Hospitality: God’s Whisper

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Hebrews 13:1-3

Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoner, and those who are mistreated as if you were suffering.

A stranger came to church, and the minister was pleased to see him come forward to sit in one of the empty seats. Afterwards he greeted the newcomer and said, “I’m glad you felt free to sit well forward, even though you are a visitor.” Well,” said the man, “I’m a bus driver, and I just wanted to see if I could learn how you can get everyone to the rear all the time.”

A university professor from Salt Lake City conducted an experiment at Christmas time a few years ago. He randomly selected six hundred names from telephone directories from several major cities and sent Christmas cards to each of them. His return address was included on the card and he received an amazing one hundred and seventeen responses from the six hundred cards sent to perfect strangers. One replied, “I just got out of the hospital, and how good it was to hear from a long-time, wonderful friend!” — Must have had amnesia! Another said, “We had difficulty at first remembering who you were, but after some thought, we remembered. Please give our love to your father. He is a wonderful man.” — What creative memories! One reply was unexpected: “It was really great to hear from you again. We will be in Salt Lake City this summer, and if you have a spare room, we would like to stay with you two or three days! — What else are real friends for?

It is no wonder that in 15 years of asking high school students throughout America whether, in an emergency situation, they would save their dog or a stranger first, most students answered that they would not save the stranger. “I love my dog, I don’t love the stranger,” they always say. The feeling of love has supplanted God or religious principle as the moral guide for young people. What is right has been redefined in terms of what an individual feels.

Today we teach our children not to speak to strangers. We don’t like making eye contact because we may be considered weird or odd or they may ask us for a favor. A young farm girl was out milking the family cow when a stranger approached the house and asked to speak with the girl’s mother. The girl called for her mother and yelled, “There’s a man here to see you.” The mother hollered back, “Haven’t I told you not to talk with strangers? Get in this house right now.” The girl shouted, “But Momma, this man says he’s with the census.” The mother then stepped onto the porch and said, “In that case, bring the cow in with you.”

In biblical times it was believed to be a sacred duty to receive, feed, lodge, and protect any traveler who might stop at one’s door. The stranger was treated as a guest, and men who had thus eaten together were bound to each other by the strongest ties of friendship, which descended to their heirs and was confirmed by mutual presents. Hospitality was a religious duty for the Greeks as well as for the Hebrews, who were enjoined by the law of Moses (Lev 19:34). The present practice of the Arabs is still similar to ancient Hebrew hospitality. A traveler may sit at the door of a perfect stranger and smoke his pipe until the master welcomes him with an evening meal, may tarry a limited number of days without inquiry as to his purposes, and may then depart with a simple “God be with you.”

Two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.” “No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.” But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom–both young and old–surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.
In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ What was the rich man’s sin?

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. In the bible the “stranger” is someone who is outside our community. The stranger is someone unknown to us.
The stranger is someone different from us. The Old Testament often called them “aliens” because they were unlike us.

To “welcome” a stranger was to become friends. To no longer be a stranger meant to get to know the person and make them a friend. Fundamentally the person hasn’t changed – they may still be different or unlike us, but now we understand them. We become “friends” when we feel at home! To “welcome” someone who is a stranger doesn’t mean politeness or distant charity, but means to make them a part of the family. We are not talking about giving money, we are talking about a relationship.

Congregations often put “welcome” signs out without changing anything and then wonder why “strangers” don’t join. The issue isn’t tolerance as much as welcoming strangers as an act of affirmation prior to any judgment about them. Matthew suggest that Jesus identified himself with these strangers. I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

Who are the strangers in our midst? Racial and ethnic minorities. Migrant workers. People with different sexual orientation. Persons of other faiths.
People of a different class. Jesus replied: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

…he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers.
They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.
The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper.
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

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