Risky Business

This Sunday at Holston View United Methodist Church, the sermon will draw from Mark 12:38-44, where Jesus again causes us to think about our spiritual relationship with money. If you cannot join us in person, join us online at 11 a.m., or watch a recording later.

Today’s Preparatory Text:  1 John 3:16-24 (NLT)


By Chuck Griffin

When preaching, I occasionally reference the biblical concept of hospitality. As we prepare for this Sunday’s sermon, I want us to further explore this tame-sounding idea that actually is quite radical.

In the letter of 1 John, we hear what real love is, our eyes drawn to the death of Jesus on the cross. This is the same author who wrote in the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Later in the Gospel of John, in the 15th chapter, he also quoted Jesus as saying this: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

With the idea in mind that we might need to die for each other, it’s no stretch to say that living the Christian life requires us to take risks. We should never be foolish with our lives, but it’s possible our lives could be endangered as we work on behalf of our savior and the world around us. It takes spiritual courage not to pull away when such risks arise.

In my opinion, American Christians can be a little short on this kind of courage, in part because we are so affluent compared to the rest of the world. When you have stuff, you get used to guarding your stuff from others who might want it.

Our concern for our stuff makes our tolerance for risky interactions with others low. I’m generalizing, of course, but I feel comfortable that I just described our group average, and I acknowledge I often am more a part of the problem than the solution. A risk-averse people have difficulty solving many of the social problems around them simply because they cannot, as a group, step up and do the hard work that has to be done.

For an example, let’s look at helping the homeless. This kind of hospitality ministry invites us to make sacrifices in our own lives so we can dramatically impact the lives of others. Individually, some Christians go so far as to maintain “Elisha rooms,” creating simple spaces for people in need. (The Bible story behind the name is in 2 Kings 4:8-17.)

Again, there is risk, particularly when we engage with people we don’t know that well, and with risk comes fear. But when we dwell in a Holy Spirit-inspired community, we can help each other with hospitality, reducing risk and fear.

Sometimes the solution is as simple as modifying our church spaces with hospitality in mind. At my first appointment out of seminary, the church was expanding its facilities. The church leaders plopped the blueprints down in front of me one day and asked if I had any input.

“Just one,” I said. “Maybe a shower somewhere? Then if people in the community have an emergency, we could use the building for short-term housing.”

The church members liked the idea so much they put in two shower facilities. They now regularly house and feed homeless guests through a program providing temporary help to displaced families.

Sadly, not enough American churches have a hospitable mindset. Many churches, perhaps most churches, have yet to embrace this very scriptural work. They even are willing to pass that responsibility on to the government, distancing themselves from the powerful call God places upon us in Scripture.

Where do we get the spiritual strength to take radical risks as we make ourselves more hospitable? Well, we begin with small, communally shared risks, and we grow in strength over time.

It is my prayer that one day the American church, regardless of its denominational lines, will fully be the hospitable church described in the Bible. When that happens, the government’s intractable problems will prove to be no problem for God and his people.

Lord, take us down paths requiring courage, filling us with your Holy Spirit as we go. Amen.

For the One Who Owns Everything

By Chuck Griffin

Several of us in my family have birthdays in the spring months. I’ve had presents on my mind; most of us have a tendency to want to show love to someone having a birthday, and we often do so with a present.

For years, I had trouble finding a present for my grandfather around his birthday. As he got into his 80s and 90s, he had few real needs or wants that a present could cover. We still had that urge to give him something, however, if only to let him know how important he was to us.

The last few years of his life, we focused on simple gifts, mostly the kind my wife, Connie, could make in the kitchen. He seemed to genuinely appreciate her cakes and cookies more than anything we could have bought him in a store.

Why did he like them? Well, these gifts were sweet, and he liked sweets, particularly pineapple upside-down cake. I’m sure there was another reason, though. Connie’s work in the kitchen was a simple act of love. And as I dwell on that other reason, my mind also goes to how we respond every day to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who has given us the gift of eternal life.

Obviously, there’s no way to buy something for the one through whom all things were created. We’re blessed, however, with a simple wish list left by Jesus, one expressed very clearly throughout the New Testament.

If we were to package Jesus’ gift, I imagine it going inside one those big gift bags. You know how people pack big gift bags; sometimes there is more than one item inside. I see two items in Jesus’ bag, both related to the love and gratitude we feel.

The first gift is our love for God. Again, we who call ourselves “Christian” understand what God has done for all of us. Once true belief has washed over us, this gift is easy to give. Our awareness of eternal life should cause us to race toward our prayer and worship times with thankful arms held high.

First John 3:14-18 talks about the second gift. Once we’ve experienced that overwhelming love for God, we are told that we should next feel a similar love for those who share our belief in Jesus Christ as Savior. He even positions our ability to love one another as a test of our faith, a determination of whether we are believers or “murderers,” people who abide in death.

As I meditated on this text, I began to wonder if this is the real point of struggle for the modern church. Maybe it always has been; the letter of 1 John was written for a reason. Within the church, starting at the level of a local congregation, have we achieved the kind of mutual love described in these verses? Do we love each other to the point of being willing to lay down our lives for one another? We’re always going to have disagreements, but do we hear each other with patience, forgiveness and openness to the influence of the Holy Spirit?

Lately, as we in the United Methodist Church find ourselves in what seems to be a mission-stalling irreconcilable disagreement over how we read Scripture, I also have to ask this: For the sake of Christ, do we love each other enough to set each other free, to release the unwanted holds we have on each other? Even Paul and Barnabas, out of love for Christ and each other, had to seek such a mindset in the early days of the church.

Lord, we so often find ourselves focusing on discord in church. Help us to show each other whatever kind of love is needed so we may better work on your behalf. Amen.