The Power of Hospitality
Hospitality will help the church to grow.
The lack of hospitality will kill the church.
Several of you have told me about churches
where you were not made welcome.
One man told me he went to a Presbyterian Church
for four Sundays in a row and nobody spoke
to him; nobody even welcomed him.
That man decided not to attend that church.
A woman told me about a church she visited
because she was “church shopping.”
The only one who spoke to her and shook her hand
was the minister.
She never went back.
A citizen of Kingston said to me,
“I don’t go to that church because
nobody notices me;
nobody remembers my name;
nobody cares about me.”
I read about a stranger to a church who sat in the front row with a stove-pipe hat on his head.
He said he did that to show he was a newcomer.
He didn’t want anybody to overlook him.
The trouble was that most people feared him.
He was so different
they didn’t know what to do with him.
There was a time in this church when people raised their arms in the air while singing hymns.
That got them attention, but not a warm welcome.
On the other hand, I was impressed
when we attended worship in a church where three people welcomed us.
After the service two people sat with us over coffee.
Another person offered to show us around the church.
Hospitality is extremely important
according to the Bible and according to Jesus.
In the Old Testament there’s the story of
Abraham’s hospitality to some strangers.
He ran to greet them and to make them welcome.
Hospitality protected people from
the dangers of travelling alone.
There were no safe, cheap shelters for travellers.
Those who travelled could be
robbed, beaten and killed.
If a needy traveller were discovered he should be
welcomed, fed abundantly, and housed warmly
even at great cost to the host family.
Jesus went beyond that.
He told a parable in which the king says to those
who were given the kingdom,
“I was naked and you clothed me.
I was hungry and you fed me.
I was a stranger & you welcomed me.”
They didn’t realize that by clothing, feeding and welcoming the stranger they were being hospitable to the king himself.
Jesus challenged his followers to
overcome their fear of the stranger and attend to the lonely, the excluded, the rejected.
One of the most shocking parables Jesus told we call
The Good Samaritan.
You know the story:
a Jew is beaten by robbers and left for dead;
the best Jewish religious leaders pass him by;
a Samaritan, hated by the Jews, attends to him.
Jesus called his listeners to be hospitable
even to those we hate or fear.
The Jews hated and denigrated the Samaritans.
Samaritans were unclean, heretical half-breeds.
The Samaritans returned the compliment.
We build ourselves up by looking down on others.
I look down on people who look down on people.
That’s prejudice and it enables us to hide our insecurities even from ourselves.
The trouble is that when we look down on others
we dehumanize the others but ourselves also.
We can’t be human and degrade
another single person.
The only way to treat another human as
an equal being is to be hospitable.
Even today the Jews and Samaritans fear each other.
When we visited Israel we travelled in a small bus.
I wanted to visit Shechem, the site of the covenant renewal ceremonies, in Samaria.
Our guide said we’d stop there on the way home.
Unfortunately we got delayed and night fell upon us.
Our guide told us that he dared not stop in Shechem
in the dark for fear the Arabs or Samaritans who lived there would attack us.
So I missed Shechem, the place of covenant renewal
ceremonies, because of the lack of hospitality.
Greek stories and fairy tales often tell about
gods and supernatural beings who disguise themselves as the lowest of mortals, and then go through the earth to see how people will treat them.
The Epistle to the Hebrews warns,
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to
strangers, for by doing that some have
entertained angels without knowing it.”
Hospitality is one gateway to God.
Hospitality to others may be the best way to God.
Hospitality is more than being kind to strangers
and welcoming newcomers to church.
When we’re truly hospitable we affirm that
each person we meet is made in God’s image.
Each person, regardless of
physical or mental ability,
each person is loved by God.
That means every person must be welcomed
and accepted and supported by us.
Jesus lived out that attitude.
Jesus accepted everybody.
Jesus welcomed everybody.
Remember how Jesus chastised some Pharisees
for their lack of hospitality.
Jesus pointed out to one Pharisee friend,
who had invited him to a feast at his house, that the Pharisee had not greeted Jesus nor had he washed Jesus’ feet.
He said that to the Pharisee because
a so-called “bad” woman had greeted him, had washed his feet with her tears and had dried them with her hair.
Obviously the Pharisee, a good, religious man, who
wanted to reform Judaism, did not consider
a woman, a “bad” woman, worthy of his
attention and welcome.
He was not hospitable because he knew he was better
than that woman and he didn’t want to make
her feel at home in his house.
During World War II the Huguenot town of France,
Le Chambon, hid many Jews away from the Nazis who were out to kill all Jews.
It was natural for Huguenots to receive the poor and suffering Jews; it was part of their faith.
They were very successful; Jews were seldom found.
When the Nazis came to inspect the church and the
people in the town, Mrs. Trocme,
the minister’s wife, invited the Nazi
officers in for lunch.
The people were horrified, scandalized, upset.
Madame Trocme explained that it was the role of
the Christian to be hospitable to everybody.
Even the despised Nazis were to be welcomed.
There are no exceptions to our hospitality because
God has made us all of equal value.
Even our enemies need and deserve our love.
I remember the time a woman of another church phoned me about a mutual friend.
She didn’t want to invite that woman to her church
because that woman wasn’t her social equal.
Not only that, she was superior to that woman on
an intellectual and educational level.
That Christian lady asked me to visit our mutual friend and take her into our church where she was sure she’d feel more at home.
I took her words as a compliment to me and to our congregation, but I marvelled at the arrogance of the woman who phoned me.
Imagine, that Christian lady refused to deal with
a woman whom she felt was beneath her socially and intellectually.
That Christian lady lacked hospitality.
As a result she lost a friend,
she lost a member for her church,
she lost my respect.
Paul declared that in Christ there is
neither Jew nor Greek,
neither male nor female,
neither slave nor free.
There are no divisions among us;
we are all one in Jesus, our Lord.
The Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament
remind us over and over again that there are
three groups of people to whom we
must be especially hospitable.
Those three groups are
Those people were
the least protected
and the most disadvantaged
members of society.
Widows were in need of attention
because they were without a man
to protect and provide for them.
Orphans were without a man, a father, in their lives.
Strangers were listed with widows and orphans
because they were alone.
Strangers not only lacked a man to protect them
and provide for them but they had no friends
to support them.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, says that the mark
of true Christians is that they will
“extend hospitality to strangers.”
If you’ve ever felt alone you know
how important it is to be uplifted by the
hospitality of the people around you.
We’re not made to be alone.
We’re created by God for community.
When we declare that we’re made in the image of God we’re saying that we are made to relate to God, to communicate and commune with God.
God works through people, so we have to take
the time to see God in the others around us.
As Christians we have to connect with
those who are alone and lonely.
There is nobody more alone than the person
suffering an illness.
Anybody who is chronically sick knows that he or she
is often outside the fellowship of friends.
True, some of those who are friends and family
do wonderful things to make the sick person
feel loved and needed.
Still, there is a difference - I’m sick; you’re not.
I remember reading about a young girl who became a
victim of cancer and lost all her hair.
For a girl to lose her hair is traumatic.
The normal girl spends hours each day
arranging her hair.
She felt naked when her friends came to visit.
Her friends all had their hair.
One of her closest friends called up the other friends -
both boys and girls - and suggested a most
unusual way to support the girl
with the cancer problem.
Two days later, when they all walked into
the hospital to visit their bald friend,
she broke into laughter and tears.
All her friends - both boys and girls - were bald.
They had not only shaved off all their hair
but they had donated their hair to make a
wig for their friend with cancer.
What a joyful event that was - 27 young people all
bald and all gathered around the bald
cancer victim in the centre.
That girl knew she had been welcomed,
was greatly loved and
would always have friends.
Jesus related to
the sick and the outcasts in a unique way.
Jesus didn’t let anything get between him
and those he wanted to welcome.
Jesus broke all the rules of religious purity
in order to relate to
a tax collector,
a woman hemorrhaging,
a synagogue leader with a sick daughter.
The tax collector was the most hated man in society.
He lined his own pockets by collecting taxes for
the enemy, the Roman oppressors.
The woman who was bleeding was discharging
menstrual blood which made her unclean.
Yet, when she touched Jesus,
Jesus commended her for doing so.
Men have always feared menstrual blood.
One reason given as to why women cannot be priests in the Roman Catholic Church is that if they were menstruating at the altar they would pollute that holy place.
The synagogue leader had tried to save his daughter.
But nothing had worked.
So, in desperation, he turned to Jesus.
Jesus went to the home of the tax collector, Zacchaeus, and ate and drank with him.
Jesus was happy when the unclean woman touched
his garment so that her bleeding stopped.
Nothing kept Jesus from going to be with the elder
of the synagogue and his daughter, even when
it was reported she had died.
Jesus touched her and gave her life back to her.
Jesus was most famous for his table fellowship.
He sat down at table to eat, drink and talk with
the damned and
For those people to sit down for a meal with Jesus
meant that Jesus accepted them and
was open to them.
He showed them that they were important.
What was the meaning of all this
eating and drinking with Jesus?
Most people at the time of Jesus
never had a full stomach.
Many went to bed hungry; others starved to death.
The symbol of heaven for the people was a feast.
At the heavenly banquet there would be meat -
the poor people hardly ever ate meat.
The meat would give them strength.
There would be wine, something only the rich
could enjoy and then only on special occasions. Go back and read the New Testament and you’ll find
many times food is mentioned and celebrated.
It’s significant that Jesus shared a meal
with his disciples before he was killed.
Those disciples of Jesus were not good men.
One had been a tax collector.
One had been a zealot, out to kill Romans.
One became a traitor.
None of them understood Jesus.
They all abandoned him in his final hours.
Jesus embraced them all.
I used to think that the communion service was
the most sacred part of worship, and
that it was for good, holy people only.
In the good old days of Presbyterian history
you couldn’t receive communion unless you were given a token to show you were worthy.
I, as a minister, used to “fence the table.”
I would put an imaginary fence around the table
warning the unrepentant or unloving that they shouldn’t come to the table but should stay outside the fence.
Now I know better.
I now know Jesus was hospitable to everyone.
Sinners, failures, the unclean and the outcasts
were welcome and encouraged to share in the
table fellowship of eating and drinking.
So now I announce that everyone is invited to
the table of Jesus - Jews, Muslims, Hindus - because he never kept anybody away.
One of the greatest sins of the church is to keep
God’s people from eating and drinking at
the Table of the Lord.
Everybody is welcome.
God invites all of us to be with him in
sharing the communion meal.
Such is the hospitality of God.
Anything less is unworthy of the Church.
Let nothing separate us from the hospitality of God.