The Hospitable Iconoclast

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” 

Lina Thompson
Seattle, WA  |  U.S.

This is one of the most exciting, and difficult, times to be a part of God’s mission. It feels like the curtain is being pulled back for many majority-white churches in the United States. People are realizing how big the gap is between who the Church thinks we are and who we actually are. It’s a painfully glorious shattering of our false identity, and an incredible opportunity to welcome Christ anew into our midst.

In the last month, it seems as though many white Christians have experienced an epiphany about their own complicity in the 400 years of systemic racism, oppression and violence against the people of our country who are of African descent.

The Epiphany is welcomed. But I wonder why it took 4 centuries of injustice, and literally millions of black lives murdered, before many Christians could see and speak out? Why was the confession of perpetuating racism in our communities so long in the making? What is it about our human nature that drives us to cover up our complicity in such acts of dehumanization?

While I have my own very personal and painful experiences of racism as a Pacific Islander, I can’t know or fully understand the black experience of this injustice. My seminary education didn’t include conversations about racism and its history within the Church. And the white evangelical organizations I worked for avoided the topic, except for those very few attempts at a shallow reconciliation. Instead, God gave me African American mentors, friends and colleagues to learn from and follow. God also gave me African American young people in the community where I served, who regularly pulled me aside and lovingly asked me the question: “Lina, you do know that you are talking about a white Jesus in a white man’s religion that promoted and perpetuated slavery right?”

Those questions took my breath away, and I didn’t fully understand them at the time. Twenty six years later, I think I get it. My young friends shared an acute analysis, without any sort of judgement, why my “form” of Jesus made no sense to them. And they were right. I needed to interrogate the Gospel AND the Jesus I was talking about.

Their questions and observations started me on a journey of seeing Christ’s life, and cross, through the lens of those who are marginalized by society and for whom the “fullness of life” seems like a deck of cards stacked against them. Their questions led me to the Jesus that we find in Luke 4. The One who put the most marginalized, the most “unwelcomed” on this earth, at the center of ministry. The truth of the Gospel never felt truer to me than it does right now. I see Jesus with greater clarity and still know that I only see in part.

But all of this comes with a cost. Following Christ in this moment requires us to do the hard work of “seeing.“ For some, this feels extremely scary—as though our world has been turned upside down.

I share this C.S. Lewis quote often because these words anchor me whenever there’s an opportunity to re-see Jesus.

“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered from time to time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?”
Is this what we’re witnessing today? A shattering of the stories we’ve told ourselves about Jesus? And the stories we have told others? Might that shattering be a mark of God’s presence in our midst?

Maybe most importantly, can we learn to welcome this shattering as the welcoming Christ?

This is the true hospitality that Jesus is inviting us to practice in this week’s text. Gospel hospitality is the capacity to welcome the guest we would rather reject, deny, expel, marginalize, criminalize and unjustly accuse. It is a hospitality that welcomes the humanity of others and in turn, makes us more “human.”This invitation to a radical hospitality feels a lot like justice to me.