Radical Hospitality: Building Bridges, Respecting Differences (Revelation 1:4b-8)
By Jim Kast-Keat
When I was eighteen years old I knew that I knew everything there was to know, especially in regards to the "us" and the "them" of the world. Eighteen year old me knew that being gay was a sin and that LGBTQ people were not called to leadership in the church (and my conservative Christian college did nothing but reinforce these beliefs). But four short years later I found myself on a hill across from my alma mater, standing in solidarity with dozens of LGBTQ young adults and allies, advocating for change in Christian universities with policies that discriminated against LGBTQ people.
How did I get from "there" to "here"? How did my view of "us" and "them" shift so radically?
Change is rarely easy. It often takes more time than we are willing to give. Sometimes we try and create change by convincing the world that we're right and they're wrong, hoping that our air tight and logically sound arguments will prevail. But more often than not, at least for me, change comes through personal relationships. This is how I found myself shifting my point of view and standing on that hill in solidarity with LGBTQ people as we protested the college I had called home.
"I'm gay," my friend said to me as we sat on the dock of a lake eating ice cream. I had just graduated from the conservative Christian school where he was currently a sophomore. "I don't know how to tell people, let alone my family. I don't know if I will ever tell them."
We sat there, eating our ice cream as our legs dangled above the water, mostly in silence and occasionally broken with a word or two from either of us. "I'm honored that you felt safe to tell me," I said. "And I hope you can always be all of who you are."
This was, for me, the beginning of the change in a belief I had held to so tightly for so long. It didn't come through a logical argument or sound reasoning. It came through a human relationship. This change came through love.
The opening chapter of the book of Revelation reminds us of "him who loves us and freed us from our sins....who is and who was and who is to come." The opening salutation that sets the tone for the prophetic vision to follow begins with a reminder of the person and work of Jesus. This is not a Revelation of logical arguments or sound reasoning, but a Revelation of a person, a Revelation of a human relationship. And it is this person, this relationship, this Jesus that offers the hope for change, from hate to love, from sin to salvation.
Seeing Jesus as the one "who is and who was and who is to come" reminds the reader of the God revealed to Moses in the book of Exodus - Ehyeh asher ehye, "I am that I am" - the God who was and is and is to come. This God, this Jesus has been up to something, is up to something, and will continue to be up to something in our lives and in our world. Change has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen. In Jesus we see God incarnate, the word made flesh, loving us and freeing us. And in the relationships we have with others, especially ones where you eat ice cream while sitting on the edge of a dock, we see God's incarnation continue, the word made fresh, freeing us from the oppressive views we once held so tightly and moving to a place where we can welcome and accept all people as God made them.
The Dutch Reformed Mission Church in Belhar, South Africa encountered "him who loves us and freed us from our sins." They wrote a confession in the midst of apartheid in 1982, known today as the Belhar Confession, that declares unity to be both a gift and obligation for the church and racism as a sin from which we must be freed.
The Belhar Confession states:
We believe that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered.
We believe that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor, and the wronged.
We believe that God calls the church to follow him in this, for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry.
We believe that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The Belhar confession echoes a God who is and who was and who is to come, words from the past that still ring in the present and offer hope for the future. For God is not simply "back there" waiting for us to return. God is a God who was and is and is to come, a God who was with us then, is with us today, and will be with us in every tomorrow. It is in the person of Jesus who loves us and freed us from our sin that we encounter one who makes possible the most insurmountable change, deconstructing our binaries of "us" and "them," "in" and "out," seeing unity as both a gift and obligation to be embodied in our world today.
Whether you find yourself sitting on a dock eating ice cream, accepting a sandwich from a coworker you considered your enemy, or protesting your alma mater with dozens of new friends, remember that it is the love of God in Christ Jesus that frees us and makes it possible for us and our world to change.
Jim Kast-Keat is the Associate Minister for Education at Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village of New York City. He is a divergent thinker, an ideation specialist, and an aspiring minimalist. Prior to working at Middle he helped lead ikonNYC in New York, NY, worked as a Product Designer with Sparkhouse in Minneapolis, MN and was a pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. He is the creator and curator of ThirtySecondsOrLess.net where he shares ideas and amplifies voices every day. To find out more about Jim go to www.jimkastkeat.com or follow him on twitter at @IdeasDoneDaily.
Bible Study Questions
1. When was a time you changed your belief or point of view? Who or what led to this change?
2. The Belhar Confession declares unity as both an obligation and a gift for the church. How have you experienced it as one or the other (or both)?
3. When you think of a God "who is to come," what injustice do you hope will someday be made right?
For Further Reading
- Revelation, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching by M. Eugene Boring
- The Belhar Confession (https://www.rca.org/resources/confession-belhar)
- Unity, Reconciliation, and Justice: A Study Guide for the Belhar Confession (http://images.rca.org/docs/aboutus/BelharGuideComplete.pdf)
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