Pastor Brent looks at what the writers of the New Testament teach about hospitality and how through hospitality we can tear down the fences between us and those around us in the world.
Fences: Tearing Down Fences Through Hospitality
Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9
I am fascinated by social media. Not so much by what everyone is posting, rather I am fascinated by what social media has done to our culture. Specifically, how someone can have 792 friends and still be so isolated and alone.
Where technology should make us more connected, it seems to have done the opposite. A study in 2017 actually found that even though social media allows us to be connected to our loved ones 24/7, it’s actually making us feel lonelier. The report suggests that if you spend over two hours a day on social networks, your chances of feeling socially isolated are twice as high.
Another aspect of social media I find interesting and also disturbing is how it has changed the way we communicate. And while some of the changes have been positive, like being able to see first-hand, in real time, events that are happening half-way around the world, it has also had some devastating effects. Increasingly, it seems like people are more concerned about making comments than having conversation. If they can come up with a comment, and it doesn’t matter if the comment is true or not or if it hurts someone, as long as I can post it, then I am satisfied.
Back and forth, all day on Facebook and Twitter people lob these electronic hand grenades with little care or concern to the casualties or devastation to themselves or others. They rationalize, as long as I get to hide behind my social media account and say what was really on my mind, nothing else matters. And to compound the issue, we gravitate towards those groups of people just like us, who think just like us, talk just like us, and we exist online in an echo chamber of insignificance.
Don’t get me wrong. I like social media. I don’t often post but I like keeping track of things going on in your lives when the Facebook algorithm chooses to let me know. More and more, I am convinced that social media creates pseudo-connections, a false sense of community, and as we think about our relationships, in order to get to a place of healthier relationships, it may be time to tear down a few fences.
How do we do that? Does that mean we need to get off of social media? It probably wouldn’t hurt and it would probably make many of you happier if you did. But that’s not the ultimate solution.
Social media really isn’t the problem. It just brings the problem to the forefront. Because the issue isn’t whether it is right or wrong to post a picture of your lunch for the world to see. The issue is do we really see people and do we really want to be seen? Or are we more concerned about the facade or the fantasy others and we portray? Do we really love and care for others, their thoughts, ideas, and beliefs? Do we care about what they’re going through? Do we want to hear what they have to say?
How do we combat isolationism and loneliness that seems to be increasing? How can we push against this natural desire that tells us we don’t need anyone else? The solution is hospitality.
The Pursuit of Hospitality
Pastor Amy did a message on the Lost Art of Hospitality back in February. In that message, she addressed what we often think of when we talk about hospitality. After all, we know businesses in the “hospitality industry” – hotels, restaurants, theme parks, cruise ships.
We also have countless magazines and television shows dedicated to entertaining and hosting. I know that when we say the word hospitality, we all have an image that comes to mind. I would like us to set that aside today. I want to challenge us to think beyond the Martha Stewart hospitality and the American idea of what this means to broaden our understanding and seeing what most of the world already knows about this.
At its core, hospitality is about answering one of humanity’s most basic needs. The need to be known and to know others. And this is at the heart of following Jesus.
Jesus spoke about hospitality in a parable in Luke 14. We read about hospitality in the early church in Acts 2 and how the early missionaries were the recipients of hospitality in Acts 28. The Apostles Peter, Paul, and John as well as the author of Hebrews all talk about it in their letters in the New Testament. There is a simplicity in the message. Look at what each of them says.
Romans 12:13: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
1 Peter 4:9: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
3 John 5-8: “We ought therefore to show hospitality to [brothers and sisters] so that we may work together for the truth.
Hebrews 13:1-2: “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”
At the end of each of these letters written to followers of Jesus in the early church, these men who walked with Jesus remind those who are now following Jesus to practice, offer, or show hospitality. Each time that word is used, it is the same Greek word. Philoxenia.
Let’s break down that word into its parts. Philo, meaning love like we would see in Philadelphia which means brotherly love. Xenia which means the stranger. We might be familiar with as we hear often on the news today about xenophobia which is fear of the stranger. So when we put these two words together philo and xenia we get love of the stranger.
In the first century, hospitality was one of the highest social values. It was something that was desperately needed especially in a day and age without motels and restaurants and when it was often unsafe to travel. People relied upon the kindness of others when traveling or in need.
At its root, hospitality is about love, welcoming the stranger or outsider into your space, making them feel welcome, meeting their needs, providing a safe place. It is one of the simplest things we can do but also one of the most challenging.
Barriers to Hospitality
Culturally, we have created a system that is isolating. We no longer view our homes as a place to get to know and share with others. They have become places of refuge. We work hard. This time of year we leave the house before the sun is up and return after it has already gone down. And your home is your retreat, your refuge. And I am as guilty as the next person. Drive into the garage, shutting the door as I walk in, hoping to not have to talk to another person today.
What if instead of only seeing our homes as a place of refuge only for ourselves, we began to see it as a gift from Good to be shared with those around us? To see our homes as a place where we live out a real faith in front of people who just need to see what real faith looks like.
In the book “The Simplest Way to Change the World,” it says, “…a countercultural, but hard-hitting truth: we could use more ordinary Christians opening up their ordinary lives so others can see what life in light of the gospel looks like. And what better place to watch Christians than in their home?”
Far too often, Christians are defined by those with the loudest mouths, those that have a microphone and camera in their faces. I don’t know about you, but these people rarely speak for me. Sometimes people ask me about our church and when I say Baptist there is a visible change in their demeanor. There is a connotation to the word Baptist. In fact, some of you have even shared with me you had those reactions when you first thought about coming here. But my response is always the same. Give us a shot. If you will walk through the doors of this church on a Sunday and meet some of the incredible people, experience a worship service, see what we are really about, I believe we can change your mind about what it means to be Baptist.
What better way to dispel the myth about what Christians are really like than by engaging them in real, genuine relationships that begin in our homes? And even better, around the table over a shared meal?
If Christ followers are reduced to the images and soundbites those in our skeptical, post-Christian world see on television or on social media, it is no wonder they aren’t interested in faith. To be honest, I am not really interested in that faith either. But if we can show them what authentic Christianity looks like, we can show them a Savior worth following.
Not only is reimagining our homes a barrier to hospitality but also our lifestyles are a huge barrier. I was talking with someone this week and they were telling me they wanted to get together with another family for dinner. Right now the earliest date on the calendar is six weeks out before it can happen.
We live with no margin so that even if we wanted to have someone over, to share a meal with someone, we can’t. We are too busy. But hospitality means building margin into our lives, making time for disruptions. It means doing more than waving and nodding at the neighbor when you go check the mail but going across the street to actually connect and have a conversation. It means making time in our schedule to be available. It means living below our means so that when someone shows up, we have enough to share.
Unfortunately for many of us, hospitality gets relegated to a “when I have the time and when I have the money” priority. And we all know when that happens…NEVER! This is why it is important for us to see hospitality isn’t an event or occasionally activity. It is a lifestyle.
That’s why the Apostle Paul said it the way he did in his letter to the Roman Christians. He said, “Practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13) When we practice, we don’t do it by accident. I have never accidentally practiced the piano. When we practice we do it intentionally. We plan for it. What Paul says here is that we should pursue hospitality with intense effort, to strive for it. Paul isn’t saying try it. He is saying go after it. We won’t stumble into it. Make it a priority.
And it won’t be easy. Which is why Peter says to do it without grumbling. It will cost you something. Time. Money. Comfort. This highlights the biggest barrier to us becoming hospitable people, opening our homes and lives up to one another and the stranger The biggest barrier is our heart.
And that’s why we need to go back to the definition of the word again and see that the only way we can ever get over ourselves, get over our narcissistic lifestyles is by loving others. Because if all we do is add an activity to our already busy schedules, I can guarantee we will complain about it. And that’s not true hospitality.
By Peter mentioning the possibility of us grumbling about it tells us that the call to open our lives to others isn’t just for those with the gift of hospitality, those people that just love hosting a party, having people over for dinner. This is something we are all called to. After all, it is one of the best ways to show people what Christians are really like and how following Jesus isn’t for the perfect, it is for the regular, the ordinary, and the broken. We can also show that following Jesus really does make a difference in our lives.
What Hospitality Is and Isn’t
How do we live this out? If there is one thing I want you to take from this message today it is this: Hospitality isn’t about coming to church, although we should be a hospitable church. It isn’t about throwing dinner parties, even though inviting friends over can also be a part of it.
The most important thing to know about hospitality is that it begins when we see the image of God in others.
We live in toxic times. We don’t just have people who believe differently than us religiously, socially, politically. We have enemies. Horrible people who are a waste of flesh and shouldn’t exist because they are using up valuable oxygen.
As I say those words I hope you get appalled. But isn’t that exactly what we see happening around us. The political divide isn’t getting any better. It is getting wider and more toxic. We are so quick to divide up into camps of us versus them. Democrat and Republican. American or other. Legal or illegal alien. Worshipper or the true God or Allah. Sexuality like mine or not.
I felt the tension in this room go up significantly with just a few trigger words. Why would I say these things? Because it is about time that the church of Jesus Christ stop viewing people by their political positions, their sexuality, or their nationality and begin to see them as people who bear the image of God. The same image of God as you.
We have to stop equating acceptance with approval. They aren’t the same thing. As I read this week, “Jesus dined with sinners but he didn’t sin with sinners. He lived in the world but didn’t live like the world. That’s the Jesus paradox.” (Rosaria Butterfield in “The Gospel Comes with a House Key”) We are to love others in spite of their failures and sin.
Too often, we think hospitality is sitting around a table or in a church of people who look just like us, talk just like us, and think just like us. That misses the point. When we see the image of God in others, we will be willing to invite them to our table, to build strong relationships with them, even and especially if they think differently than we do.
We can accept and respect people who are different without approving of everything they believe, say, and do. I don’t even approve of everything my wife and kids do but I still love them. I still eat with them. I still accept them.
Maybe it is time for us, the people who claim to follow Jesus, to stop viewing the differences between us and others as a reason to build fences and it is time to take a wrecking ball to that fence once and for all and live the way Jesus did.
In order to do this, we have to stop judging others. Judgment will always prevent hospitality. You cannot love and judge at the same time because judging says you aren’t worthy, you’re not worth my time, you don’t matter.
And just in case you need a reminder of how Jesus lived, he was hospitable. He invited the outcasts, the sinners, the people everyone else had said wasn’t worth it, he invited them in. He ate with them.
One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is in Luke 7. “A woman who lived a sinful lifestyle” hears that Jesus is near. She goes to the house he is eating at, take this expensive jar of perfume and with a mixture of her tears and the perfume, washed the feet of Jesus. The religious leaders are furious.
The Pharisees knew that she was a prostitute, and to them, her identity and personhood were entwined with her sin. But Jesus knew that her sin did not have to define her. Being a prostitute may have been how she was, but it was not who she was. She was a child of God.
Too often the church gets this wrong. Other groups do this so much better than we do, and it breaks my heart because we should be leading the world in hospitality. No one should be able to out hospitality the church. But instead, we remain content with our homogenous groups, our us four and no more mentality, when there is an entire world right across the street from you willing to come in if we would only invite them over.
As New Testament Professor John Koenig wrote, “If we lock our doors and bolt our gates, we are forbidding God to come to us.” Showing hospitality to the stranger is how we put flesh on the gospel. We must move beyond a “thoughts and prayers” Christianity to a practical faith that is lived out in relationship with those around us.
And when we show hospitality to the stranger, we are showing hospitality to Jesus. His words not mine in Matthew 25. And when we keep the stranger out, we are keeping Jesus out.
Our Hospitable God
Interestingly, this concept isn’t just a New Testament invention. We see the idea of loving the stranger even in the Old Testament when Moses receives the law from God. Listen to what we find in Leviticus 19:33-34: “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 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.”
It really goes back even before Leviticus. We see that God is a hospitable God. In creation, he invited us, humanity, to know him to live in relationship with him. Even when that was destroyed by our rebellion, he wasn’t content to leave us outside. Jesus came and revealed the ultimate act of hospitality, the ultimate act of love, by laying down his life for you and for me.
Have you received the hospitality of God as seen in the work of Christ on the cross and in his resurrection? The goal of hospitality is not to become friends, but to become family. And what God is offering you today is to be part of his family. If you’ve been thinking about following Jesus, maybe today is the day to take that first step toward him and experience the love God has for when we made ourselves strangers to him.
Max Lucado in his book Outlive Your Life wrote this, “Long before the church had pulpits and baptisteries, she had kitchens and dinner tables. Even a casual reading of the New Testament unveils the house as the primary tool of the church. The primary gathering place of the church was the home. The early church (with its varied backgrounds got along) without the aid of sanctuaries, church buildings, clergy, or seminaries. They did so through the clearest of messages (the Cross) and the simplest of tools (the home).
Something holy happens around a dinner table that will never happen in a sanctuary. In a church auditorium, you see the backs of heads. Around the table, you see the expressions on faces. Church services are on the clock. Around the table, there is time to talk. When you open your door to someone, you are sending this message: ‘You matter to me and to God.’ You may think you are saying, ‘Come over for a visit.’ But what your guest hears is, ‘I am worth the effort.’”
How hospitable are you? Not just towards the people you know and like, but to those you don’t know, to the stranger? Do you need to create margin in your life to be able to even think about doing this? How willing are you to adjust your life for the chance to invite the stranger in?
What if the jobs we’ve chosen to work and the lifestyle we’ve chosen to live leaves no time for hospitality? Are we willing to make significant changes and sacrifice if it means getting the opportunity to know someone faith and possibly share Christ with them?
We need to start seeing the people we come in contact with, the strangers at Kum and Go, at the Dry Cleaner, at work, we need to stop seeing them as strangers and invite them to become neighbors and hopefully one day they will become part of the family of God.
This is messy. It will be challenging, but it will be worth it. It isn’t how impressive you can do things. It is how important the individual is. It isn’t about the presentation. It is about the person. The question is will we choose to engage rather than isolate, open rather than close, initiate rather than sit and watch the world go by?