners? And Samaritans? Jesus’ own actions and teachings said, “Absolutely! Ya’ll come!” And his disciples struggled to make room for them.
Can “God’s people” include Greek speaking Jews, Ethiopian God-fearing eunuchs, leather tanners, Roman centurions, and even pig-eating gentiles? The Holy Spirit in Acts resoundingly said, “Yes! Everyone is welcomed!” and the church struggled – really struggled -- to make room for them.  
Jesus’ disciples were more comfortable dealing with people “like them.” But Jesus pushed them to open their arms to others that God loved too. The early church would have preferred not having to welcome to their tables the diversity of people that the Spirit graciously embraced. But you can’t go with God and stay where you are. 
Who are the people that God wants to include in your congregation that are waiting for you to befriend them? For you to be the one to embody God’s love in relationship to them? 
  • Is it a neighbor who has tattoos and a tongue piercing?
  • A single mom struggling to keep it together?
  • A couple whose native language is not your own?
  • A family whose skin is shaded differently than yours?
  • A person who sleeps under the highway overpass?
  • A youth having to hold up his pants when he walks by texting a friend?
  • A woman with mental disabilities?
  • A man addicted to alcohol?
The disciples struggled, but followed Jesus’ obediently beyond their comfort zone. The early church struggled, but leaders followed the Spirit’s prompting and the world was turned upside down. 
Now it’s our turn. When was the last time you reached out in friendship to someone just because Jesus died for them too and because now the Spirit was nudging you? 
 
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Blessings,
Jeff                                         
Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence
 


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