“If Jesus ran a coffee shop, what kind of coffee shop would it be?” I remember my former boss Rupert asking, I rather unhelpfully said: “Well we would not have to worry about running out of coffee!” (I was only twenty at the time) but have since often wondered that question,
Interestingly a friend once asked: “what does it mean to truly be a Christian group, it surely means more than putting a cross in the logo, or happen in a Church”.
The Oasis Coffee shop in Wakefield was something that revolutionised the mission and ministry in that community, and twenty (plus) years ago it was much more rare for Churches to engage in that type of venture. Yet, I would say it worked not because a coffee shop is a good idea, but it was a response to God’s call and the community need. It was founded out of obedience, the question was “as God has called us to run a coffee shop, who is he calling us to be, and what is he calling us to do?”
I recently discovered a Church café that is called “HOST” –in the midst of the financial district of London. The word ‘Host” also has Eucharistic connotations too, with Jesus hosting the last supper -and in Anglo-Catholic traditions- is sometimes refereed to the bread and the wine, symbolising Christ’s body broken for us, and his blood shed for us. Jesus, by whom everything was created, suffered and died, to welcome us to feast at his table, the host of the universe laid down his life in sacrificial love, reminding me of the words from Graham Kendricks ‘A Servant King’: “Hands that flung-stars into space to cruel nails surrendered”.
Yet as I think of Jesus as the host of all we do, it is a helpful reminder that in everything we do, we submit and surrender to the Lordship of Christ, it is all for his glory, too often as we host things and put on events pride can creep in.
I remember one Sunday I covered a communion service at a neighbouring Church, everyone introduced themselves incredibly proudly by their job title “I’m XXX and I’m the choirmaster” or “I’m one of the lay readers here” and sometimes when we serve status and self importance creeps in, we may be doing it for Christ, but sometimes we like it a bit too much ourselves and need to rediscover our humility. A friend who led a large Church said: “I could fill the pulpit every Sunday of the year, but we can never find people to clean the toilets”.
As I continued to think about hosting, I began to think through a few ideas, firstly God is the host –we might collaborate with him in hosting, but “if the Lord does not build the house the workers labour in vain” and if God is hosting, and we are acting as his ambassadors (2Cor.5.20) then who we are matters as much as how we do things.
If God is truly the host, then are we listening to him, being prayerful in our decision-making together, too often, I fear, we say prayer at the beginning and end of a meeting more out of habit than expectancy?
If God is the host, then it is his Kingdom DNA running through the project, that not only informs our relationship with God, but also one another, our fellow co-hosts, if God is love, we must love one another, and yet so often in many Christian projects relationships get strained, break and go wrong: Yet John in his Epistle reminds us that “God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them” (1Jn.4.16) –therefore if God is the host, then love needs to be prioritised. In choosing love this affects everything, for example choosing to use fairly traded items so that all our suppliers are treated well, or welcoming in the eccentric stranger who smells –which businesses would discourage but Jesus’ love embraces. Rupert, from the Wakefield café used to talk about “going the extra mile with a smile” –which is much easier said than done, as some people can really try your patience- but it is these everyday disciplines, choosing Christ and choosing love- that builds culture around the DNA of the Kingdom of God.
For Christ to be central and his spirit leading us in all that we do requires us to be intentional about “acknowledging him in all our ways” (Prov.3.6). The Church I believe should be, at its heart an intentional gathering of people around the person of Jesus Christ (in a time and place) –when that ceases to be the case we run the risk of becoming (to quote Archbishop Welby) “a rotary club with a pointy roof”.
As a community that is established around Christ, then we need to constantly ask whether our values and our actions truly reflect Christ in our shared life together.
The Church I was involved in planting in Bristol in a forgotten part of the parish had for a while on our facebook page the question asking: “If Jesus came to our Church, would he feel say “this feels like me””.
Our ‘strap-line’ was “All Souls” (called that, partly after a Church in Eastbourne that would not be written off and closed, and partly because it was a Church for everyone) “where strangers become friends and friends meet with Jesus”.
Formed around a prophetic word from an Archdeacon (does happen sometimes, depends on the archdeacon!) and our desire to welcome and love people, not just “being a friendly Church” but one you can make friends in, but also to see people meet with Jesus.
If Jesus truly is the host, then we want people to be able to encounter him, with as little baggage and clutter in the way as possible. A clergy colleague used to talk about “wanting to be invisible” by which he meant that he wanted people to meet with Jesus and he did not get in the way of that at all, he used the image of the Donkey bringing Jesus into Jerusalem, fulfils a function but not the focal point.
For Christ to truly be host, Lord, central -We must work out what it means to serve Christ not just in our individual capacity but also in dreaming together, corporately, bold, audacious, prophetic visionary dreams to see the advancement of the Kingdom of God within our community and context. Part of the reason why at our heart Christianity is very much a corporate faith lived out together is that in coming together with our different gifts, skills, talents, callings and abilities we are so much more than just our individual components, together, when led by the Holy Spirit, we can truly be a force of transformation and blessing beyond our expectations.
Often this will mean using the resources we have been given faithfully and obediently, with generosity for hospitality, which will require us to serve others by offering our resources to serve them, it seems from the Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and from Acts that worship and ministry involved lots of shared meals and mass feeding projects. As we co-host, we offer back to God the resources he has bestowed on us to be used for his glory remembering that “all things come from you, O Lord, and of your own do we give you” (1Chron.29.14).
The call to co-host with Christ –to partner with him in mission-, is a call to humility, to give sacrificially, to be generous and loving and welcoming to all, knowing that it is often in the faces of those the world would dismiss we often encounter Christ in “distressing beauty”.
I think that this is a helpful image to think as we remember that Jesus came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a random for many” (Matt.20.28), the Christian understanding of hosting is not to be the one who has the power and the kudos –like some form of Royal Garden Party- but rather, like Christ at the last supper, took a towel and washed his disciples feet (including Judas who would later betray him).
Scripture is full of hosting images, Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, is of party thrown by God “who prepares a banquet for me” (Ps.23), Or a King who invites everyone from the highways and byways, the blind, the lame and the beggars (Luke 14.15-24), a picture of extravagant generosity on people who could never repay such kindness. Or a loving Father who runs to meet his wayward child and kills the fatted calf for his son’s homecoming party (Lk.15).
Are we like the Father throwing a party, or perhaps like the older brother, who resents his younger siblings home coming? I believe it is actually this older brother who actually is the more “lost” of the two brothers, who does not realise or understand the Fathers character, it is him who is the lost son!
Yet I believe something of an “older brother syndrome” sometimes inhibits our hospitality –and prevents it from being Christ-like-. Perhaps fear we could risk loosing our influence, power and status? Sometimes all sorts of attitudes can creep in and spoil our hosting and hospitality, and we (just like the older brother) need to realise God’s awesome love for ourselves too. Within Church we know we could be welcoming our replacement, and although there is a joy in passing on the baton there is also sometimes pain and grieving that happens there too.
We think of who God is, God is the creator of everything, has filled the earth with good things in generosity and abundance –even if human greed does not share it equally or fairly- and the Bible tells us that “God shines the sun on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt.5.45) –God is good and kind to everyone, even those who do not follow him, because God is a generous host, and calls us to be like him.
I have known people return from mission over-seas and tell of people who have nothing, living in abject poverty, and yet in their hosting and hospitality they are so generous giving what little they have. Just like the widow who gave two copper mites –all she had to live on- as a temple donation (Luke 32.1-4) or the widow and her son that share their food just one last loaf of bread, made from flour and oil, with the prophet Elijah and yet their flour and oil never runs out and feeds them through the famine (1Kings.7-16). Or the woman who had led a sinful life pouring out a pint of pure nard over Jesus’ feet, anointing him, crying over his feet, and drying them with her hair –she extravagantly gave what she had to Jesus rebuking the token-gesture, going through the motions, hospitality he received from Simon the Pharisee who was hosting the party, here is Jesus response:
“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7.44-47).
We love much because we have been forgiven much, we are generous because God has been generous to us, it starts and ends with him. When we co-host with Christ, partnering with him in his mission, we do so as an overflow of our love for him, it is an act of worship, where we want to elevate Jesus so others can see, encounter, meet with and be transformed by him. It is out hope that Christ may be seen in us, and through us they may meet with him, and yet too as we serve we also meet Christ in other people too.
So, what would it be like if Jesus ran a coffee shop, or any form of Christian hospitality? It would be a place where an upside down world is turned the right way up and feels like a foretaste and outpost of heaven.