“Turning to One Another”
I Corinthians 13:1-13 and excerpt from Turning to One Another by Margaret Wheatley
By Don Ludwig, February 2, 2020

“Let not the emphasis of hospitality lie in bed and board, but let the truth and love and honor and courtesy flow in all thy deeds.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Introduction

It has been one week since the tragic helicopter crash that took Kobe Bryant’s life, as well as that of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and the seven other passengers on board.  What a tragedy.  In the year 2020, when our collective attention span has been reduced to that of a single gnat – on Super Bowl week, when all eyes would have ordinarily been on football – we are reminded how temporary life is.

One report said they discovered that Kobe’s arms were wrapped his daughter Gianna when they found them.  For me, I can not get that image out of my mind – Kobe was clinging onto what matters most in life.  Certainly, in times like that, you are left with the only things that really matter.  There has been a lot of stories this week about Kobe’s accomplishments, influence, power, and magnetism – he was an unparalleled force in our society – he certainly was one of the most graceful and intense players to ever step foot on a basketball court – but even Kobe understood that fatherhood eclipsed basketball – that the people in his life were the most defining moments of his life.  I am reminded of Thomas Merton’s words, “In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything”.

Perhaps it is only fitting that this month our spiritual theme is “hospitality” – considering the importance of “turning to one another” – of building relationships – of examining what it means to be a welcoming community — to hold each other close.

Back to the Basics

Being a football fan, there is a great story that dates back to the early sixties, when Vince Lombardi took over the reins of the Green Bay Packers.  The Packer franchise was struggling.  The team had been losing for almost ten straight years. They were at the bottom of the standings, morale was sagging.  Enter Vince Lombardi, new coach.  He is charged with the challenge to turn this franchise around, and he is all pumped up about it.  He begins meeting with the team, leading practices, inspiring, training and motivating.  At one practice he got so frustrated with what was going on with the players that he just blew his whistle and said, “Everybody stop and gather around.  This is not working! Either I am not training you right or you are not getting it right, but is all just not working.”  He knelt down, picked up the pigskin and said, “Let’s start at the beginning.  This is a football.  These are yard markers.  I am the coach, and you are the players…”

He went on, in the most elementary of ways, to explain the basics of football.  This story has found its way in the folklore of the franchise of the Green Bay Packers.  And it is used in other arenas because everyone knows that once in a while we all need a breathtakingly basic pep talk.  And sometimes we need to just stop playing the game and just reflect on the moment.

As I shared last week, the next few months is the season of “chill” at Southminster.  We are taking some time to get back to the basics, to huddle around each other to share our stories and deepen our togetherness. Lombardi might say to us – “Look, let’s keep it simple, Southminster Christians.  Here is the bible.  We are the church that proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyone.

Let’s support each other in here.  Let’s make hospitality our central game plan in all that we do. Let’s go back to the basics and begin with our mission statement that is on the front of the bulletin: Southminster is an inclusive, welcoming community of Christian faith.  Our mission is to manifest Christ’s love in the world.

Is hospitality truly our lived identity?

I have three questions for us to ponder this morning and in the coming month.  First, is hospitality truly our lived identity?  Southminster claims to be a welcoming congregation. We say that we embrace, engage and WELCOME ALL genders, races, sexualities, classes, ethnicities, skin-tones, shapes, and sizes – regardless of class or education. We loudly proclaim that we can/will/do, “…take in the world in all its complexity and diversity…” But, is this really true? Have we lovingly flung our doors wide open to WELCOME ALL or are there some people more welcome than others?  In our intense and unabashed work toward social justice, do we neglect to open ourselves up to each other, with vulnerabilities and all?

I know why these words are on in our mission statement.  It makes us feel good and warm and fuzzy.  Initially, I feel embraced by these words.  There is a warmth and recognition — a sense of being acknowledged.  Somehow, from heart to head I love these words – they value multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusivity — I want that for my faith community.  Friends, it is not enough to print it on our bulletin or web page, there has to be meaning and intention at its core — inclusivity will not flower if the seeds we plant are not watered and nurtured.

So I ask again, is hospitality truly our lived identity?  In order for you to fully answer that question, you will need to consider the viewpoint of others.

Is Hospitality our “flow” above all other causes?

My second question is this: Is Hospitality our “flow” above all other causes?  In other words, are relationships more important than all else? Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” describes flow as “being completely involved in an activity (or reality) for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

When we are in the flow – in the zone – when relationships become more important than causes for the church — Csikszentmihalyi says, we have a sense of ecstasy, a greater clarity of purpose, a sense of serenity and timelessness.  The Apostle Paul would say when you make love for each other the most important thing that you do — your most critical game plan — you will never fail.

Southminster is a complicated place.  I have told many that we are like a shopping mall — there is something here for everyone. To make matters even more complex, we are more like cats than dogs — we like to go our own way.  We have several dozens of missions and pursuits and causes and well-intended programs all going on at the same time.  Volunteers are needed everywhere — add to that all of the causes in the world – the Puerto Rico victims – the repercussions of war and politics and the list goes on & on – it is easy to become overwhelmed with “compassion fatigue”.

And now we talk about Hospitality as another thing we must do.  Friends, here is the thing: hospitality should not be just another thing that we do, it should be the thing that defines all other things.  It must become our flow as a church.  People who visit Southminster, depend on this flow.  I am reminded of one of the late, great, giants of Southminster, Lou Balmer — when he and Darlene came to Southminster for the first time over 50 years ago, he went to the coffee hour, and he told Darlene, “I am going to give them 5 minutes, if nobody talks to us, then we are out of here and never coming back”.  Thank God, Bryce Adkins, another giant of our church, approached him with seconds to spare.

It is easy for us to become entrenched in our small circle of friends at Southminster. This month, there are many opportunities to sign up for a hosted dinner or activity.  I will also be working to help us take inventory of our welcoming processes which will include greeter training at some point.  But it is up to each of us to get in the flow of things.

  1. What if every person here met two new people in the next month?
  2. What if we made it our goal to learn 5 new things from 5 different people in the next month?
  3. Perhaps we could share our new experiences and new friendships with one another at the congregational potluck on March 15.

Are we Equitably hospitable toward all? 

And finally, once we align our flow to be relationship-centered, let me propose that then we can ask, are we equitably hospitable to all?  In Canada, a couple of years ago, a particular awful video went viral online, making headlines in the news. A video of a white conservative religious woman rapping how transgender people should not be able to use the bathrooms that they identify.  Yes rapping — this video was offensive on multiple fronts — don’t google it.  This video was all over the place and an 11-year-old boy named Anthony James wanted to respond because he had grown up in a progressive faith community and it never occurred to him that religion would be used to discriminate.

As someone who identified as gender creative, his community of faith was a place that he was accepted without hesitation.  And then he got to work — he first organized moms and then community organized churches all over Canada to make a new video — a video that emphasized love, support for the Trans community — proclaiming the role of churches and celebrating our full humanity regardless of their gender expression.  Now when Anthony’s mother expressed a legitimate concern about him — as an 11-year-old gender creative, putting a video of himself permanently online, speaking out on this controversial issue, she said to Anthony that some people will hold this against you.  The 11-year old Anthony responded, “you are right Mom.  But that is not a reason to be quiet.  That is the reason I must speak up.”

Perhaps, now more than ever it is our calling to turn to one another — to listen — to learn — to speak up whenever we must — to cling onto what matters most.  Southminster ought to be a place where we dismantle the boxes that have been placed over and between us by society.  We are a place of love that expresses itself in diverse ways and comes in rainbow colors.  When we turn to one another when we take time to listen and learn something new, when we expand our awareness of other causes besides our own and with those who are not in our immediate circle — then we will begin to make our mission statement a reality.

A-men.