Missional Messiness

In a couple of our recent training sessions, we have been discussing the subject of missional hospitality. And, commonly, we hit the deep and scandalous topic of how clean should your house be when hosting other people?  On the surface, this does not seem like a problem until we start reflecting more on our motivations both for and against a cleaner casa.

Some Good Questions

welcome to our formerly clean houseHere are some of the questions we asked, and I might add that they are good conversation developers:

  1. How much cleaning is enough in our cultural context for people to feel at home and not be distracted? (for example, northern Italians are fastidiously clean by nature. Sometimes, this is greatly appreciated, and at other times, one can feel quite awkward.)
  2. How much cleaning is necessary to be tidy and yet not cross the line of presenting an artificial, sterilized, and even hypocritical version of ourselves?
  3. How much cleaning reflects a performance-to-impress attitude where we simply become Martha in our own home and miss all of the good worship of Jesus? Is genuine hospitality a dinner party or something much more familiar?
  4. How should we respond when the little humans (children-unleashed) make a mess or break something in our homes?
  5. Do other people know where you keep your utensils, serving items, and tools? And do they have access to them?

A Key Principle

Don’t allow grace and mission to be hindered over a standard of sanitation. Martha couldn’t choose ‘the better meal’ because she was hindered in her hospitality. And a Pharisee was revealed as a fool because he failed to clean his “house” properly; his mission was himself, not grace. Luke 11:37-41

In the ministry here (Serenissima), our Gospel communities are called LifeTeams. And because we are seeking to share more and more life together, a LifeTeam is all about making a missional mess. Often, Christian community is simply a mess-on-mission. Somehow when the mess comes, however, the graciousness of God is mysteriously revealed and people can rest their souls and feel more at home than in their own houses. And that’s the beginning of missional hospitality; the use of our homes as temples to God and not to ourselves.

So, how clean should our house be when hosting other people? As clean as necessary for Jesus to be seen. And that could mean letting the little humans be loved as little humans, as well as re-humbling ourselves in the whole idea of putting on a production when someone comes through our front door. For some (and we have experienced this too), it might mean a bit more effort to recognize the missional context of people with which they are working. With a nip of hyperbolic language here, leaving an un-emptied, cat-litter box in the middle of the room where you are sharing Christ — honestly — might be a distraction to some. It’s just an observation, but I don’t think I’m out of my sand-box on this one.

7 Lessons of Gospeltality

Jesus is invited to a meal where he takes the opportunity to disciple two sisters in hosting and communing. The story is found in Luke 10:38-42 just before he trains his disciples to pray. The intent of the passage is to have both sisters banqueting at the feet of Jesus. In this case, however, the quiet and resting Mary acts as a foil to her agitated and busy sister, Martha. And that is where we see the discipleship lessons of Jesus coming into play. The presence of the Good News (Gospel) coupled with the activity of teaching and training in a meal setting (hospitality) is where we combine the words to get Gospeltality. On a lovely side note, isn’t it great that Jesus is discipling women and also how he disciples them through their home and everyday lives? By doing it this way, Jesus went beyond the cultural norms (women weren’t discipled) and did it so that it wouldn’t be scandalous to others (informally at a meal setting). 

Our gratitude goes out to Sister Martha who represented us so well. We needed these discipleship lessons:

  1. We need to make sure that we understand who the host is correctly. Jesus said in verse 42, “…this one thing is necessary…” He is the one thing.
  2. We need to understand what is being hosted. The bigger picture of Jesus is why we serve. He is the living meal of God; the one, good portion that will never be taken away.
  3. We need to get our attitude right about our circumstances. If the presence of Jesus is there, then we need to recognize it and rest at his feet.  
  4. We need to forsake the kind of hosting that gives pride to our cooking, cleaning, and homes (our stuff). Otherwise, that will become all that we are about.
  5. We need to help people interact with Jesus. People should be able to see and hear Jesus when they intersect with our lives. If Martha doesn’t learn this, people will always see her. Mary got it.
  6. We need to give-way to Jesus to do his ministry in our every-day world.
  7. We need to allow the marginalized to host us. Jesus came to his own and was unwelcome (Jn. 1:11-12). There were plots to kill him. Jesus had no home, and he was poor. He also made himself the marginalized King by leaving heaven to be the friend of the broken and the least. And so, Jesus says, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40).  We have so much to learn from those who are on the outside. We also have a great opportunity to be humble because we will be constantly surprised how Jesus enters our homes and our worlds. If Jesus doesn’t host us, we will always be the host, rival him, and make ourselves superior to others.

Martha3

Lord, Do You Not Care?

Luke 11:40

But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me’.”

The way that Martha asks this question reveals her attitude in coming to this meal of grace with Jesus. When she says, Lord do you not care? She is expecting a positive response. We can catch this sense of irritation in her question, “It’s obvious that I’m justified in how I feel and how I’m viewing this situation! You do care, don’t you?” In Greek, the way the word ‘not’ is placed in the sentence gives us this clue, “Do you not care?!”

That’s a tough one to answer. When an irritated woman is about to serve a meal and asks me, “Do you not care…?!” I don’t think I would answer like Jesus did. I strive not to have fear of man issues, but I haven’t gotten so far with fear of woman issues. My immediate reaction would be, “Why yes, I do care!” Then, I would stand up, move toward the kitchen, look at the other guys sitting around and say, “Don’t you care? Look at you just sitting there… pathetic.” Or something similar.

Darrell Bock in his commentary on this passage says, “As is often the case when Jesus is asked to settle a dispute, he refuses to side with the one who asks that things be decided in a particular way (compare Lk. 12:13, Jn. 8:4-7).” [Luke, pg. 201] So, Jesus himself does not get up, neither does he tell Mary to rise up and help.

Instead, Jesus warmly says, “Martha, Martha…” because he is training his disciple and friend to eat the greater meal. Martha will always have this “service chip” in her attitude unless Jesus saves her from it. People will not see Jesus or the Gospel through her hard work, because it will always go back to her. Her hospitality has to be trained to point to the greater host. It would literally be better if they didn’t eat (temporarily, until the host was ready). There was a better meal to be had.
See? Jesus does care.
Martha4

 

Rival Hosting 2: Stressed-out Martha

Luke 10:38-42

Martha is anxious and troubled about many things, says Jesus. Here’s my question,
What does she have to be troubled about?

There’s no dishwasher, no microwave, no playlists to queue, no cellphones ringing, no status to update that she’s “…cooking for the King of kings. How about you?” Copy. Tweet. Like.

She’s not taking pictures, chasing toddlers, or printing out a new recipe. The floors are made of hardened clay so they’re naturally a bit dirty. She has a simple broom, but no vacuum and the broom is faster anyway in such a small house. She doesn’t have dish soap, so it’s always rinse cycle and there’s a certain relaxing bliss to being ignorant about germs. The furniture and utensils are simple so she’s not using her fine China. Can she even find China? It doesn’t matter because their internet connection is perpetually down so there’s no stream of superfluous information. And she’s not living in the Age of Distraction, but Martha is inventing multi-tasking which hasn’t even been named yet.

How many things could she possibly have to be so stressed-out about?

If Martha, being so troubled by the simple stuff of life-back-then, were living today — she would implode. She would never make it! Give our world a try, Martha!

All the more desperation is necessary, therefore, to recover the life-rhythm of allowing Jesus to host his Gospel of grace through our homes. If it happened to Martha back then, I don’t think we are better-off now.

 

Galilean_kitchen
note: for more information about this picture and Galilean kitchens, click here.

 

Rival Hosting

Martha, the anxious hostess, invites Jesus the Kingdom-host to come into her home. She wants him to be around her house, but she’s not yet ready to surrender her life to him. Martha craves the admiration and affirmation of a powerful Rabbi. Instead, the events start to turn against her will and she breaks-down into anxious anger.

Galilean_family_room

What’s really happening is a small power struggle; a rivalry of hosting. Martha is in her “every-day-world” where she is queen; it’s her home. Hosting is where Martha shines. And like all of us, home is where “Martha is Martha.” The plot thickens when Martha invites the King into her world who is at home in all of his world. Who should impress who? Which one should host the other?

A quick discipleship lesson we can learn is that we can’t rival the host where it matters the most — in the center of our everyday lives, or what we call home. Otherwise, our homes can never be gospel homes. Jesus hosts, or we do.

Luke 10:38-42

 

note: for more information on this interesting photo and a Galilean family room, click here.