Happenings, News

The gift of hospitality

A FAMOUS minister was scheduled to preach at a small church out in the country. When that Sunday came, every seat in the sanctuary was filled, and a crowd was standing outside.

As the church was a small one, it didn’t have a PA system. So just before the preacher was about to begin his sermon, one of the ushers went up to him and said, “Speak up! Remember the people on the outside.”

Remember the people on the outside. Really, that’s what our church is all about.

Israel was commanded by God to show hospitality, not only to fellow Jews, but to the “sojourner, the stranger in your gates”. Deuteronomy 10 says, “Remember, you were a stranger and a sojourner and God took you in.”

You do the same. We live in a politicised world. Sometimes, we hear that it is not what you know but who you know. Connections are so vital in life and relationships. The newcomers are disadvantaged in this old boys’ or old girls’ network. As a result, they may be vulnerable.

How do we treat them? Do we treat them the way we ourselves would like to be treated? How do we initiate them into our community? Do they experience God’s peace, acceptance and the spirit of Shalom here?

We tend to find security with those who are like us. We like people who agree with us.

Birds of the same feather flock together. But Jesus calls us to choose the path less travelled. He calls us to dare to be different — to embrace the other.

Hospitality is making room for the stranger and as a result we make room for God.

It is when we do this that we grow in our faith, that we enlarge our notion of family. Maybe that’s why Jesus says that a great test of our faithfulness is:

“… I was a stranger and you welcomed me”.

Fred Craddock spoke of a church that has lost the gift of hospitality. This church has become exclusive instead of being inclusive. The church has become more a country club than the body of Christ.

Pastor Fred was serving in a beautiful, little church in Tennessee. Almost overnight, the little bitty city began to bloom with atomic energy. People came in from everywhere and pitched tents, lived in wagons, in trailer parks, lived in everything temporarily to work. The church was not far away.

AFTER church one Sunday morning Fred asked the leaders to stay. He said to them: “Now we need to launch a calling campaign and an invitational campaign in all those trailer parks to invite those people to church.

“Oh, I don’t know,” one of them said. “I don’t think they’d fit in here. They’re just here temporarily, just construction people. They’ll be leaving pretty soon.”

“Well, we ought to invite them, make them feel at home,” Pastor Fred said. They argued about it, time ran out, and they decided to vote the next Sunday. Next Sunday, they all sat down after the service.

“I move,” said one of them, “I move that in order to be a member of this church, you must own property in the county.” Someone else said, “I second that.” It passed. I voted against it, but they reminded me that I was just a kid preacher and I didn’t have a vote. It passed.

Some years later, when we moved to these parts, I took my wife to see that little church because I had told her the painful, painful story.

The roads have changed … but then there, back among the pines, was that building shining white. It was different. The parking lot was full – motorcycles, trucks and cars packed in there. And out front, a great big sign: Barbecue, all you can eat.

It was a restaurant, so we went inside. The pews were against a wall. The organ was pushed over into a corner. There were people sitting eating barbecued pork and chicken and ribs – all kinds of people. I said to Nettie, “It’s a good thing this is not still a church, otherwise these people couldn’t be in here.” (Craddock Stories, p.28).

We live in a global village and we are interconnected to one another. The Gospel based on Jesus Christ is hospitable and inclusive.

We celebrate diversity as a gift from God.

John Wesley would cut across oceans, national boundaries and human-made barriers to minister to others. “ … he collected money for Native American schools in America … When he learned that the British authorities were mistreating their French prisoners of war, he invited his Methodist people to contribute money that he used to buy clothing and blankets for the Frenchmen, persons who have never occupied a high place in British affections”. (John Wesley, a man who shook the Spiritual Earth by John McEllhenney).

The Church is a place where outsiders become insiders.