MORNING WORSHIP: Radical Hospitality requires risk and compassion

“John’s Gospel is one of the best stories about hospitality. Ray Suarez invoked it yesterday, so he was my warmup act,” said the Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson. She was preaching at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her title was “Called to the Fusion Feast” and her Scripture text was John 21: 1-19.

The disciples were in a fog after Jesus’ death, but they had to eat, so they returned to what they knew: fishing.

They had not caught a thing.

A man on the beach called to them and said to cast their net on the other side, and they got a haul greater than the nets could hold.

“This incognito host extraordinaire had hot coals ready for the fish,” Henderson said. “It never says who cleaned them. There was fresh bread. The stranger/cook is Jesus, who is always revealed in the breaking of the bread. And then he gives Peter a lesson: Feed my sheep, tend my sheep, feed my lambs.

“Hospitality is a radical act,” she continued. “There is eating and feasting and then action. This was no simple matter with Jesus. The Feeding of the 5,000 was not a quaint story about multiplying a few fish. The emperor had the power to distribute bread. Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 was a political act to show that he was the true source of life.”

Hospitality with action and organizing was a hallmark of early Christian society. In Acts 2, they cared for their community and they shared their resources and held things in common. It was paradise here and now.

“Early murals depict paradise here and now. It is the dominate theme. The crucifixion came later. In the early Christian church, paradise was this world,” she said. In the Roman catacombs, there are murals of women waiting for the bread, and they are saying, ‘Bring it warm.’ Warm bread and hospitality where the stranger became family overcame Roman domination.”

Henderson told the congregation of the radical act of hospitality at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, that welcomed a stranger who was not benign. He harbored racism and a disturbed mind.

“[This event] has started a new conversation about forgiveness and repentance,” Henderson said. “A flag has been taken down and we are talking about dismantling racism. The logical human reaction would be to button down the hatches, to stop going to places of worship, schools, the mall or work, all sites of such shootings. Opening a door could mean giving up your life.”

Christians, she continued, have basked in retreat for too long. It is time to press forward and create a new home space. She described the ministry of Kevin Finch, raised a Pentecostal and now a Presbyterian minister. He had long hung out with people in the restaurant business and became a restaurant critic on the side.

“I learned that this is the largest industry in the nation, double the size of any other employment group, and few of the workers have a safety net,” she said. “Many work several jobs and addiction is rampant. Many have been deeply hurt by the church.”

She described Finch’s encounter with Jesus, “who spoke as clearly to him as I am speaking to you,” telling him to become a pastor for the restaurant and hospitality industry. Finch said yes but he said to Jesus that these people did not want a pastor.

“People scatter like roaches when you turn on the lights when I tell them I am a minister,” Finch said.

But the vision of the community that shared everything in Acts 2 came to him, and Finch said the Spirit told him to feed and care for the people and watch what would happen. He founded Big Table, a nonprofit that brings together 48 people at a time around a big table for a meal. These are restaurant workers, owners and investors. They are served fine food and then Finch talks about someone in the community who could use help. Henderson said, “In this simple act of eating, they become the Beloved Community.

“This might be a way to attract the ‘Nones,’ ” Henderson said. “Paradise might look like this Big Table. In your moral imagination, what does radical hospitality look like to you?”

Henderson said, in her imagination, she saw the Amphitheater filled with Syrian refugees. The United States has taken in fewer than 1,000.

“When our life together as people of faith and moral courage is painted in the future, what will people say about us?” she said. “What stories will they see? Will they see feeding and tending, sharing resources?”

Two years ago, Henderson said, Auburn Seminary was asked to bring its resources to the South Side of Chicago to help a group of white LGBTQA activists and a group of black preachers and pastors restore their relationships. The process came to be called Table to Action because they met around a big table, ate together, prayed together and then formed a vision of what could be in the community.

Henderson closed with excerpts from a poem, “Of Home and Dreaming,” written by the Table to Action Project participants:

Home is not a place to be found, but a place to be created.

Kids play outside without adults watching over them.

My daughter is a blessed gift. There is room for her to run

and children with whom she plays. Youth come together

to learn about their ancestors, They are fed, they are clothed, they are loved.

Home is not a place to be found, but a place to be created.

The complete excerpt can be read with this story at

The Rev. William N. Jackson presided. Jordan Ellis, a scholarship student with the International Order of King’s Daughters and Sons and a student at Texas Women’s University, read the Scripture. Joe Musser and Jim Johnson, duo-pianists, played “Sonata in A Major” by J.C. F. Bach as the prelude. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, conducted the Motet Choir. the Choir sang “Exultate Deo” by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. The Harold F. Reed Sr. Memorial Chaplaincy supports this weeks services.