Embracing Hospitality

(Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; James 2:1-17) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Sep 9, 2018 – UBC Digby

Embracing Hospitality is a beautiful thing.  When we grab a hold of loving strangers and welcoming people in, we are on the right track. It is a problem when we are less than hospitable, welcoming and including.

The words of James chapter 2 today speak to us of those richer and those poorer, and how we don’t welcome one another. Yet that sense of superiority is automatically built in to some of us.  We don’t realize our white privilege, our male privilege, our first world privilege, and so forth.

I went through elementary school with Tracey, and then high school with her husband, Mike.  The other day Tracey connected with me on facebook, and we messaged back and forth, catching up on things, after thirty years.  She mentioned a few guys and gals we went to school with – about whom I had not heard much since 1988. When she mentioned that one classmate is a lawyer in Ottawa, my message back was, “OK wow.” 

Then I quickly thought about it, and typed: “Why do lawyers always get a wow?”

There I was, esteeming one woman highly just because she became a lawyer.  Why did I automatic- ally do that? How did I get trained to think that way.  

In contrast, James 2:1 says, My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? There really is something glorious about this One who cares for all.  He certainly showed favour to the poorest and least acceptable in His society.  

We are in an area of Canada with great needs.  I recently got access to data from the 2016 census for Digby Town and County.  Median income of households is lower in Digby Co than NS and Can. The number of individuals in low income for Digby Co amounts to 1,040. Of these, 240 are in Digby Town. There are 205 children in Digby Co in low income, of which 60 are in Digby Town.

Founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr, says: I can’t hate the person on welfare when I realize I’m on God’s welfare. It all becomes one truth; the inner and the outer reflect one another. As compassion and sympathy flow out of us to any marginalized person for whatever reason, wounds are bandaged—both theirs and ours. (R Rohr June 28, 17)

One sign of a Christian congregation on a good track is how well we are embracing hospitality.  How we love to welcome outsiders, and a wide variety of people.  There are Christian experts out there, experts in welcoming people into churches, apparently.  A few years ago Dave Van Tassel and I attended a seminar about this in Yarmouth. Now, there is a fellow in Wolfville who specializes in this, sells his books, and gives seminars to people like us about welcoming people better.  

I have heard stories around here, of course, of young couples – long ago – whose children seemed quite active on Sunday mornings.  When some ‘older folks’ complained to the parents about their unruly children, those families simply quit the churches.

Oh, how we treat one another… not to mention the stranger who comes into our midst!  Or who is in our neighbourhood. The one who is our neighbour.

A decade ago I had reason to look up Knox Metropolitan United Church, Regina, SK.  The words on their web page impress me; they sound so clear about their purpose and reason for existing.

We are united in our calling to ministry and spiritual growth in the city, to being a location and a people committed to the ancient Christian virtue of hospitality, or the love of strangers.

It is clearly part of their vision to embrace hospitality – wholeheartedly.  When a group has a clear, common vision for themselves, great things get done and the group is united.  

Dennis Bickers says this about a faith group without shared vision: A church without a clear understanding of God’s vision for its ministry is like an octopus on roller skates.  There may be a lot of activity, but it’s not going anywhere.

It sounds to me that the church in downtown Regina, SK, is going somewhere.  And that can be very attractive. Again, some things they claim on their webpage:

Our ministry here is committed to the problems and joys of the downtown core of the city, to worshiping, preaching, and singing our hearts out, to the serious study of our Biblical and historical traditions, to forming a company of very diverse people who are committed to walking with one another on their Christian pilgrimage. We want to become a part of you. Your gifts will change us, and we are convinced we have someone, something, which will change you.

“Your gifts will change us.”  What remarkable statements. “We want to become a part of you.”

Hospitality, the love of strangers, reaches to everyone.  To the rich and the poor of whom James speaks.  To those about whom we say ‘wow’ to, and to those who don’t impress us.  Every human is valuable; every person gets a ‘wow’ from our Creator.

There are many stories from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, wise, secluded Christians of the 4th century.
One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts.  Someone noticed this and said to him, ‘Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with such good Latin and Greek education ask this peasant about your thoughts?’
He replied, ‘I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant.”

When we embrace hospitality, we start to see the gift in every person we ever meet.  Every one.  And we let go of esteeming some people more than others.  We see with the eyes of Christ the value of every one.

This sounds like a miracle. And it is.  We are given the gift of hospitality by God the Holy Spirit.

Hebrews 13:2 is fairly well known: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Among a list of brief instructions in Romans 12, verse 13 says Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

1 Peter 4:9-10 seems to speak of hospitality as a spiritual gift.  Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

To embrace hospitality – to become truly welcoming – is to embrace God. to share more hospitality than we actually have in us is an act of Grace, and act of God from inside us.  The God who loves ‘strangers.’

Amy Reumann told this story: The shortest sermon I know is only ten words. It was preached by my grandfather to a small, country congregation on the story of the Good Samaritan (Mark 10:35-45). He read the account of an outsider who demonstrates true neighbor love by stopping on the road to care for a bleeding and badly injured man. This Samaritan’s compassion stands in stark contrast to religious types who passed by without offering aid. After reading the text, my grandfather mounted the pulpit and said, “We all know what this means. Just go do it.” Then he sat down, sermon over.

I’ve heard the story of my grandfather’s sermon from several people over the years. Each described the impact it made on them in its brevity and directness. The simplicity of “just go do it” reminds us that sometimes all the words we use to describe and explain Jesus may get in the way of his core message. We really do know what he means. Love God by serving your neighbor. It is that clear. It is that simple. It is that hard.  (Amy Reumann, “A Lectionary Study on Mark 10:35-45 ”, Bread for the World Sunday 2018)

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