Hi, my name is John Spalding and I serve as the Mercy Coordinator here at Covenant. I have the honor of welcoming those struggling with material needs into CPC to experience the Gospel and perhaps receive financial help. I also work full-time as a bellman at a nice hotel. At both institutions, we highly value showing hospitality to our guests, whether the guests are people in need of the Gospel or people getting in their late summer vacation to Chattanooga.
The question then arises, “Who gets to be the guest, and who does not? Who is included at the party?” I can tell you that at my hotel we welcome almost anyone who has the means to book a room into the hotel’s perpetual Gatsby party. We occasionally have VIPs, but basically, if you have a way to pay, you are welcome at the hotel.
This means that people without enough money are not welcome. If someone strays in from Broad Street, say to use our lobby restroom to brush their teeth or wash under their armpits, they are quickly recognized as a “Red Ball” and summarily told to leave the party. A “Red Ball” is the code word our hotel uses for a homeless person (a materially poor soul from the streets - an often dirty, uninvited guest).
At Covenant though, we get to view the materially and spiritually poor differently than that. We are part of King Jesus’ Church, and we are welcomed as guests into His presence only because of His hospitality to us. No one among us is above this grace. As royal guests who have the honor of being welcomed into the King’s presence, we are now free to show hospitality to others in the deepest, truest sense of the word. In other words, the poor can be our guests!
Consider Jesus’ words in Luke 6.20: “Looking at his disciples, he said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.’” Hmm…it sounds to me like the poor are really VIPs.
I have also been thinking about how, in the book of James, it says,
- My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "You sit here in a good place," while you say to the poor man, "You stand over there," or, "Sit down at my feet," have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man (James 2.1-6a).
Ouch! I can tell you that we have dishonored more than one poor man at our fancy downtown hotel. I walk a fine line between heaven and earth there. Please pray for me - that I will do the right things from a good heart.
But Covenant Presbyterian can be different; we are a church, a part of God’s household, after all. Heaven forbid that we show favoritism within God’s household! We are called to be truly hospitable here. The poor are our special guests in God’s “upside down kingdom” (which is really the only right-side-up kingdom in the world).
So, what can you and I do to make a difference? We at CPC are known to be hospitable, but we can become even more hospitable to those who are different from us. We can hold our tongue and refrain from unfairly judging our neighbors based on the clothes they are wearing.
If a certain “poor man in shabby clothing” (see James 2.2) that I may have met on a Thursday morning decides to come to worship with us on a Sunday, will you help me welcome and include him or her as an honored guest? Let’s roll out the red carpet for the poor, the real VIPs of the Kingdom. Thank you!