Imagine getting asked the same question over and over 100 times a day. As a cast member at Disneyland it happens. Every. Single. Day. “Where’s the bathroom?” “Where’s Mickey?” “How do I find Space Mountain?” But my favorite of all time is this. “What time is the 3 o’clock parade?” I kid you not. Not once but many times a day I would get asked that very question. And it’s hard – I mean REALLY hard – not to get sarcastic. The answer isn’t just obvious, but they said it themselves. “What time is the 3 o’clock parade?” Disney believes how you answer THAT question will determine not only your character, but how successful you are.
The key to Disney’s success is radical hospitality.
It’s anticipating the needs of others and seeking to fill those needs even before they ask. And part of that process is to humble yourself. It’s to assume other people aren’t idiots, but instead trying to tell us something. So we have to learn to listen. One of my favorite stories about this happened when Disneyland first opened. They had installed these flower beds and grassy areas along the walkways of the hub – that central circular area in front of the castle – because they wanted it to look nice, but people were walking through them in a rush to get to Tomorrowland and Frontierland to ride these new rides they had heard about. In their excitement, the newly sodded areas were getting stomped on and Walt asked his team what they should do about it. One guy said they needed to build fences around the flower beds so people wouldn’t step on them. Another said they should put up big signs saying “Don’t walk on the grass.” And Walt said they should rip out the flower beds and newly sodded grass and instead put in new walkways. He told his team, “People are showing us what they want and it’s up to us to give it to them.” Meet the needs of others.
Jesus gave us a similar example.
Think about the story in Matthew 25 about the sheep and the goats where Jesus is telling his disciples a story about a day when everyone will be judged by what they’ve done in life and he starts separating people into two groups, one on his right and one on his left. He says to the group on his right, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” We may not realize it, but how we treat others says more about us than about them.
Peter offers us some advice in this department.
When this letter was written, it was a time of persecution for the Christian community. By that I don’t mean they were worried about “taking the Christ out of Christmas.” They were being imprisoned, stoned, and killed for their beliefs. So this letter was written to not only give Christian followers hope, but to inspire them to courageous action through love and great hospitality as we are about to read.
7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 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. – 1 Peter 4:7-11
Peter challenges us to take hospitality to the next level!
To really go above and beyond what’s expected and to do the extraordinary. He doesn’t tell the church to put up with one another or to respect one another. Peter tells them they need to LOVE one another, and not just love one another, but love one another DEEPLY. How many of you love your neighbor deeply? How many of you love your spouse DEEPLY? I’m sure all of you, but do we always show it? It’s hard to love one another when we’re annoyed or when we feel put out. But Peter challenges us to do just that, to put negative feelings aside, justified or not, and to find it in your heart to love the other person. Then he wants you to go one more step, and be more than just hospitable, but to do it without grumbling. We’ve probably all been told at least once in our life, “Say it like you mean it.” And that’s what Peter is calling on us to do – not just to say the words but to follow up as if you mean it. And the one that really emphasizes how radical Peter is calling upon the church to act is he says, “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” That’s the kind of thoughtfulness we need to have when we speak to one another. Words have power. The power to hurt, the power to heal, the power to convince, so choose your words wisely as if you are speaking on God’s behalf, because you are.
Did you know a person decides in the first seven minutes if they are coming back?
When visiting a church, a person decides within the first seven minutes if they are coming back. They haven’t heard a sermon, sang a song, or bowed a head in prayer and already they’ve decided if they’re coming back. Of course, the rest of the service matters too. It can make or break if a person decides to stay long-term. But those first seven minutes are crucial in making a good first impression. And we all know how important it is to make a good first impression. It can make or break a relationship. And visitors notice EVERYTHING! From how well you keep up your property to how clean the pews are to how nice the bulletin looks, it all matters because it says something about who we are and what we value. But what makes the biggest difference is how we welcome people – not only one another but people we don’t yet know. Imagine going to a dinner party at someone’s home you don’t know very well. For many of us, that kind of situation is pretty intimidating. You might feel awkward. You might feel anxiety about meeting new people. You might worry about sticking out or not fitting in, like wearing sweats to a formal dinner party or a tux to a backyard BBQ. All of these nervous feelings might be stirring inside of you, but when you feel welcome, when you are made to feel like part of the group, your mind starts to relax and you can really take everything in. Visitors to our church are often feeling those same things so what we do next in helping them to feel welcome and part of the group is the first and biggest hurdle to overcome.
Put yourself in the shoes of someone walking into a church for the first time.
Or at least the first time in a long time. It takes a lot of courage to walk in those doors not knowing what kind of church this is. Churches have a reputation for being judgmental and unwelcoming, plus someone new has no idea about our traditions, our worship style, or what to expect. So helping them to feel at ease is incredibly important. Are they greeted when they walk in? Are they invited to come and sit with someone? Are they introduced to others? These are all hallmarks of the kind of hospitality Jesus calls on the church to make. I know that makes some of you uncomfortable because it makes ME uncomfortable, but think about what a difference it can make.
Let’s go back to our first question and why Disney’s key to success is in how we answer it.
“What time is the 3 o’clock parade?” It might seem like a dumb question, but if that’s how you approach it, then that’s the attitude that will come forth. And who wants to be part of a group that thinks you’re dumb? Where is the hospitality in that? Instead, we need to consider what they need. What are they really after? Because most of the time, what seems like a dumb question isn’t dumb at all. They just don’t know how to ask for the answers they’re seeking. When people ask, “What time is the 3 o’clock parade?” they’re really asking, “What time will the parade get HERE?” If you’ve seen a parade at Disneyland, you know the 3 o’clock parade STARTS at 3 o’clock SOMEWHERE, but from one end to the other it can be half an hour or later before it gets to where you are sitting. Maybe they want to know if they have time to grab a bite to eat. Or go to the restroom. Or change their kid’s diaper. There’s a lot hidden behind an innocent question and the trick is to figure out what the real question is and answer THAT. It’s not always easy, but it starts by putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It starts by looking for the needs of others. The same is true for the church. We might know what to expect in worship. We might know communion is always on the 1st Sunday and what we do with the bread and wine. We might know we stand up to sing at the beginning of worship and at the end. But a newcomer doesn’t know those things. They are nervous. They are anxious. And it took every ounce of courage they had to step into this place today. So it’s up to us to treat them as guests in our home. To help them feel at ease. And most importantly to welcome them in the name of Jesus Christ. So I want to challenge you today and all this month, if you see someone you don’t know, go up and say “hi.” Introduce yourself and invite them to come sit with you. You can talk to your friends outside of church, but this might be the only opportunity you have to make a good first impression. Take it. You never know what kind of a difference it might make.