Epiphany: January 6, 2017.
Today we begin the liturgical season of Epiphany which means, “to make manifest” and its the season in the church calendar where we are reminded of Jesus’s identity and his mission to the world. Starting with the three pagan astrologers who follow a star to this child, it is revealed that this baby is the King above all kings and that his kingdom is not just for the chosen Israelite tribe, but for all people.
This Epiphany I sit in a coffee shop reflecting on the changes that have happened over the past two years since I published this website. When I first launched this project in early 2015, radical hospitality was like a new lens to see local missions- how churches could have eyes to see the mission field in their own backyards and the gift that these relationship would bring. This is all still true in early 2017, but there is another vital and prophetic dimension to hospitality now.
I created the “Radical Hospitality for the Rest of Us” in 2014 while on sabbatical from full-time ministry. The project was born out of a desire to inspire local churches to live out the welcome of God, to get beyond the paradigm that hospitality is coffee, muffins and smiles across the aisle, to experience the richer meaning found in Scripture of welcoming the stranger and the “least of these” because Jesus people are called welcome others the way that Christ has welcomed them (Romans 15:7).
While I was in full-time ministry, I saw how the important role church folks could play with the people I was walking with (think folks fresh out of jail, trying to stay clean). I saw that whenever relationships were forged across racial, social class or divergent life experiences (example: suburban soccer mom meets chicana gangster teenager), there was really beautiful fruit/outcomes for all parties involved.
I worked on this project and released it in early 2015. It was on friends news feeds for a few weeks and then went underground as my personal life got a little crazy. Our family went into serious transition mode: moving states, I gave birth to our second child, another move and followed by a foggy year of sleep deprivation. I found myself at home full time with our two young kiddos, with barely enough mental cognition to speak full sentences much less write thoughtful theological pieces.
So things have shifted as they do in time, the children are growing up and sleeping (hallejuah!) and I have more time and mental ability to work on this project. As I sit down to write about church and welcoming the stranger, I am finding that working on this topic feels very different now.
The world has changed in some significant ways over these past two years. The summer of 2015 saw unprecedented rise in refugees fleeing the Middle East and Africa, streaming into Europe, around one million in number. According to Pew Research by October 2016, 1 in 100 are now displaced from their homes. This is the highest number of displaced people since the UN began collecting data in 1951. It truly is a refugee crisis. This has put enormous pressure on governments, particularly in Europe. The sheer number of displaced people combined with rising terrorist attacks happening on western soil has been a catalyst to growing fear and resentment of the stranger/immigrant in Europe and beyond. This can be seen in how people are voting in democracies, with more elected governments pledging to rid the country of outsiders and protect the citizens.
With this changing global atmosphere, I believe that the Church is at a critical crossroads. Will Christians go the way of their nation states or will they go the way of God’s Kingdom? Christians hold citizenship of their various nation states but Jesus calls us to a deeper allegiance that trumps all others- to the Kingdom of God. In this Kingdom, there are no borders and every man, woman or child is viewed precious in the eyes of God. This is an upside-down kingdom where the last, lost and least are held high and celebrated, the poor are invited to banquets even though they cannot repay, and the people of Israel are reminded time and time again that they must love the immigrant/stranger for you were once immigrants in Egypt (Ex 10:19). The decision that Jesus people face in this moment is whether they will it go along with the nation states’ movement towards fear of the outsider and self-protection or join in with the agenda of God’s kingdom, one of self-giving love and ridiculous welcome to the deserving and non-deserving alike both locally and abroad.
In the season of Epiphany, we reflect on how Jesus is made known to the world. It is good to reflect because Jesus’s identity is not as straight forward as one would guess. Jesus himself acknowledges that he can found in surprising places…. Matthew 25:40 he said whenever a person or nation welcomes the least of these (the thirsty, hungry, stranger, sick and imprisoned) is welcoming him.
May we this Epiphany season have eyes to see and hearts of courage to live out radical hospitality, the welcome of Jesus in disguise in our hearts, our homes, our neighbors, our cities and nations. Trusting that the little seeds of welcome that we sow in our ordinary lives and churches may have a bigger effect than we realize!