Written by Pastor Mark
We are going to end our season of hands on theology with an invitation to practice hospitality. The author of Hebrews thinks that showing hospitality to strangers is important. Some people have even entertained angels without knowing they have done so. That is a scary thought to me. When I think of how many strangers I have not extended hospitality to, it makes me wonder how many angels I’ve blown off in the process.
I just had a young woman walk into my office looking for some help with a utilities shut off notice. I had to explain that our office was not open this week. I asked if she had called 211. “Yes,” she said. “They told me you were the only ones who might help out.” She began to cry. I wonder if I just let an angel walk out of my office.
Jesus is likewise concerned about being hospitable to the least and the lost. He tells his disciples that when they throw a party they should invite the poor and those who have no resources. The only people I invite to my parties are people who will likely be able to invite me back.
How do we practice hospitality to strangers, and especially those who are in need? I’m not sure. One of the ways we could do so is by actually helping them in their need. We use to have ways of doing that as a society. The Hebrew scriptures contain many policies aimed at helping the poorest members of society to survive. One of my favorites is gleaning. When you are harvesting your crops you are not to cut all the way to the corners of your property, but to leave those corners for people to come and collect. The Ruddenklau’s and the Goddik’s have a version of this. When Johannes is finished harvesting his strawberries he calls out to people in the community to come and pick what is left for free. Bruce and Helle do the same with their green bean crop. There are people who go out and collect fruit and produce for use in places like food banks.
In the mean time, the rich are trying to figure out how to be noticed. They want to be seated at the most visible and important seats at the banquet. Jesus warns his followers not to play that game. Jesus is not teaching them to be humble, but is instructing them on a safer way to get noticed. Take a lower, less desirable table and have the host ask you to move up (and you’ll get noticed and admired!)
As a church we do provide a lot of hospitality. Every day of the week people are bringing fresh made foods to the little table outside the office to share with those who are coming to AA and NA meetings. There is a volunteer sitting outside the office (usually!) to talk to folks who are coming in for aid. Both of our office staff people speak Spanish which is very welcoming. We feed over 200 people every Saturday morning, and they are treated like royalty and waited on by volunteers who may be doctors lawyers, dentists, teachers or pastors.
If we are going to provide hospitality to strangers we have to find ways to practice first. How can we practice providing more hospitality? How do we get to know those around us who are in need and get to know their life stories? I think it begins by saying hello. I could have asked the young woman who came into my office to sit down, I could have asked her her name. I just don’t think to do so. I need to practice.
Quotes for the Week “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.” Henri J.M. Nouwen
Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step towards dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time. Joan Chittester
“I think someone should have the decency to tell me the luncheon was free. To make someone run out with potato salad in his hand, pretending he’s throwing up, is not what I call hospitality.” Jack Handy
1st Lesson Hebrews 13:1-8 (NRSV)
Let mutual love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4 Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5 Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Gospel Lesson Luke 14:1 & 7-14 (NRSV)
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Questions for the Week
What is the biggest challenge to you in showing hospitality to strangers?
What are some non-threatening ways we can practice hospitality?