Week 3 - Who is my neighbor?
Last Sunday Fr. Anthony challenged us to greet at least one stranger every Sunday in an attempt to practice hospitality. Sundays usually begin with an immediate scan of the room for familiar faces, awkwardly smiling at acquaintances or new people we may not have met yet. Having a group of friends that you enjoy spending your time with is not wrong. In fact, the Bible consistently reminds us about the importance of seeking wise counsel and keeping company with people who will love us well (Proverbs 13:20).
But that tends to be where we stop; we stick to our friends and those we know; we put our blinders on and become comfortable only talking to people who think and act like us; we never get outside of our comfort zones.
Jesus wants to loosen the grips we have on the familiar people and places in our lives. In Matthew 5:46-48, He calls us to a higher standard, reminding us that if we only love and greet our friends and family, we act like the rest of the world:
If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
But while greeting a new person at church on Sunday is a good place to start fulfilling the command to practice hospitality, Christians are called to do so much more than simply greet or even pray for the strangers among us:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:15-17).
These words should convict us. James shows us that caring for the stranger among us is not something that we can afford to delay; it is what demonstrates that our faith in God is alive and active; it is the way we know we are God’s children. If we don’t see this form of love in our own lives, we need to examine our hearts.
But our Lord never asks us to do something without leading the way Himself. We were once strangers to God; we were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). But our Lord, being rich in mercy, did not consider it beneath Him to live among us. He left His throne, was beaten, mocked, and as St. Gregory of Nazianzus says, became a stranger for our sake, so that we could become sons and daughters of the Most High. As we close out this series on Living Hospitality, it’s time for us to go and do likewise.
Week 2 - Hospitality As MEeting with Christ
The Bible paints a picture of a godly life that can sometimes challenge ideas we’ve inherited from the culture around us. While the world encourages us to grow in our careers and increase our income, God says, “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). While we admire people who are assertive and confident, Jesus shows us a different picture of leadership when he says, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27). While we respect the CEOs and Presidents of our workplaces and companies, God says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:2).
Even as a King, God Himself did not consider it above Him to leave His thrown and enter into the brokenness of our every day messy lives (Philippians 2:6-8). The God who made the universe made room for us – giving up His very life – while we were still sinners and far from Him. That by itself is enough of a reason to go and do likewise. But the Bible teaches that when we refuse to practice hospitality to the stranger, we don’t just hide God’s image and character in our own lives. In our quest to keep our own comfort, we lose what we actually need more than anything. Jesus warns against this when He says, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).
Every time we prioritize our own comfort, refuse to make room for the stranger, or simply close our hearts to someone we know needs care, we miss out on an opportunity to be with Jesus.
St. John Chrysostom suggests that the poor among us are an opportunity to offer the liturgy at any hour. During the liturgy, Christ offers His body and blood to us as we participate in the Sacrament of communion. It is remarkable to think that St. John Chrysostom was suggesting that when we practice hospitality to the poor, we place ourselves into Christ’s presence once more. During our ordinary meal with the stranger, we unite with Christ. St. John’s sentiment echoes Jesus’ own words in Matthew 25 when He says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
19th century English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, put it well when he said:
Have your heart right with Christ,
and He will visit you often,
And so turn
weekdays into Sundays,
meals into sacraments,
homes into temples
and earth into heaven.
As we continue to explore Biblical hospitality together, may God meet with us as He promises to do, blessing us with more of Himself. And as we take steps to make small sacrifices for our fellow brothers and sisters, may we remember that He is our true and only treasure, and that He is all we need.
Week 1 - Who Cares About Hospitality?
Some people aren’t very good at hosting people in their home. Well, let’s say that differently, anyone can do it – we can lay out all the snacks, offer tea and coffee, and clean the house beforehand -- but sometimes our hearts are frustrated, our pocket book hurts a little, and we’re often relieved when we have the house to ourselves again. Maybe you can relate.
If so, you might be shocked to read 1 Peter 4:9 commanding all Christians to “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
We can’t read about the way God wants us to treat one another in the Bible without realizing one main thing – it is hard and we’re going to be inconvenienced. In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah, in chapter 56, equates hospitality with fasting; in other words, denying ourselves:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them…
What hope and strength does God offer us to love one another well without grumbling? We can all do acts of kindness and still be filled with bitterness and frustration at being inconvenienced. But that’s not what God wants for us – he wants us to do this joyfully and eagerly. What comfort does God offer us as we pursue hospitality together?
We can find strength to be inconvenienced – and to do it joyfully – because we know Christ paid for us the ultimate sacrifice – losing his very life - to welcome us as his children. 1 Peter 2:21 says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”
No matter how many possessions I lose here on earth, no matter how much time or energy or money I’ve lost, I have an inheritance that cannot be taken from me. “For you sympathized with the prisoners and accepted with joy the confiscation of your possessions, because you know that you yourselves have a better and enduring possession” (Hebrews 10:34).
When I practice hospitality, I get to be with Christ. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35).
God promises to bless me, even if I don’t know what that blessing might look like. Luke 14:13-14 says, “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
He promises that even as I give to others, He will continue to meet my needs. “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8).
Join us at the Well at STSA as we explore hospitality together in our new series! May we all preach these truths to our hearts.