>The Wild, Hospitable Holiness of Jesus

>11:04 am arrival in Freeport, MEphoto © 2004 Jared and Corin | more info (via: Wylio)

In today’s world (a phrase I use more than I probably should), there seems to be a struggle within the church to define holiness.  This hit home to me when a United Methodist Bishop at General Conference in 2008 addressed the homosexuality debate that occurred on the conference floor by saying it was a battle between two competing goods, “holiness” and “hospitality.” 

He said that there are some within the UMC who wanted to preserve the holiness of the church, keeping it pure.  Therefore, this camp wanted to keep homosexuals out of the church.  Homosexual practice is a sin and, therefore, the church needs to take a stand against it.  Homosexuals should not be members.  Homosexuals should not be ordained.  The whole notion of “reconciling churches,” welcoming the LGBT community, in this perspective, would be anathema.  Keep the church holy.

On the other hand, there were those who theologically emphasized hospitality, welcoming all.  Therefore, when lines were to be drawn about who was “in” and who was “out” in the church, the biblical concept of hospitality trumped all others.  The church should, as a rule, exclude no one.  All are welcomed to the table of Christ.  As the saying goes, “When Jesus is up on that cross, arms outstretched, who is it that he can NOT embrace?”  The implied answer is no one.  All are welcome.

However, are these really two competing interests, holiness and hospitality?  Are they really opposed to one another?

Alan and Debra Hirsch are two missional leaders over at CatalystSpace.  They address the strange holiness of Jesus that was not opposed to hospitality in a blog post entitled, “What Kind of Holiness is This?”

One of the confronting questions we find ourselves repeatedly asking is: What is it about the holiness of Jesus that caused “sinners” to flock to him like a magnet and yet manages to seriously antagonize the religious people? This question begs yet another, even more confronting question: Why does our more churchy form of holiness seem to get it the other way around – to comfort the religious and antagonize the sinners?

Jesus’s brand of holiness (the true form) didn’t seem to deter the sinners from wanting to get up close and personal with him. The gospel is full of stories of sinners, the bungled, the broken, and the bent clamoring to be near Jesus. Jesus was different. He wasn’t like the other holy rollers, the religious folk, of his day. There was something magnetic about his persona that caused even the most desperate to do the unthinkable and violate not only social etiquette of the day, but risk further marginalization by being close to him.

No doubt about it, Jesus’ holiness was compelling. The Gospels clearly show us that social rejects loved to be around Jesus. Think of prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, adulterers, Roman soldiers, Samaritans, Gentiles, and the list goes on. They couldn’t get enough of him. In hanging out with people like these, Jesus shows us that one cannot achieve holiness by separation from the unclean.

The holiness of Jesus, it seems, is a redemptive, missional, world-embracing holiness that does not separate itself from the world, but rather liberates it. And it wasn’t that Jesus was simply “a nice inclusive guy.” Everyone loves a nice guy, but nice guys don’t end up murdered on crosses. Actually, as Ben Witherington says, it’s not surprising (because of his actions and teachings) that Jesus was crucified. The surprising thing is that it didn’t happen sooner!

A lot of what is given to us as “holiness” today is really nothing more than morality.  I’m not saying that I want everyone to be “immoral” but I don’t think “immorality” excludes one from the heart of God–and therefore should not exclude one from the heart of the church. And this is not just about homosexuality.   Homosexuality is just the hot-button issue where this discussion, debate, fight, is taking place.  We could have similar discussions about welcoming the drug dealers, the divorced, the unwed mothers, the goth, the tattooed, the addicted, the poor, the…. well you get the picture.

I have recently been dealing with the death of a young man in the community who was loved by many.  I had the privilege of leading a memorial service for the family yesterday.  This young man, somewhere along the way, got into a hole that he just kept digging deeper into as he tried to get out.  Drugs.  Theft.  Lies.  Turning against the very ones who loved him most.  Very difficult situation.  But in his death the survivors are left with the tough questions like, “Did God love him?”  “Could God welcome a sinner such as he?”  “Is he in heaven?”  These are tough questions and I always fall back on the testimony of the love of God.  That’s where it starts.  That’s where it ends.  Period.  The holiness of God is intimately connected to his hospitality.  It is not opposed to it.

This is a “wild holiness.” It calls into question those of us in the church who would be bound to religious codes, separating ourselves from others.

We must again be surprised by the amazing capacity of Jesus to break religious stereotypes and to embody a kind of holiness that embraces the seriously weird and the wonderful, this is the Jesus we follow.
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