Hospitality (Offering H.O.P.E.)

by Jacob Juncker

These thoughts were offered at Franklin United Methodist Church on Sunday, October 14, 2018. This message was based upon a reading from Isaiah 43:10-13 and Acts 1:6-11.  This  message is part of a stewardship/discipleship series entitled “Offering H.O.P.E.”
     I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the discussion in your home or small group. You can download it here.

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I had just finished a late-lunch meeting downtown.  As I drove toward home up Main Street, my eyes and ears were drawn to two protesters picketing near the entrance of Dean College, off the quad, outside Dean Hall.  One of the persons stood quietly off to the side with a sign, while the other person, carrying a cross and wearing a sandwich board sign shouted that fornicators were hell-bound unless they repented and believed in Jesus Christ.  The duo was hard to miss.

When I see things like that I usually just pass on by and report to my friends and family the “crazy” I saw on the way home, but for some reason I decided to stop.  I pulled around the block, parked behind Dean Hall, walked across the quad, turned on the voice recorder on my phone, and approached the two people.

I extended my right hand, “Hi, can I introduce myself.  I’m Jacob.”  The person standing off to the side with the sign said, “Hi, I’m [and gave his first name].” He did not shake my hand: his was holding a goPro video camera.  I reached out to the other person.

“Hi, I’m Jacob.”

“Jacob who?” she said, “I mean… I mean… what is…what is the conversation about? Why do you want to shake my hand?”

“I wanted to introduce myself to you.”

“Go ahead. What’s your… What’s your…  I’m very… The Bible says lay no hands on man suddenly.  That’s the scripture.”

“The Bible also talks about giving a hand of fellowship.”

“No, it doesn’t say that.  What Scripture verse was that?” she asked.  In her defense, she was right.  She had quoted to me 1 Timothy 5:22 from The King James Version, I had quoted, and was thinking of a sermon by John Wesley, not the scripture.  This blunder on my part was exactly what she wanted and exactly what I had intended to avoid.  I walked into the trap, I had anticipated.  I diverted to my original purpose.

“I would like to know… I’m not here to debate anything with you.  My name is Jacob.  I’m the pastor of the United Methodist Church right across the street from Dean College over here.  My question is two-fold.  Um…”

“You’re a preacher.”

“What do you hope to accomplish? I’m not here to debate you, I just want to know…as a…as a fellow Christian…”

“I don’t believe you are.”

“…and one who is trying to reach the students on this campus…”

“…not in the proper way.  Jesus…”

“…with the love of God…”

“…no…no you don’t love them…”

“…found in Jesus Christ.’

This conversation carried on for several minutes.  Finally, she turned with her loud-speaker in hand and began to testify that I was a false teacher leading people astray.  As she walked away, I asked the guy my questions again.  He finally answered.  He said he was “local” and that he was “spreading seeds.”  He quoted 1 Corinthians 3:6, where Paul writes that he planted seeds, Apollos watered, and God provides the growth.  I responded that I wasn’t sure he was accomplishing what he really hoped for.  I stepped back and took a few pictures.  I was really moved and shaken by this interaction.  I wanted to make sure that I documented, for my own reflection, the encounter.

I returned to my car, talking to two students along the way about what was happening in front of their school, and I went home frustrated by my encounter with the protesters and heartbroken about the way Christ was being portrayed to the people and students passing by.

At home, as I watched my children play in the driveway that afternoon, I stewed over the encounter.  I finally decided to do something; so, I wrote this response and posted it to the church’s Facebook page.

To our Dean College neighbors and the Franklin community:

These people are not who we are. We do not believe in a God who hates, but a God who is Love. We believe that the entirety of Scripture is summed up in a single command: “love your neighbor as yourself.” Our God challenges us to love God and neighbor more and more each day. Indeed, we are called to, but often fail, to be as perfect (complete) in showing love to all as God is perfect (complete) in showing love to all. We are sorry that you had to listen to this today. This is not who we are. They were not talking about the God we know and seek to serve.

If you’re looking for a word of welcome, a place you can be accepted and loved just as you are, and a God that will challenge you to offer more love and grace than you think you can muster, know that that’s the place we strive to be and the God we worship every Sunday at 10am. You will always be welcomed—and will always be loved and challenged to do the same.

Again, we’re sorry you had to listen to this today. We look forward to seeing you around town.

Peace.
The people of Franklin United Methodist Church

P.S. if you have questions, message this page, call the church office, email our pastor, or better yet swing by the church. Questions and doubt are what make a faith strong. Never trust anyone—a theologian, preacher, or any person of “faith”—who believes they can completely understand what is ultimately a mystery. Faith is found in the asking and the struggling for answers, not in thinking you have them all.[1]

I didn’t know if people would see the post, but at least the message would be out there.  Over the course of the next 6 hours or so, the post went viral.  As of this morning, it has been viewed by 9,849 people with 740 post engagements which include 442 comments across 23 shares.  Two-thirds of those views and nearly three-quarters of the comments were made in the first 6 hours.

I have tried to keep up with all the comments.  Reading and responding where I think appropriate to keep the conversation going and respectful.  I only had to “shut down” one thread (which I did not delete) where a person began speaking presumptuously and pejoratively about transgendered persons.  But, the reactions, for the most part, were constructive and supportive of the church.

One of the criticisms, made about the whole incident (it was unclear whether the comment was targeted at the church, at the protesters, at the commenters on Facebook, or all of the above) was that the church was “virtue signaling.”

I read an interesting article from The Guardian that helped me unpack the comment.  It reads, in part:

Virtue signaling is making a statement because you reckon it will garner approval, rather than because you actually believe it.  It’s a form of vanity, all the worse because it’s dressed up as selfless conviction… In informal political discussions…the phrase serves two functions: to make your opponent look shallow, while at the same time (the irony) signaling your initiation into a more sophisticated level of discourse… “You’re only saying that to make yourself look good” sums it up pretty well, it’s less pretentious, and still leaves 90 characters for the rest of your tweet.[2]

We Christians are much better at virtue sharing than we are witnessing.  We are much more comfortable saying things that make us look good and others not, than we are bearing witness to God in our midst.  We’re much better shouting from sidewalks, preaching from pulpits in the sanctuary and milk crates on the common, and shooting disapproving glances than we are being witness to a God’s whose love is steadfast.

How do we witness to a God whose name is love?

 

 

[to see where the sermon ended and how the conversation went, you will need to listen to the sermon]

 


[1] Franklin United Methodist Church (October 9, 2018, 4:29pm), facebook.com/franklinMaUMC [Post] <https://www.facebook.com/FranklinMaUMC/posts/1966218503445623> accessed October 14, 2018.

[2] David Shariatmadari, “’Virtue-signalling’ –the putdown that has passed its sell-by date,” The Guardian (January 20, 2016) <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/20/virtue-signalling-putdown-passed-sell-by-date>  October 14, 2018.

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