Sermon by Rev. Donald Van Dyken
Trinity Church of Tri-Cities
September 14, 2008
Scripture: 1 Peter 4:7-10; Romans 12:13
Hospitality II – Pursue Hospitality!
The passage I read from 1 Peter infers that hospitality is a gift, and since it is, there will always be some for whom it comes more naturally. So it is with many gifts God gives. Some are of God’s people are great intercessors, but we are all commanded to pray for one another. Some are great evangelists, but we are all called to give an answer to everyone who asks.
So hospitality is also something God instructs all of us to practice; hospitality is something the Lord Jesus tells us to pursue. Pursue hospitality, says our text from Romans. Make it a goal, set it down on your “to-do” list, look for occasions to practice it, improve your skills.
That then is my theme this morning, “Pursue Hospitality.” Let me first do a short review of what we covered last week. Then go on to see how God taught Israel to treat strangers, who then were to be seen as guests in the land. After that I would make a few, what I hope will be practical observations on hospitality. I want to conclude by returning to the basics of hospitality as our Lord Jesus Christ has taught us.
Last week we saw that the two phrases in Hebrews 13:1,2 were placed alongside of one another: philadelphia, brotherly love, and philoxenia, love of strangers. We saw that the Lord our God commanded us to practice philoxenia both in the Old and in the New Testaments. We saw Abraham as he entertained the angels as an example of godly hospitality. We looked at the horrible treatment Sodom and Gibeah gave to strangers and how the Lord took terrible vengeance for their crimes. Finally we considered the reasons the Lord provides us for practicing hospitality: the fact that we were strangers to the family of God, and the Lord had mercy on us and took us in, loved us, and has received us into His house as sons and daughters, eating and drinking at His table.
How did God teach Israel to treat strangers? Well, first, I think we can say that they were not so much to be viewed as strangers in the land, but as guests, guests to whom our fathers owned courtesy and care, love and protection. God wanted more from Israel than just a general feeling of warmth towards strangers, more than just doing them no harm.
There were four specific areas where Israel’s love for strangers, for their guests, was to be applied: the area of law and justice, of charity, of Sabbath rest, and of feasting. God gave laws to Israel for their protection, to guide them in the way of prosperity and blessing. Those laws were to be administered equally to the native born, to the Israelite and to the stranger. “One law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you.” (Num. 15:16 NKJV)
In the administration of justice, again, justice was due the stranger as well as your brother. “Then I commanded your judges at that time, saying, ‘Hear the cases between your brethren, and judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him.’ “ (Deu. 1:16 NKJV) “You shall not pervert justice due the stranger or the fatherless, nor take a widow’s garment as a pledge.” (Deu. 24:17 NKJV)
And finally, in the area of law and justice, the cities of refuge were to be open to the stranger as well as to the Israelite. “These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwelt among them, that whoever killed a person accidentally might flee there, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood until he stood before the congregation.” (Jos. 20:9 NKJV) Love the stranger, show hospitality to the stranger, treat him as a guest with equal rights under law as the native born.
Second, show him the same charity you would your brother; give him opportunity to glean from your fields: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the LORD your God.” (Lev. 23:22 NKJV)
During the seventh year, the Sabbath year for the land, they were to do no formal planting or reaping. “And the Sabbath produce of the land shall be food for you: for you, your male and female servants, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you,” (Lev. 25:6 NKJV)
Lending: “If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.” (Lev. 25:35 NKJV) “Like a stranger. . .” The Lord God put strangers and brothers in the same class for Israel, both to be objects of care if they came into hard times and needed to borrow money. These are ways charity was to be shown to the stranger in Israel. The law of Sabbath rest also was provided the stranger.
“but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.” (Deu. 5:14 NKJV)
This is the goodness of the Lord, this day of rest, that the Lord said should be provided for the stranger, and for the foreigner who happened to be your servant as well. Again, when Israel saw the law of God as an expression of His love and care for them, they could keep it in a positive joyful sense. It was not a law to keep them from enjoying life, but to give them joy in life. Not first of all by forbidding them to work on the Sabbath, but first of all by giving them rest on the Sabbath. That rest, that privilege to be relieved of daily work, Israel was to extend to the stranger and the servant as well as to themselves. That leads to some interesting applications today, doesn’t it? Who are our servants today? Well, if you travel by air on the Sabbath, the whole array of pilots, attendants, baggage handlers, ticket agents, and others serve you. If you stay in a hotel on the Sabbath, another platoon of people serve you, are your servants. If you eat in a restaurant, another group of people serve you, are your servants. And you give to none of these rest.
But that’s our modern economy, you say. It can’t be avoided. Perhaps there is something wrong with our modern economy. If you were traveling, let’s say, through Shrewsbury, England in the year 1152, it was Saturday evening, and you needed food and shelter, what would you do? You wouldn’t find a Motel 6 or a Best western. There were no Denny’s or McDonalds. You would do what everyone did. You would perhaps approach a private home where they would put up your horses, give you a room to sleep in, and provide you with meals. Would you pay for this? Of course not. This was a ministry of the church, it was the charity, the love owed to strangers; it was philoxenia. Well, we’ve come a long way, baby, and I’m not sure it’s in the right direction.
Israel’s great and good God, the God who gave them a home flowing with milk and honey, a home structured for life, love and happiness by His wonderful laws, gave Israel the privilege of inviting guests, strangers, to share in that grace. Equal law and justice, charity, Sabbath rest, and also they were to include the stranger as a guest in their feasting.
For the Feast of Weeks, Pentecost, first fruits of harvest: “You shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your gates, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide.” (Deu. 16:11 NKJV)
For the Feast of Tabernacles: “And you shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant and the Levite, the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, who are within your gates.” (Deu. 16:14 NKJV)
I think this raises some interesting questions for our treatment of immigrants today, whether those immigrants are legal or illegal. I realize that the laws of Israel were given in a time when the civil and ecclesiastical realms were closely related, when the church and the state were intertwined. However, the question, perhaps still remains: Are we as a society obligated to administer these duties of equal law and justice, of charity, and Sabbath rest today? I realize the issue of illegal immigrants is a complex problem, but I would also tend to think that the whole cloud of suspicion, hostility, fear, xenophobia then, somehow runs counter to a biblical posture.
Whatever responsibility the state and society in general has in these issues, there is little doubt of our responsibilities as a church. We can and must practice these principles of fairness and equity, of making strangers objects of love and charity, of making hospitality towards strangers include the concept of Sabbath rest, of physical, emotional, and spiritual comfort, and of bringing them into our feasting, rejoicing in the goodness and plenty the Lord our God has given us.
I go to the third point, the practice of hospitality, first looking at our homes, then at the duties of hosts, the duties of guests, and the problems we may face in the pursuit of hospitality. I want us to look at our homes first, for before you bring others into your homes, perhaps we’d better look at the condition of love in your home. I want us to look at our homes firs, for it is at home where we may practice the basic skills of hospitality, for at the root of hospitality is selfless love, a giving of one’s self for another.
Do we practice courtesies at home, giving deference to one another; brothers showing all kindness and politeness to sisters, husbands to wives? Have there been people who are quite lovely to strangers, but in the privacy of their homes are rude to one another? Yes, and that is the grossest form of hypocrisy. Remember what Paul said to Timothy: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8 NKJV) And I rather prefer the Old King James translation which says, “worse than an infidel.”
As we pursue an atmosphere of love, consideration, thoughtfulness, interest in others, of striving to make others as comfortable as possible in our presence, we are training our home to be a place of warm hospitality. For remember, it is not the quality of your dinner china, nor the exotic array of your foods, nor the expense of your wines that make fine hospitality, but it is the quality of your love.
I believe there are many husbands here who every day, look forward to returning to their homes at night. They look forward to a feast for their eyes, ears, nose and palate. They look forward to a home of beauty and harmony, a place of quiet rest, where the aromas of their evening feast fill them with excitement. God bless our lovely wives and mothers.
The practice of hospitality. First question: Hospitable to whom? We learned that philoxenia means love of strangers. But we also see that Peter uses that word in 1 Peter 4:9 as our duty to one another. So we owe hospitality to family members, to friends, that is to brothers and sisters in the Lord, and to strangers.
Well, we practice the first two, but do we practice the second, hospitality to strangers, and how can we do it? First, I want you to redefine stranger somewhat. I want you to think about all the people sitting here this morning, and see if any of them are really strangers to you, people you don’t really know that well at all. I believe that the Lord wants you to do what Abraham did, and that is to go to meet them, and invite them into your home.
What are some of the duties of a host. Should I say hostess, since it would seem that wives are more involved in hospitality than husbands? The first duty is that of host, for it is the head of the house who should welcome guests, make them feel that they are really honoring his house by their presence. It is the duty of the host to make them comfortable, to make them feel, as we say, at home, that your home is their home. So, don’t just leave them standing there, show them in, give them a place to sit. Make them feel special, treat them royally, and in all your activities make them first. Show an interest in them and in their families. Instruct your children to show special honor to guests. Introduce your guests to your children if they are unknown, but whether known or unknown, each of your children should come up to your guests and greet them.
There are, of course, many practical things to be done if your guests are overnight guests, and I won’t go into them, for you wives know them much better than I do. All these preparations though are to be guided by the one great principle of love, love that thinks of all needs of another, and bends every effort to ensure complete comfort. A couple of examples of making guests comfortable: If they are to eat with you, don’t have them just wander around wondering where they should sit – sit anywhere, you say, but rather, have a seating plan. That’s much more comfortable for a guest. Another example, if you have guests visiting for the first time, and you have been blessed with an outstandingly beautiful home, be sensitive not to intimidate them with your luxury. How do you do that? Focus your attention on them, not on your house.
Husbands, perhaps you feel that you don’t play a very big role in all this. May I suggest one important role you can play? Be extravagant in the praise of your wife. She needs the assurance, the confidence that you are honored by the skill, love, and care she put into all this. Children, join the praise chorus. “Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her: “Many daughters have done well, but you excel them all.” Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates.” (Prov 31:28-31 NKJV)
Finally, in the duties of hospitality let us remember the man we call the good Samaritan. Read about him in Luke 10. He found a stranger injured, ignored by those whom God had charged to care for hurt strangers, and ministered to him, making sure that proper treatment for his complete healing would be given him. Our hospitality should include the concept of hospital, sensitive to the hurts and pains of others, until our homes become a place where our guests leave feeling better than when they came, because they found sympathetic ears and hearts, and burdens shared become burdens lightened.
Guests have duties as well. Accept or decline invitations graciously and on time. How many wedding hostesses have to wonder and wonder if some people are coming because they just won’t answer the RSVP request. Be on time. Be happy and thankful. Eat what you are given. Give praise and thanks. Train your children in the courtesies of guests. It is not their home, and they do not have free run of all the rooms. Teach your children to give warm and happy thanks when they leave.
Now for a few problems connected with the pursuit of hospitality: Lack of money: We can’t afford to entertain guests with all those fancy foods and wines. A couple of things. First, don’t be envious and bitter towards those who are rich. Be content with what the Lord has given you, and use it. It is the Lord who tells you to pursue hospitality, and He doesn’t expect you to use what you don’t have. Remember, your aim is to please Him. Remember what Jesus said about the widow who put two mites into the temple treasury. What she gave, although others would say was pitifully small, was more than the many gold coins of the wealthy. Remember the essence of good hospitality is the love, kindness, consideration, thoughtfulness, that you give, not exotic foods and rare wines. “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fatted calf with hatred.” (Prov. 15:17 NKJV) Hospitality is an atmosphere of love, light, rest, comfort. . .you create it, and you can do it in a tent, sitting cross legged on the ground, eating rice out of wooden dishes, and drinking water from tin cups.
Another problem: you simply don’t have the gift. Others are really good at it, but you simply don’t have it. Of course, to some the prospect of having to entertain guests fills them with terror. If the house in not right, if everything is not perfect, they are filled with fear. But what are you doing? Showing off your housekeeping or making them comfortable? Loosen up. It’s you, not your home. Our text tells us to pursue hospitality. So strive for it. Ask others who have the gift to show you some ways. This is the communion of the saints. This is sharing our gifts. Try. If we need to improve the only way to do it is to practice. So everything’s not perfect the first time. So what. We are among brothers and sisters.
Now, before we close, let’s get back to the basics. Let us learn from God’s goodness to all men. He causes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust, He brings rain and good things to the righteous and the unrighteous, He love the stranger. And even though the stranger, even though the unbelieving stranger resists the grace of God, denies even the existence of God, lives in rebellion against His laws, that stranger enjoys sunshine, watermelons, million dollar homes, freeways, cool water, and martinis. Wow, does God ever treat these people well! One of the reasons He does it, of course, as Paul says in Romans 2, is to lead them to repentance.
Well, do we want the unbelieving strangers to come to repentance? Then we could scarcely do better than to imitate God. Learn from God’s goodness to all men. The basic and foundational understanding we need to practice hospitality. After all, the Lord God created the world as a home for man, and in spite of everything we see today, what a fabulous home it is.
Love all men. Listen a little bit to Cynthia Clampit: What can you do? Think of little actions you can weave into your day that will make people feel that you care. To whom can you show hospitality? Be on the lookout for people who seem overwhelmed, or left out. List some places you might run into people like this. Think of some times you have been hospitable. Thank God for opportunities He’s given you in the past to be hospitable, and maybe recognize an area of gifting that you didn’t realize was yours. Think of some new ways you can show hospitality. Remember that small things are sometimes the most welcome, and the most unexpected, especially in this day and age, when everyone is so self-absorbed. Pray that God will show you ways you can help. Ask for help in seeing ways you can show kindness.
Hospitality. It’s making strangers into guests, making people feel they matter. It is as ancient as civilization and as contemporary as a lonely heart. It is a gift, a responsibility, and a joy. Hospitality. . .the gracious art of learning to lose ourselves in the joys of others.
Finally, as we look to Christ to give us a tangible, touchable evidence that through Him, through His indwelling in you, you will be and are empowered to pursue hospitality, let me return to one of the words we studied last week. That word is one of the words related to the English “hospitality” and that is the word “host.”
The dictionary will tell you that there are three general meanings to the word “host.” It means a great number of people moving at the same time…a host. It means someone who entertains guests. And the third meaning is this, a host is consecrated bread. Specifically, the host is the consecrated bread of Holy Communion, the body of Jesus Christ. For that use of the word “host” comes from the Latin word hostia, a word that means “sacrifice.”
So what a wonderful experience of hospitality awaits you today and each Lord’s Day, with Jesus Christ Himself our Host at the table, a table prepared by His sacrifice, His hostia, and a table where He performs the most blessed duty of the host, that of giving Himself in love to His guests.
The host is Christ, and in this meal He sets the pattern for our hospitality throughout the week. The host is Christ and He gives Himself to you in love that you may give yourself in love to others.Amen.