“BE HOSPITABLE TO ONE ANOTHER”

1 PETER 4:9; JOHN 1:10-13

 

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            Forty-one years ago two sophomore college students from Clemson University got into a '67 Pontiac GTO on a Saturday morning and headed to Atlanta, Georgia for a weekend of fun and carousing.  They spent the day at Six Flags over Georgia and afterward asked an adult to go into a package goods store to buy them a bottle of liquor.  They stashed it in the trunk and headed off to no particular destination at all. Their grand plans for carousing never materialized and being poor planners they ended up with no place to stay, and were too tired to drive back late at night to South Carolina. They decided to sleep in their car, but needed a secure place to stay in the wilds of rural, suburban Atlanta.  What better place than a church parking lot that they had stumbled upon?  Just as sleep was coming over them a knock came at the window and one of the church elders told them that they wouldn't be permitted to stay on the church lot, and that they would have to leave, but he also offered to guide them to a mall parking lot that would be well lit.  Taking him up on his offer the boys thanked him and said goodbye and tried to get some rest.       

            About 30 minutes later as sleep was coming over them again another knock at the window.  The same church elder reappeared saying something about not being a good Christian and invited the young men to stay in the travel trailer housed in his driveway.  Off they went again and bunked down in the comfortable cots in the trailer. The next morning being Sunday the church elder invited them into his home to join him and his family for breakfast of bacon and eggs, which was gratefully accepted.  They declined an invitation to church, but one of the boys later recalled a religious TV program playing in the background.  After thanking their generous host they headed back to their college campus feeling like the weekend had been a bit of bust.

            The incident that I just described occurred in 1969 to the now Rev. George Antonakos, an associate pastor at the Central Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, Maryland.  It happened the year before he trusted Christ as his Savior and to this day Antonakos believes that that act of unexpected hospitality was used by the Spirit of God to woo him toward the kindness found in Jesus Christ.  In fact, he bets that that kind gentleman prayed for his salvation that night while he and his friend were sleeping in the trailer and probably prayed in church the next morning for them as well.

            In the opening words of John’s Gospel, John describes Jesus in many different ways.  He describes him as the word of God.  He writes, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   He describes Jesus as co-creator with God ... “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  He, also describes Jesus as the Light ... What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 

            All those descriptions of Jesus are important, but what I want to focus upon today is what John says about Jesus in verses 10 through 13 because it relates to our one another passage for this morning which reads Be hospitable to one another without complaining.  You see, in verses  10 through 13 John states, in effect, that Jesus is the world's stranger; a stranger who wasn't recognized nor welcomed by the very people that you think would be the quickest to recognize and welcome him.  In fact, John says in verse 11 that he came to his own people Israel, but they were not very hospitable to him.  It's ironic don’t you think?  After all, Jesus is the epitome of hospitality.  He stated,  "Come to me all of you who labor and are heavily laden."  He has his arms extended and yet this gracious, hospitable God is not always welcomed by others or even by us. 

            I think you might agree with me that to feel unwelcome may be one of the most painful experiences that we can have.  In fact, I want you to do just a little rewind of your experiences. I will give you a few seconds, and in those few seconds I want you to think of an incident or a moment when you did not feel welcomed by someone or by someones.  You may have to go all the way back to elementary school; you may go back to just last week.  I will give you a few seconds to think about it.  Maybe Becky could play the theme music from Jeopardy while we thumb through our memories of a time when we did not feel welcomed. 

            Okay, how many of you came up with something?   Raise you hand.  I bet that’s a painful memory.  It hurt didn't it?  Maybe it doesn’t hurt so much now, but at the time it really hurt.

            Now, I draw your attention to your bulletin.  I had Rose put in four Greek words into the bulletin under the heading “It’s Greek to Me.” The first word is philodelphas.  That’s a combination of the next two words: philo and adlephas.  Philo is not what you make Greek pastry with.  It's a Greek word for love and usually the friendship kind of love.   Adelphas is the Greek word for brother.  We know a city kind of named like this- the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia.  The fourth word philoxenia is the Greek word for hospitality.  If philodelphas is the love of brothers, what is philoxenia?  It’s the love of what?  Strangers.  Have you ever heard of xenophobia?   It’s the fear of strangers.  If we had the technology and the ease of doing it, I could have shown a movie clip from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  If you saw it, you might remember the scene where the father cannot stand the thought of his daughter marrying somebody outside the Greek heritage and he says, "Xeno!  She's marrying xeno!  She is marrying a stranger.  She is marrying one-not-of-us.”

            Think about that for a minute, that the Greek word, philoxenia is translated as hospitality or hospitable. In other words, philoxenia is not just setting a nice table.  It's not just having a nice room to come into, rather it's the attitude and the spirit of the people of God to communicate a sense of acceptance to those who are not like them.  In fact, let me read something from your favorite devotional book of the bible, the Book of Leviticus.  I’m sure you read this book devotionally every chance you get!  I’m reading from chapter 19, verse 33 ...

 

            When an alien resides with you in your land, (now they are not talking about somebody from outer space, but one outside of your kind and in this case a non-Jew) ,you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt ...

 

             Note the biblical call to be hospitable, predates the New Testament.  It goes all the way back to the Old Testament, and out of curiosity I “googled” the word hospitality and do you know what was number one on the list of matches?  The School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, and it's in this arena, the hospitality business arena, where we in the church can learn.  One leading restauranteur of New York City said that the key to his success is hiring hospitalitarians.  Try to say that three times real fast.  Hospitalitarians, hospitalitarians, hospitalitarians.  What is a hospitalitarian?  This is a person who understands that virtually nothing else is as important as the other person feeling welcomed and important by us, and this New York restauranteur goes on to define hospitality even further when he states, and listen carefully ...

 

            Hospitality exists when you believe that the other person is on your side, that you really believe that the person you have come in transaction with is on your side, they are for you.

 

            It's interesting that one of the key qualifications of leaders in the church, at least as outlined by the Apostle Paul in his letters to Timothy and Titus, is the characteristic of hospitality.  Paul looks for things like prudence and and self-control, and devotion, but he also looks for hospitality, how we interact with strangers.   Again, hospitality is not just opening our homes.  It's how we interact with other human beings.

            You may have heard this injunction from the Letter to the Hebrews.  It goes,

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.   That is a reference back to the time when Abraham entertained a handful of strangers, only to find out, after the fact, that the strangers had been messengers from God.  They had been angels.  Let me go one up on the author of Hebrews.  I would say, Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained Jesus without knowing it!   You see, Jesus comes to us everyday through people we don't know; through people who are different, through people who we wouldn't naturally or comfortably invite into our circle.

            Remember Jesus words?  He told the story about Judgment Day, about the separation of the sheep from the goats.  He said, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, you invited me in.   And people answered, Lord, when did we see you a stranger and invite you in?  And the king replied, I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

            Right along side feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, visiting the prisoner is welcoming the xenia, welcoming those who are different from us.  If Jesus came through those doors would we welcome him?  I mean, if we really knew it was Jesus?  Of course, we would.  We would have to keep from knocking one another over just to get to him.  Yet, he comes to us every time we gather for worship.  He comes through the guests and the strangers, and it is our hope as a church that when the strangers and the guests leave they will go away feeling like we are on their side.  They might not end up joining us.  They may not become members of Anderson Grove, but they will leave feeling that we are on their side.

            In fact, I would venture to say, that one of the most important parts of our worship service if not the most important part, is the greeting time, especially when we have a visitor, a stranger in our midst.

            Awhile ago somebody wrote a note to a pastor on a pew card.  It was an anonymous note.  The pastor to this day does not know who wrote it, but let tell you what the person wrote.  The person wrote, and let’s make it a she, she wrote. “A few years ago during the interim time, I was visiting the church, and I was just about ready to leave and someone came up to me and shook hands and then introduced me to somebody else and I stayed.”  Someone reached out to that woman, a stranger in the church’s midst.  That someone made her feel like they were on her side.  I hope we seek out the visitor during the greeting time.  We are rather small.  We sort of know who they are.  I hope we are not part of the frozen chosen stuck in our pew, not reaching out to others.

             Almost 200 years ago a man was seeking to cross a river but needed help.  Just at that time a group of men on horseback came upon him and among them was Thomas Jefferson.  The man on foot asked Jefferson for a ride and Jefferson obliged.  On the other side of the river, another man in Jefferson's party asked the guy who had received help, “Do you know who it was that helped you?”  The man answered, "No, I don't."  He said,  "All I know is that some people have 'yes' faces and some people have 'no' faces and he had a 'yes' face. So I asked him if he would give me a ride across the river.”  He had no idea it was Thomas Jefferson.

            One of the most interesting things about the story I shared with you about pastor George Antonakos’ trip to Atlanta is that even now that elder, his unexpected host, knows nothing of the rest of the story.  When he was being hospitable to Antonakos and his friend, he had no idea how that would lead to a domino affect of grace to where a year later Antonakos would trust the Lord.  When Antonakos thinks back to that day, he thinks back to how God came to him through the hospitality of that man’s care.  And I think one of the great delights of heaven will be discovering how what we may have considered throw away acts of kindness and hospitality were used by God in the life of another person to guide them into eternity. Our Savior was a visitor to this planet and a rejected one at that, and so he was and he is always conscious of the need for hospitality in his people.

            Let’s practice it without complaining!