The Practice of Hospitality
There are two kinds of people in this world.
You and me.
Or, you could say, our individual selves, and everybody else.
Life revolves around how deeply each of us understands this one simple truth.
Religion revolves around how deeply each of us understands that one simple truth.
All of our actions, whether based out of fear or out of love, all of our actions can only be understood in that relationship…the relationship between our ‘selves’ and ‘others’.
It’s gotten us nowhere, really, to believe that somehow the world is divided into units of people connected to each other in overlapping circles.
It’s gotten us nowhere believing, and living, as if distinctions like ‘immediate family’, ‘close friends’, and ‘strangers’…it’s gotten us nowhere believing that somehow those distinctions matter at all.
And that’s why this morning I want to challenge us…by saying that when we get right down to it, when we boil everything else away and get to the heart of the matter, that in reality there are only two kinds of people in the world.
Me, and everyone who is not me—and the same is true for you, and everyone who is not you.
Why must we pretend otherwise?
Why must we pretend like different rules apply when we’re with people we’ve designated as ‘safe’ or ‘stranger’?
Aren’t we all members of one humanity? Are we or are we not one creation under the sovereign rule of God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit?
Don’t get me wrong this morning—we do well to take precautions against harm coming to ourselves or others—we do well to minimize the risks that we take in treating strangers as friends and enemies as God’s beloved children.
But the common denominator that every person shares can be found in the book of Romans, where it says that all have sinned and have fallen short of the Glory of God. All have missed the mark that God has set as our target.
And so we’ve got to understand, before anything else in our belief system, that the only distinction worth making as we relate to each other is the distinction between ourselves and other people.
You might not completely agree with me just yet—but hang on for just a few more minutes and hopefully you’ll see where I’m going this morning.
This morning I want to talk about Hospitality.
I’d like to state clearly, in no uncertain terms, that Hospitality and nonviolence are inextricably linked together at the very heart of the gospel of Christ.
Hospitality and Nonviolence are marriage partners that we dare not divorce from one another as we pursue a living faith.
Together, they provide the only place where followers of Christ can stand with integrity and critique the broader culture—a culture that is by any standard violent and inhospitable to the stranger.
So unless we can be both hospitable and nonviolent in our approach, we’re just blowing smoke.
Nonviolence is not just a Mennonite distinctive—it is the calling of all who seek to follow Christ, and hospitality properly understood is prophetic to its core. Luke tells us that Jesus sent his followers out as sheep among wolves…completely dependant on the hospitality they find in the places they visit, with nothing to defend themselves.
And as they went, meeting people and spreading their message, they found that the lines between guest and host were blurred—for hospitality is a two-way street. Jesus has strong words for places where hospitality is not extended—where peace is not accepted. He tells His disciples to wipe the dust off of their feet in those places.
It’s interesting to me that this ‘missionary endeavor’, one of the first commanded by Jesus Himself-it’s interesting that He sends them as guests.
I don’t know about you…but when I think about hospitality, I think there’s usually a guest and a host. I usually think that the host is the one who is actively practicing hospitality, while the guest is passively accepting the action. But this passage in Luke suggests otherwise. Jesus sends these first missionaries—he sends them out with a message of peace.
That’s an active role.
But it becomes obvious they are to be guests.
Is there such a thing?
Hospitality is a two-way street. His only instructions are to go, spread the peace of God—to be peaceable guests wherever they go. It’s a concept that we’re not the most comfortable with today.
This all is something that Jim Amstutz ( pastor at Akron Mennonite Ch in PA) really focused on at Ohio Annual Conference this year, and that I want to come back to in a couple of weeks when I talk about re-imagining church.It’s just a simple change in how we think—that Jesus sends us to partake in nonviolent, non-assuming, agenda-free hospitality….as guests.
I’m going to risk it this morning, and suggest that we like to think that since we’re here, in this building, and we’ve been here for 50 years or so—that our role is to welcome people here…we have something to offer that our guests do not have. We like to think of ourselves as hosts.
We like to think of hospitality as being willing to have our church friends over on a predetermined date, when our house is ready and our schedules are cleared.
But the radical part of hospitality according to Luke 10 is not how far we’re willing to go to host people in our space, on our turf. The radical part of hospitality that Jesus demands of his followers, is to recognize that no matter where we are, or what we’re doing—we are guests!!
And so the rules change just a little bit. We become more accepting of the gifts that others offer. We don’t criticize the furnishings, or the artwork on the walls. We don’t judge the cooking. We talk about what the host wants to talk about. But we also bring some gifts. The only ones we can when we’re sent out with nothing. We bring the gift of our life and the gift of peace to that house, that community, or that person.
The model held up for us is a model of hospitality where the lines between guest and host are blurred to the point that it’s unclear just who is filling which role. The 70 are to go into all the towns, preparing the way for Jesus. They are to take nothing with them—nothing to offer but their lives and the peace of God.
Now, the custom at the time this was happening was that when a stranger entered a town and needed a place to stay, they would be invited into the home of usually one of the better off people in the town—someone with status and power—someone who kind of spoke for, or represented the town.
Only after the stranger was invited in, had their feet washed, after they had eaten a meal, maybe they had been given a new set of clothes and settled in for the night—only then was it good manners to ask the traveler’s name, where they came from, what they were doing, etc. It was only after the commitment had been made to offer lodging and protection that the host could inquire about the personal details of the traveler. And it often happened that gifts were exchanged during the course of this interaction, symbolizing a commitment to each other that was stronger in some cases than the commitment to family ties.
In other words, it was all about the relationship.
And so it looks like Jesus sent his followers out, understanding that the good news of the kingdom is not given like a good piece of advice—instead it can only be received as a pilgrim on a journey, in need of friendship, protection, and hospitality.
Hospitality is a two-way street.
It looks something like a group of people willing to be hosted, a group of people who understand that everyone they encounter has something to offer that they need…something to offer for their survival. And in the give and take that follows, the relationship is born and the kingdom draws near!
…There’s been some talk in recent weeks about purchasing the house next to our parking lot. If you’re a regular attendee here, you should have gotten a mailing with information about the house, and you’re invited to stay after church today for a congregational meeting to make the decision.
I chose the topic of hospitality for this morning partly because I wanted to talk a little bit about a vision that has been brewing in my mind for several months (or longer). Keep in mind this is something that if the Lord wills to be done, it will happen regardless of whether our church owns that property, or owns this vision. There are plenty of ideas to consider for its use should we make the purchase, but this is the closest to my heart. J
It should be no surprise to anyone here that many young adults from this area choose to go to college, and often don’t come back. They find their worldview expanded, they find exciting opportunities elsewhere, and many find a debt load that requires them to seek employment in places other than Millersburg.And so they leave with our blessing. We’d love them to come back, but only if and when the right opportunities arise.
So this has me wondering–what would happen if we put out the call—sent out an invitation for a group of young adults to come participate in a community of faith that was intentional about being gracious guests, a community of faith that expected surprises in its daily interactions with the community?
What might result from housing a community right here in Millersburg—a community of Christian people who insist on hospitable nonviolence as they relate to their surroundings?
How might it look, a group of young people sharing their lives together in the common routines, sharing possessions, resolving conflicts together, studying the Bible together, committing themselves to service and in so doing, witnessing to the church and to the world around us?
What if that house functioned like a little house church?
What if a group of 7 or 8 young adults really can live more economically when they’re under the same roof, and so had more free time to pursue what really interested them than if they all needed full time work to support themselves?
Can you see it now?
Maybe an after school tutoring program-right there—or right here…I’m not really sure.
Can you smell it? The smell of the grill as they host a neighborhood cookout, right in our parking lot?
Can you feel the dirt between your fingers as you help in the garden, growing flowers and veggies to both eat and share?
Can you imagine the prophetic edge they would bring to our church services as they challenge the status quo by their decision to embrace Abundant life?
Can you put yourself in that vision?
Could we be here to catch them when they fall?
Could we be the hands that heal when it all comes apart?
My experience from being here almost two years tells me that we can…if we want to.
This isn’t the only idea for the house. It’s one of many.
And here I am at the end of my sermon, and I don’t really know how to end it, except to say that the Lord Jesus has told us to go—as lambs among wolves, to go as guests, to go, to eat what is put before you, to say ‘peace to this house’, to cure the sick and to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near.