Jesus says (Matthew 25:35, 40),

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Believing this with all our heart changes our behavior toward all people, including and especially folks we don’t know. If we believed each person we encounter in the world and the church was Christ that would impact how we treat them, wouldn’t it?

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Two weeks ago, I spoke about Romans 15:7, where we’re told to “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  A variation on that theme is found in 1 Peter 4:7-11 in which several “one anothers” are emphasized.  1 Peter 4:7-11, “The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.  Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.  Be hospitable to one another without complaining.  Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.  Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.  To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever.  Amen.”

Our “one another” for today is Be Hospitable to One Another Without Complaining. 

One of the more memorable hospitality experiences Jill and I had was in England in 1987.

We were in London at Westminster Abbey.  My mentor at Boston University School of Theology had worked on the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible with a colleague who was then serving at Westminster Abbey.  Dr. Beck told me that when I went there, I needed to ask for his colleague and bring him greetings.  So, you need to picture us in our early 20’s sheepishly telling a doubting person who worked at Westminster that we brought greetings for one of the head honchos there; I believe he was the Assistant Dean of the Abbey.

The person left us, presumably to make a phone call, and eventually came back and said, that he was in and would see us.  We were walked back into the innards of one of the great Abbeys in the world and the halls were very dark and made of stone.  Eventually we arrived at an old wooden door.

The door opened and we could see a nicely furnished living space that was a lot brighter than I expected and we were greeted by the Assistant Dean.  I somewhat embarrassingly explained that I was a student of Dr. Harrell Beck and what great regard Harrell had for him and I was sorry to interrupt hm when he must be so busy, but Dr. Beck had insisted.  He graciously shared some kind words about Dr. Beck and that he was happy to meet us and invited us inside.

He was from Wales and as he spoke with us, he switched into Welsh and said something to his wife who was upstairs.  She began coming down the stairs and while I don’t speak Welsh, it was clear what he was saying.  “There are a couple young American students here who know a ministry colleague, we need to have tea and cookies with them.”  He then walked us over to the windows that looked out on a large green space.

He told us that Benedictine monks founded Westminster Abbey in 960 AD and this plot of ground was the longest continually cultivated patch of ground in England and where monks had grown vegetables for food and herbs for medicines for over 1,000 years.  It was amazing to contemplate.  We had tea and cookies and thanked them for their gracious hospitality and departed with an experience we’ll always remember.

Practicing hospitality, especially to strangers, has always been a fundamental part of being a Christian.

“Christian hospitality refers to the active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ.” 

One thing my parents practiced throughout their lives was hospitality.

I’ve told you before how we had people staying in our home: refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia, students from Mexico, the United Kingdom, and other places.  Not only did we have international people, but we were always having folks over from church—Deacon’s, Trustees, all kinds of folks.  As a boy I had to help by cleaning up and by asking people what they wanted to drink and bringing it to them.

Hospitality doesn’t mean you have a big house or a home suitable for a magazine.

Hospitality has more to do with our heart than our home.

Vibrant, fruitful, growing Christians and congregations are hospitable to one another without complaining. 

Out of genuine love for Jesus and for others, we take the initiative to invite, welcome, include, and support newcomers and help them grow in faith as they become part of the Body of Christ.

There’s a reason why Peter’s word about hospitality is preceded by the statement: “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” 

Hospitality means loving not only the people we already know, but also people who are not yet part of the faith community, who may even be from other countries or total strangers.

Being hospitable means having an outward focus, it’s a willingness to be open, adaptable, and to change in order to meet the needs of newcomers and to receive their talents.

According to the New Testament, welcoming people is vitally important.

Hebrews 13:1-2 also connects love and hospitality stating, “Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

The practice of hospitality is seen throughout the Bible from the Book of Genesis through the New Testament.

In Genesis 18, Abraham and Sarah welcome visitors and provide them hospitality, and their lives and the course of human history were altered.

In Deuteronomy 10:19, God reminds the people of Israel to welcome the stranger, the sojourner, the wanderer because “You were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

In a time when there are more than 50 million displaced persons, the Christian church around the world and in the United States needs to remember the Biblical call to hospitality.

Those of us who have been followers of Jesus for most of our lives can forget that at one point, we also were strangers to the faith, or we may not think much about what life was like before we were part of this community of faith in which we find meaning, grace, hope, friendship, and opportunities for service.

Every single one of us belongs to the Body of Christ because of someone else’s hospitality.

Someone invited us, encouraged us, received us, and helped us feel welcome so that we wanted to return and wanted to stay.  A family member, a friend, a co-worker, a pastor, a Sunday School Teacher, someone else’s initiative, love and support motivated us to say, “I want to be part of what people are experiencing here.”

Jesus says (Matthew 25:35, 40),

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 

Believing this with all our heart changes our behavior toward all people, including and especially folks we don’t know.  If we believed each person we encounter in the world and the church was Christ that would impact how we treat them, wouldn’t it?

Sometimes a person comes to BBC and feels he or she is ignored, not spoken to, or not treated as he or she hoped.  Sometimes people come and believe we are a very friendly church.

Every week, based on what we do from the time we leave our home until we return, we are helping to shape people’s experience of Christ and the church.

In the New Testament, there is a great emphasis on Hospitality in the early church, and then as now, the responsibilities and risks of providing hospitality were often taken up more by women than men.

Women are mentioned more often than men in the New Testament as leaders and hosts of early house churches.  The obligations and challenges facing these women would make most modern-day Christians nervous.

First, there was the responsibility for physical arrangements.

The house, however small, must be readied to receive seekers and believers.

Arrangements must be made in a suitable room, including moving other family activities to different parts of the house.

The frequency of the communal love feasts necessitated both preparation and clean-up.

Even though members of the congregation were responsible for bringing their own food, the burden on the host was not a small one.

There was the necessity of housing the traveling missionary and prophet, and of providing out of one’s food for them during their stay.

Although the early Christian practice forbade lengthy visits (not more than three days at most—something some folks on the Cape might like), such hospitality could put a strain on those of more modest means.

Perhaps more trying than the physical and financial arrangements were those involving the disposition of the family.

The expectations for healthy Christian family relationships were particularly incumbent upon those in whose homes Christians gathered for worship.  The congregation became the wider family; and there was little of life that could have been concealed from the wider group, not that there was much that was private in the first century.

If people were fighting or relationships were strained, it was hard to hide that.  We have it easy, we can get dressed up, put on a smile, and be nice at church for an hour or so, and put up a good front.

But when the church is coming to and meeting in your home, it’s harder to hide.

That’s why the New Testament says having one’s own family in good order was a necessity for leadership.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of being hospitable to one another without complaining in the first century was that opening one’s home as a place where Christians gathered opened one up to the possibility of persecution. 

This is still true in many countries in the world today.

Before his conversion, we read that the Apostle Paul broke into private houses and dragged out those inside.

In the Book of Acts (read Acts 12:5-17 for the details), amid severe persecution when Peter had been put in prison, a trusted enslaved woman named Rhoda was stationed as door keeper at the house of Mary the mother of John Mark.  Rhoda recognized Peter’s voice and ran to the others for permission to allow him to enter.

Although the people at the prayer meeting initially challenged the credibility of her story (they told her she was “out of her mind,”) she remained steadfast in the face of their questioning.

It’s funny how Christians can gather to pray and then when their prayer is answered, they don’t believe it!

At Rhoda’s insistence, the door is opened, Peter is welcomed, and Rhoda is vindicated.  Her highly responsible position as guardian of the gate during a time of intense persecution illustrates her importance to the Christian community and its confidence in her.

Through this house church, whose leaders are Mary and Rhoda, Peter sends his message to the believers of Jerusalem (Acts 12:17).

Although Peter is admitted to the house after his escape from prison, he leaves speedily so as not to heighten the danger for the others.  Later in Acts 17:5-8, we read of the abusive treatment and arrest of Jason, Paul’s host in Thessalonica.

Acts 16:14-15 describes how the home of Lydia, the first European convert, becomes the center of the new Christian community in Philippi; and she provides hospitality to Paul and Silas after their release from prison (Acts 16:40).  At the two points in Acts where Luke clearly tells us of a church meeting in a person’s home, it’s in the home of a woman.

We read also of house churches in the homes of Chloe, Nympha, and Priscilla and Aquila.  (Colossians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 1:11; 16:19; Romans 16:3-5).

Women with enough space in their homes provided a needed function both in their hospitality and in caring for the congregational life that developed in their homes.

Like in the New Testament, our homes and our church can be places of hospitality and acceptance where people experience the love of God and the reality of Jesus. 

People are searching for churches that make them feel welcome and loved, needed and accepted.

Each of us can take responsibility for practicing hospitality out of love for Christ and God’s people.

Every member, ministry, team, group, and class can take steps to be more hospitable and intentionally inviting.

It would also be cool if each of us, who is able, was intentional about inviting someone either to our home or perhaps out for a meal to get to know them better.

There are more people who consider BBC their church than are here on any given Sunday or who are members of the church.

One of the times people in the community reach out to us is when they have experienced a death in the family.

When a family is experiencing grief, the church can provide hospitality, comfort and caring in some of life’s most difficult days.

Through our volunteers who compose our Deacons, AV Team, Music, and Caring Heart to Heart Ministries as well as our staff, we can be instruments of God’s love.

I received a letter from someone who is not a member of BBC who attended a memorial service that was followed by a reception.  He wrote me about his experience at BBC in a way that speaks to the importance of thinking of other people and making them feel welcome.  The letter said in part,

“Greetings Pastor Scalise, I wanted to tell you how impressed I was with the Brewster Baptist Church and the service.  I love events, programs, and presentations that start on time.  My philosophy is that it shows a certain respect for those people who make the effort to be present and ready.  Very quietly, a few minutes before 11:00 you walked up the steps in the front of the church and precisely at 11:00 you stepped forward and began to speak.  Punctuality.  Yeah!

“I thought as the service unfolded, it was just right in terms of tempo, time, and content.  Excellent economy of words, while still covering the salient points.  The audio-visual aids you have in the church are immense.  What a nice feeling to look up on the screen and see the words to the hymns and prayers.  Psychologically and physically, I find this to be so uplifting.  Little things mean a lot.  But the fact you are looking up (not down), has positive ramifications and qualities for the spirit.  Plus, symbolically, I think it means a lot and enhances the pastoral feeling and message.  Congratulations for creating an environment conducive to making one feel comfortable and welcome at the Brewster Baptist Church.  Appreciatively, David.”

This is the kind of feeling we hope to evoke in people when they come here.

This is an example of a time when we accomplished what is written in 1 Peter 4 and Hebrews 13.

We can celebrate what we are doing well, and we can always do better.  When you get down to it, a congregation is a school for love, where we learn by God’s Spirit how to give love to and receive love from friends, neighbors and newcomers.

People need to know that God loves them, that they’re of supreme value, and that their life has significance.

The church exists to draw people into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ that changes their lives.

We believe the life that is really life is found in Jesus Christ—the ethics and virtues he taught, the love and compassion he demonstrated to all, the healing he offered, the forgiveness he gave, the sacrifice he made.

May God inspire us all to take up the challenge of being hospitable to one another without complaining.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  1. Think of a time when someone showed hospitality to you—when they made you feel welcome, accepted or comfortable. What difference did it make for you?
  2. Do you remember any Bible stories that have to do with hospitality? Which one(s)?
  3. How do you feel about approaching people you don’t know at BBC and talking with them and asking them questions?
  4. How and when have you invited someone to attend or participate in a ministry of the church? Why is helping people to feel valued and included an important part of hospitality?
  5. What do you think you can do to be more hospitable?
  6. What do you think we as a congregation can do to be more hospitable?