August 4, 2013 Camping Out Hebrews 13:1-3
Once upon a time, a newly married couple arrived to their new home just after their honeymoon, and of course, one of the first arguments they had was about who should make the coffee in the morning.
She thought he should make it, because he got up earlier, and that way she could enjoy it first thing when she got out of bed.
He thought she should make it, because she made really good coffee, and it was worth waiting a few minutes until she got up and around in order to enjoy it.
They had a back and forth discussion about this for awhile, and finally the wife said “Look, the Bible clearly says that the husband should make the coffee in the morning, and since we had a Christian wedding and we’re seeking to make our faith central to our marriage, I think we should listen to what the Bible says about it!”
Of course, he wanted to see proof that the Bible actually said this, so she got the Bible out, and sure enough, she showed him several pages where right at the top, it was written “Hebrews”. 🙂
-Regardless of who made your coffee this morning, I’m preaching from the book of Hebrews!
Joking aside, the theme of the scripture we’re looking at this morning is hospitality. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers”, it says…”for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
I don’t know about you, but when I think about hospitality, I think about the way my mom would always clean the house from top to bottom and put the rest of our family on edge in the days and hours preceding an event where she would be the host.
She would fret over the event for days ahead of time, figuring out what to make, what ingredients she’d need, how to get the house clean and keep it that way…hosting was always a cause for anxiety and concern, no matter how well she knew the people or how easygoing they were.
She always felt a certain pressure to have everything ‘just so’.
Looking back I can understand why…she worked full time and had three energetic boys who couldn’t have cared less about keeping the house clean or what was on the menu.
Hosting a dinner was kind of a stressor for our whole family. 🙂
She’d always make some dessert ahead of time that she never made for just us, and then she’d tell us not to touch it, because it was for the guests.
Then she’d be extra cautious to have us take off our shoes at the door because the carpets were freshly vacuumed, and she ensured that our backpacks from school went straight to our rooms. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.
And if we kids hung around long enough on the day of the event, she was likely to hand us a rag to help her dust, or send us to clean up a section of the house before the company came.
So we learned pretty early that it was sometimes easier for everyone, if we just stayed out of the way until the company came.
I’d sometimes go to the park, or go to a friends house for the afternoon until just before the big event.
Now, I’d like to take an informal poll; I’d like you to raise your hand if you can identify with any part of the picture I’ve just painted about ‘hospitality’?
Nobody’s going to judge you if you admit that it’s a lot of work and it just really stresses you out.
*It takes real work to carve out space from your life to make room for other people, doesn’t it?
As much fun as it might be in the end, it takes work.
It takes preparation. It takes commitment.
So, when you do choose to have people over, it’s less likely to happen if you focus on the work instead of the guests, right? Maybe that’s one reason Jesus tells Martha that Mary had chosen the better thing in the story we find in Luke 10.
She was focusing on the guest, not the work.
But I’m actually getting us down a rabbit-trail…because when the author of Hebrews writes about hospitality…I don’t think any of this is what they had in mind.
Rather, the kind of hospitality I think they’re getting at is more like the kind of hospitality you find at a campsite, or a campground.
Now, I’m old school when I think about camping. I’m not talking about taking a campervan somewhere and parking it overnight, or taking an RV somewhere and plugging it in.
It’s not that I’m against those things…but they make it easy to know where your space starts and ends, right? If I get into your RV, then I know I’m a guest. I’m in your temporary house.
But when I went camping as a kid, we had a little “pup” tent that we’d use.
It was just big enough for a couple of people to sleep in, and that’s about it.
So most of your time was spent outside of the tent…and the boundaries that separate ‘our space’ from ‘your space’ when we were camping…they were quite blurry.
In fact, some of my favorite memories of camping in college didn’t involve tents at all.
Just a group of friends, some sleeping bags, and a starlit sky.
In that setting, you’re all guests…or you’re all hosts…it’s hard to tell, isn’t it?
Everyone helps where they can…it might be gathering wood or starting the fire or preparing the meal…at a campsite there’s always something for someone to do.
It’s all work, but it’s all mysteriously leisure at the same time.
When you make your home in the wilderness together, hospitality takes on a little different meaning, doesn’t it?
You know your camp is temporary, and you know that flexibility and a willingness to pitch in are crucial parts of the experience.
In other words, camping out is one way to get a break from the illusion of permanence that surrounds us everywhere else. And if you pay really close attention, camping out can also be a way to re-focus on what’s…unshakable…in life.
If you look just a few verses before the passage for this morning, in chapter 12 verse 27, you get a hint of this thinking…where the author says ”This phrase, “yet once more,” indicates the removal of what is shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain.”
Hebrews is filled with imagery from the Old Testament, and this reference in particular comes from Haggai, where God makes this claim that he has shaken the earth once already…but the time will come when He will shake both Heaven and Earth…so that what is ‘real’ or ‘unshakable’ might remain.
Then verse 28 drives home the point, when the author says “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.”
That’s how the person who wrote Hebrews sets up chapter 13, where they open by saying “let mutual love continue”, and then they launch into the importance of showing hospitality to strangers.
See, whoever wrote Hebrews (we don’t actually know who wrote Hebrews, but if you’re interested in at least one interesting theory, talk to me after the service), I think they were intentional about developing their argument here.
You can’t think about Christian hospitality apart from the unshakable kingdom that we are inheriting…the kingdom of God.
This goes far beyond hosting dinners, or overnight guests.
It has to do with revealing God’s heart to the world around us. That includes having people into our ‘space’, but it includes so much more than that, too.
Christine and I live in a brick house, just like many of you do.
Last summer we had some re-pointing done. One wall in particular was missing a bunch of its mortar joints, to the point where we kind of worried a brick might actually fall out, or at the very least, rain might have started getting where we don’t want it.
So last summer we had a mason come and fix us up…so our brick house is now even more secure than when we first moved in. It’s solid. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
But I have to be careful, because it’s easy to get trapped into thinking our house is permanent.
It’s easy to think our house is unshakable, to use the language of Hebrews.
But the truth is, not even our brick house with the fresh mortar is truly unshakable.
It’s not permanent.
I’m grateful for my house, I’d even say I love where we live…but the unshakable kingdom of God is not built with bricks and mortar…maybe it’s not even built at all.
Maybe it’s actually grown, you know?
Paul talks about fruit of the Spirit; that is, attributes that come to people who are rooted in God.
Therefore, when the author of Hebrews writes, urging us not to neglect showing hospitality to strangers…they’re saying that this practice of hospitality is the field in which we grow all the fruit of the spirit that Paul mentions …patience, kindness, self-control… love, joy, peace to name a few.
These are unshakable things.
These are the fruit that even angels enjoy.
And just like any fruit that you grow in your garden, these things will spoil if they’re not used.
They don’t have a shelf life.
They’re fruit, but they’re also like muscles; they only grow stronger through use.
Remember the hospitality that Abraham showed the three strangers who appeared in his camp?
They gave him a message from God…that’s what the word “angel” means…messenger of God.
If we don’t make room for strangers in our lives, if we don’t open ourselves to surprises through unfamiliar faces, then we risk tuning out the voice of God!
God likes to speak in surprising ways, right?
Yet so much of our life is spent trying to prevent surprises.
The challenge I’d like to give all of us this morning is to take stock this week.
I think there’s a spectrum of things that can be shaken, and things that can’t be shaken.
And when we host strangers in our lives…whether it’s just a brief encounter in public, or an extended weekend in our homes…I think we can tend to focus on one end of this spectrum…that is, the shakable end…the material end…the end that involves all the work that needs to be done so that we can present the illusion of permanence for a very brief time. The relationship at that end is secondary, because you’re busy building it with things that are fundamentally unstable.
But on the other end, it’s more like camping out. On the other end, stories and people and relationships are valued somewhat more. Everyone contributes, everyone hosts, and at the same time everyone is mysteriously a guest. There is no illusion of permanence when you camp out…and that frees you to focus on the unshakable Kingdom.
Or at the very least, it lets you practice some unshakable habits! 🙂
It is not our job to build the holy or the permanent city…for we are the holy, unshakable city.
We are the people of God across all boundaries, borders, races, and tongues.
We are hosts and we are guests in the kingdom of God which is bigger than, and yet within, each one of us.