Musings on Church and Organisation at Christchurch, Wayville. August 28, 10am.
Luke 14:1, 7-14 Good News Translation (GNT)
One Sabbath Jesus went to eat a meal at the home of one of the leading Pharisees; and people were watching Jesus closely.
Jesus noticed how some of the guests were choosing the best places, so he told this parable to all of them: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place. It could happen that someone more important than you has been invited, and your host, who invited both of you, would have to come and say to you, ‘Let him have this place.’ Then you would be embarrassed and have to sit in the lowest place. Instead, when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that your host will come to you and say, ‘Come on up, my friend, to a better place.’ This will bring you honor in the presence of all the other guests. For those who make themselves great will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be made great.”
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors—for they will invite you back, and in this way you will be paid for what you did. When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind; and you will be blessed, because they are not able to pay you back. God will repay you on the day the good people rise from death.”
Today, I propose three areas I have been thinking about that relate to the gospel reading for the day.
First, some musings, provoked in me by the readings.
Second, what I call ‘spiritual architecture’ – the way we shape things in our quest to follow the way of Jesus revealed to us in the Scriptures and our experiences in the world.
Third, the challenge for us, connecting the reading to today’s Migrant and Refugee Sunday.
The context of the reading is a meal. We get the sense that a leading Pharisee has invited Jesus home to check him out. And immediately, Jesus obliges by healing a man in front of their eyes – and it was the Sabbath!
Then the Gospel writer tells us Jesus notices the status games going on – the cliques, the ‘who won’t talk with who’, the dress codes, the white collar and the blue… food being hogged at one end of the table by the important people and not being passed down the other end… you know…
So he tells them all a parable about a wedding feast; it’s a pointed story about the priority of honouring the poor and the outcast.
What if 10 o’clock worship was a meal – like this feast Jesus is talking about?
What if hospitality itself was the liturgy and its component acts its ritual?
Who might the poor and outcaste be, that we invite to the feast?
Might they be buskers who can’t get a gig? And ministry to them might be to get to know the busker network, inviting musical contributions to enliven the feast, in the context of the presence of God?
Or could they be out of work artists, invited to share the meanings of their work in the context of the presence of God?
Or anyone in need, for that matter!
Might we not find ourselves hosting angels unawares?
Hebrews 13: 2,3
Remember to welcome strangers in your homes. There were some who did that and welcomed angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them. Remember those who are suffering, as though you were suffering as they are.
Remember, the messengers of God, whom Abraham welcomed into his desert tent, were not wearing dog collars! He had no idea who they were, until after his act of welcome and hospitality! They could easily have been robbers who could have overpowered him to leave him destitute in the desert!
But this welcome became the template for offering Abrahamic hospitality, influencing the civilized world as the prime means of establishing relationships of trade and cultural exchange. It was how civilisations survived!
What might worship would look like if it were imagined in Abraham’s tent, rather than in the Jewish temple or synagogue?
I wonder if the Reformation got it wrong by pointing all the seats in the one direction and elevating the pulpit to make its point about the primacy of the Scriptures?
I wonder what we might learn from the failed missionary strategy in India, to focus on the Brahmins because they were the leading caste – they were ‘the important people’ – and hope for a trickle-down affect to the poor?
- ‘Spiritual architecture’
As a chaplain in a large institution I have become increasingly concerned about bullying in the workplace. It seems that no matter how many policies are enunciated, how many training sessions are offered, the spiritual collateral damage to people within institutions seems to be ever rising. It seems to me there are systemic problems with the way we organize ourselves.
It might be time for a close look at what I am calling ‘spiritual architecture’ – to ask questions about how organizational structures are designed and built with regard to fostering human flourishing, particularly the flourishing of an enlivened human spirit.
At Flinders we have an opportunity to experiment with this in Oasis – what was the Religious Centre, but now a university centre concerned with interfaith and intercultural relationships – or more broadly, a centre exploring ways to live harmoniously together across lines of difference.
The University has given us one of its prime sights, the former Staff Club (later, Function Centre) and has refurbished it to reflect our vision at a cost of over $1m. The architects have done a great job! We didn’t want something too flash – it needed to feel like ‘home’, which for many from developing countries might be pretty basic.
The new Oasis has been designed so that anyone entering is personally greeted and cannot avoid meeting others face-to-face. The architecture encourages interaction between students from all over the world, believing that they will, simply by casual interaction, learn about each other and grow in respect and friendship, fostered by the culture of welcome we maintain as a team of volunteers – a familiar culture to many, rooted in the age-old customs of Abrahamic hospitality and the perpetuation of an honour-shame culture that has held their societies together through the ages. Having experienced Oasis as ‘home’, such students perpetuate their native culture of hospitality within Oasis.
So how to organize the team to model this dynamic and overcome potential conflict from difference
I am excited by a recent piece of research that is giving me some more clues. I would like to share it with you.
Laloux Culture Model
A brief explanation of this model can be found at:
And further explanation by the researcher himself is documented at:
My initial take on its connection with spirituality is at: https://travellingchaplain.com/2016/08/11/valuing-spirituality-in-organisations/
My parents were always uncomfortable attending church. They were poor. They always thought they were not good enough.
Now I wonder whether our actual architecture places a kind of emotional putdown on the stranger – feeling uncomfortable among ‘saints’, and even more so if led to the ‘best seats’! How might they feel at home spiritually – not just turn up as a result of some special enticement – or for a free feed, as intimated in the gospel reading for today?
I also wonder whether another spiritual dynamic that may operate when we embrace privilege, accepting the ‘have – have not’ dualism on the surface of the gospel reading. If we identify with privilege, we find ourselves naturally condescending to the ‘under-privileged’- which grants us more privilege. The old ‘cold charity’ dilemma.
And I wonder whether, in our history from the Constantinian God of control, (that brought stability from the fear and chaos – red paradigm – to unify the Roman Empire), the Church has been more recently arriving at the green, Hillsong, feel-good God. This relates to the lean and agile paradigm being spruked by the Prime Minister, adding a political twist to pervasive western individualism – ‘it’s all about you!’ We’re getting used to having to do everything ourselves – whether it’s pumping petrol, getting cash from an ATM, or proceeding through the self-checkout. The necessity for human, face-to-face service is being displaced by more efficient, and seemingly more cost-effective, service mediated by a computer.
The green and blue paradigms offer hope to reduce the bullying of coercive, hierarchical, authoritarian yellow systems and a way through the present western, competitive, profit-centred orange paradigm, in the move from the Industrial Era to the Information Era – the green paradigm.
But the emerging blue brings me hope of a potential to build communities and spiritual health.
- Migrant and Refugee Sunday
Oasis has chosen hospitality as its key process.
We have embraced Nouwen’s understanding of making friendly, appreciative space – interactions focused on listening to and entering into the world of the other to understand without judgement – and to respond, if invited, to honestly and culturally-sensitively share our own.
Such hospitality is transformative. It deals with coercion and authoritarianism by locating life responsibility in the control of the other, as well as ourselves.
I leave you this statement by Nouwen, for meditation, to consider what it would mean and look like for you and this community as you continue to consider Migrant and Refugee Sunday and beyond, to welcome the stranger.
Thank you for your interest; and I hope what I have presented, if only sketchily, has been helpful.
Radical Hospitality (Nouwen)
Henri Nouwen. Reaching Out: The Three Movements in the Spiritual Life. (1975 Doubleday. New York) p 68
Hospitality… means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit. It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opportunity to others to find their God and their way. The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt a life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find their own.