What time is the 3:00 parade?
Sounds like the dumbest question in the universe. At least it did to me. When I was a cast member at Disneyland, we’d get questions like that every single day. What time are the 9:30 fireworks? Or sometimes it would be the follow up question that would get you. Someone would ask where the restrooms are and after you told them, they would say, “Are those the closest?” As if I was purposely hiding some secret stash of restrooms. “Well, we don’t tell everyone about them, but if you just go through that door over there, you’ll find an even closer one, but we reserve those for the people who ask.” There were times I didn’t want to answer. It just seemed beneath me to answer such idiotic questions! But I was wrong. Because I was looking at it from the perspective of a guy who gets asked a dozen idiotic questions by lunchtime. Every. Day. But the Disney perspective is there are no dumb questions. Disney encourages us to answer every question with the same enthusiasm as the very first time we are asked it, because it likely IS the very first time that person has asked it. Or they wouldn’t have asked. The problem with my attitude was that I was looking at the situation as an insider, not an outsider. Instead of seeing the question as idiotic, I should have had enough empathy to realize that the guy was probably wondering how long the parade lasted or how long it would take to get to where we were. Because even though the parade might BEGIN at 3, it doesn’t get down to Main Street until about 3:30. He may have wondered if he had time to go to the restroom or grab a bite to eat or any number of other things going through his head. But I was looking at it from a self-centered perspective, as if the questioner should be considerate of MY day instead of the other way around.
We do that in church, too.
If you think about it from an outsider’s perspective, we probably do things that an outsider would have no idea about. When my friend Mark invited me to go to church with him, it took me about 10 visits before I felt comfortable doing the sign of the cross. He’s Catholic and there are a LOT of rituals in the Catholic worship service. Lucky for me, Mark’s a patient guy, but it felt weird having to stand up, sit down, kneel, sit down again, stand up again, kneel. I felt like I was doing burpees in a cardio class. But lest you think that’s a “Catholic” problem, let me assure you it is not. Cassie was usually the one to take Eve to Sunday School when we first started attending Alpharetta First UMC back in Georgia. But one time after worship, she asked me if I could go get her. I said, “Sure,” confident I could navigate my way around, but Alpharetta is a big church and there weren’t any signs on where to go. I quickly got lost. I stopped someone and asked them where the Sunday School rooms were (they looked like they might know) and the guy told me to go down to the Sanctuary, into the Narthex, turn left, go through the Fellowship Hall and right toward the Chapel. And then he left. I was still trying to figure out what the difference was between the Sanctuary and the Chapel by the time he had gone. I thought they were the same thing. And what in the world was a Narthex? I eventually found the room, but it wasn’t easy. I had to ask two more people along the way before I got there. Sometimes we are so familiar with how and why we do things and where things are we lose sight of our “other” perspective.
But keeping a perspective for the “other” is precisely what Jesus came to do.
Keeping a perspective for the “other” is precisely what Jesus came to do. We’re going to read this morning again from Peter’s first letter to the church. This time we’re going to read from 1 Peter 4:8-11. 1 Peter 4:8-11. If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phone and want to read along it’s near the end of the Bible, almost at the very end. 1 Peter 4:8-11. This theme of putting the “other” before you or treating the “other” as a member of the family is a theme that is carried throughout the Bible. We have many references to this kind of hospitality all throughout these 66 books that make up our Scripture. We heard one of them earlier when we read from Leviticus. “33 “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’”” Even in the early life of the Israelites, God wanted his people to be loving and kind. He established codes of ethics and patterns of behavior to take care of the foreigner or the widow or the orphan – something that many other cultural groups didn’t do at the time. But God wanted the Israelites and by extension all of us to always keep in mind the love of others. When God calls on us to “love our neighbor” he doesn’t just mean the guy who lives next door, but the neighbor you meet in the grocery store or the neighbor you meet at a ball game. John Wesley pointed toward this idea when he said, “I look on all the world as my parish.” Our “neighbor” is everywhere.
8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Hospitality literally means the love of strangers
Hospitality literally means the love of strangers. We are called upon to offer love to everyone, even those we don’t know. Maybe especially to those we don’t know. Peter tells us that the gifts we have are meant to be used in the service of others and that when we speak or when we serve, it’s always with God in mind. When we show that kind of hospitality, when we show love for others with our gifts, our words, and our service, we honor the God we believe in and we become living testimony to his work in the world today. But even if we accept all of this, how do we do it? By default we often leave all of that stuff up to the pastor. I mean, after all, we pay the guy, right? He should do his job! But the job of hospitality is the job of all Christians and perhaps the job of the congregation even more than the pastor. It is true that the pastor plays a huge role in getting people to stay in church. Something like 80% of new members say a major reason they decided to make a particular church their place of worship is because of the pastor. BUT a lot of research has been done to show that the hospitality of the congregation counts even more. Did you know that a person decides whether or not they are going to come back to your church within the first seven minutes? It’s true! A person decides whether or not they are coming back to your church within the first seven minutes. Generally, that’s long before they ever meet the pastor and certainly before the pastor ever preaches. People use all sorts of criteria to determine if a place is right for them. Are they greeted warmly by someone at the door? How easy was it to find parking? Was it easy to learn people’s names? Did they make a connection with anyone? All of these questions and many others are floating around in the head of someone new to our place. How intentional are we about our hospitality?
I know you all know by now how much I love Disney.
But believe it or not, it’s not just because of Mickey Mouse or Big Thunder Mountain or pin trading or anything like that. I love how Disney makes me FEEL. If you like Disney that’s probably one of your reasons, too. Disney specializes in making you feel happy. It’s even in their vision statement: “We create happiness by providing the finest in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere.” And they go all out to make that a reality. For Disney it’s all about service. Service is the key to success and there we have much in common. Jesus told us that we are to live a life of service and at times we just don’t know how to best do that. But Disney does. The Disney Definition of Quality Service is to exceed guest expectations by paying attention to the details. The Disney Definition of Quality Service is to exceed guest expectations by paying attention to the details. They do that in spades. It’s in things you would never notice, but combined together creates a huge impact on your experience. For instance, when you walk by the candy store, you’ll always smell something sweet coming out of the vents. You normally don’t notice it, but sometimes that hint of vanilla (or peppermint at Christmas) comes wafting out into the street. And they picked vanilla because after much research they found it is by far the number one flavor in the world, so no matter what country you’re from, it will appeal to your senses. Have you ever noticed that you don’t see planes flying overhead at the park? At one time they used to, but Disneyland was able to restrict the airspace so you aren’t distracted from the noise or from aircraft carrying advertisments. Disneyland is also surrounded by what they call “the berm.” The berm is an artificial barrier around the park that shields guests from what’s going on outside. You can’t hear traffic or see moving cars or advertisements for McDonald’s. When you’re in Disneyland they want to surround you with an environment that takes you away from the cares and worries of the world because they want to create happiness. We do too. We want people to feel joy when they come to our churches. We want people to experience the love of Christ in a powerful way. We want people to be transformed by the power of God’s love in their life. And for that to happen it has to simply be a part of who we are and what we do.
We have to be wiling to take that one extra step.
We have to be willing to take the time to greet people at the door or even before they get to the door. We need to anticipate the cares and concerns that visitors might have as they walk in. We have to prepare worship for those who haven’t graced the doors of a church in a long time. Those are the kinds of details we can’t afford to overlook. They may seem minor or may seem like something we can do “later” but it’s this kind of attention to detail that is so important. Maybe that’s having an information area so that if you’re visiting you can find out more about what we do. Maybe that’s having a huge sign out front letting people know exactly when our worship service is. Maybe it’s having reserved spots in front of the church for first time visitors. It could and should be all or any of these things, but our goal is to create a mindset at our church that is so “other” focused that we naturally take that one extra step, go that one extra mile, for those outside our walls. Because you never know. That one extra step can make all the difference in the world. That one extra step can make all the difference in the world.
27 feet. That’s the distance between any two trash cans at Disneyland. 27 feet.
That’s the optimal distance between trash receptacles. After much research, Disneyland determined that was the widest distance people would generally go before dumping their trash on the ground or in a bush or somewhere unsightly. 27 feet. So they put extra trash cans everywhere. Especially near areas that serve food. They don’t want you to be burdened with having to find a trashcan. They want you to instead focus on what ride you’re going on next or what parade is about to come. And that’s what we need to do as well. We need to be as passionate about others because when we create environments that make people happy, we create happy people, and happy people will always come back. We don’t want people worrying about how we pray or how we take communion or if they are supposed to stand up or sit down. We want them to feel safe, secure, and happy. And when they do, we have the opportunity to share with them the love of Christ and hopefully, by our example, they will find in us a place they can connect with God. Because that’s what it’s all about. To make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. That’s our vision statement. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.