Holy Hospitality

This week in worship, Pastor Joe will continue our worship series, “Tools to Build Your Spiritual Life” sharing the last Outward Discipline: Service. We are called to use our gifts to joyfully serve God and others.

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The first video below is JUST THE SERMON.
If you would like to watch the entire service, scroll down a little more.

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The video below is the WHOLE SERVICE.

Holy Hospitality

“True service builds community.  It quietly and unpretentiously goes about caring for the needs of others.  It draws, binds, heals, builds” (Celebration of Discipline, pp. 129–130).  Richard J. Foster provides this wonderful insight into the heart of today’s discipline.  It is the last of the outward disciplines on the first Sunday in Lent, and on this pivot point of service I would like to spend some time today.  I would like to focus on an aspect of service any of us can employ at any time in any place: hospitality.

My Experience in Israel

In 2012, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to the Land called Holy.  The Traveling Tripsters journeyed from the Mediterranean Sea up to the boyhood home of Jesus, around and down to Jerusalem, into the deep south, and on to the land across the Jordan.  We stayed in some incredible places of rest and renewal as we retraced the paths to places where Jesus had taught his disciples and performed miraculous signs.

Perhaps one of the most memorable moments was just after we took a camel ride around to see the local sights only to return to the most lavish meal you could imagine.  We sat humbly on the ground, different backgrounds and places of origin, sharing a common plate.  And was that plate ever full!  A heavenly banquet: vegetables, chopped salads, rice, pita, hummus, tomatoes, roasted, wedged, tea, lemonade, juice, and of course, coffee.  It was a veritable banquet!  

In those humble settings, we learned the meaning of the word hospitality.  Our assembly was treated to a heavenly feast, as though we ourselves were messengers sent from God.  The Epistle of Hebrews has something to say about entertaining heaven-sent messengers.  “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.  Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.  (Hebrews 13:1–3, NIV)

Service and You

According to Hebrews 13, we are to continuously love one another as we love our own family.  One of the ways we do this is by showing hospitality, the kind of hospitality our group in Israel was shown that day in the desert.  So I have a question for you.  Does a service-mentality come naturally?  Do you find it easy or difficult to prepare a meal for strangers?

In Hebrews 13, we hear further that we are to practice such empathy that we remember those who are in prison as though we were in chains there with them, that we are to remember those who suffer injustice as though we ourselves were suffering unjustly.  The author of Hebrews writes with the intent of calling to mind those who are suffering because of their faith.  This kind of service transcends physical limitations into the realm of spiritual unity.

In Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, we hear that each of us who are in Christ has a gift to share.  “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.  If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”  (Romans 12:6–8, NIV)

Notice that Paul considers service not simply an option, but a gift.  It is a gift we are given and invited to share with others: we are blessed to be a blessing.  Service can be defined as seeing to the needs of others through loving humility. 

Our tool for the discipline of service is the Swiss Army Knife.  If you guessed a multi-tool, you are also correct.  We are to be prepared to fix a meal, offer assistance, be a resource, lend a listening ear, however God positions us to share the example of Christ through daily action.

We do not all possess the same gift, and the gift of service, or hospitality, can look different in different settings.

Return to the Word

We find more instances in scripture of the call to hospitality.  “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”  (1 Corinthians 12:4–6, NIV)  Verse 7 goes on to say: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

When we serve, we do so for the good of all and out of a heart for God’s best for all.  Karl Barth taught us, “service is a willing, working, and doing in which a person acts not according to his own purpose or plans but with a view to the purpose of another person and according to the need, disposition, and direction of others.  It is an act whose freedom is limited and determined by the other’s freedom, an act whose glory becomes increasingly greater to the extent that the doer is not concerned about his own glory but about the glory of the other” (Celebrating the Disciplines Journal Workbook, p. 153).  Service involves an element of sacrifice.

“The challenging and self-sacrificial work of Submission demands a mind set on service.  How many of the Disciplines entail an element of service in their doing, to God or to others? To master the art of service is to draw near the heart of Jesus Christ; it is to focus less on a temporary role and more toward permanent alignment with the needs of neighbors” (Disciplines Journal Workbook, p. 151).

New Insights

Maybe acts of service is your love language.

  • Perhaps it is sending a thoughtful note or shoveling someone’s driveway.
  • It could be saving someone a trip to the grocery store, giving someone a phone call who needs to hear a cheery voice, or helping to schedule a medical appointment.
  • It is serving in a particular ministry, like the Caring Nurses or our local Food Pantry.
  • It might be wishing someone happy birthday with a phone call, watching someone’s children so they can take care of their to-do list, or reading a story to a child, helping them grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and people.
  • Perhaps being a member of the armed forces is your way of serving and protecting the community and country.  If so, thank you.
  • It may be that giving your time to ministry is your service; if so, God bless you!

I wonder, what great work or art has yet to be unveiled by your creative, embodied service?

Here at BBC, I see and hear these things happening on a weekly basis.  In all your faithful acts of service, in these spiritual acts of worship, God is glorified.  As you offer your time, your energy, and your hard work, your physical efforts have echoes in the spiritual realm.

Ultimately, the goal of the hospitality we show, which is more than food or location, more than a banquet or the comfort of our own home, has to do with love.  1 Peter 4:8–11 gives yet further examples of the beauty and the power of service.  “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.  If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.  Amen.”  (1 Peter 4:8–11, NIV)

A Common Task

Holy Hospitality happens when

  1. we serve others as serving the Lord.
  2. we remember how Christ the Lord lovingly served his followers.
  3. we use whatever gift we have been given, wherever we are, to show love and care for our neighbors.

I think we have another practical tool for service: the towel.

Richard Foster writes, “‘Whoever would be great among you must be your servant…even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve’ (Matthew 20:25–28).  Therefore the spiritual authority of Jesus is an authority not found in a position or a title, but in a towel.”  (Celebration of Discipline, p. 128)

The towel is a reminder that, no matter our station in life, we have the opportunity to meet the immediate, daily needs of those around us, just as Jesus was attuned to the needs of his disciples, as the master came to take the role of the servant.  And for this service, God worked mightily in Jesus for the transformation not simply of the world during his earthly life, but for the salvation of the cosmos for all times.

We have the calling and ability to show hospitality wherever we go, and in this way to show forth the gracious, lavish love of God.  In doing so, we perpetuate the gift of holy hospitality.

William Wordsworth wrote a poem entitled, “To A Child.”

Small service is true service while it lasts:

Of humblest friends, bright creature! scorn not one:

The daisy, by the shadow that it casts,

Protects the lingering dewdrop from the sun.

May we find new and creative ways this week to use the tool of service to bless others, providing help in times of need, and modeling the spirit with which Jesus blessed his disciplines.  Let us pray and so to live.

Blessing: Lord, help us to serve as you served.  Thank you for providing such wonderful examples of your grace and gifts to use.  Bless us through the service we offer and let us find ourselves in many situations to help others, even in these very different times we pray, through Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Musical Meditation: “More Like Jesus” Link:

  1. In your own words, how would you define service? Think about a service someone has provided for you has been most life-giving.
  2. Foster defines the towel as the sign of service. In what ways do you serve best, and what sign of service can you use today?
  3. Which is more important, your ability to serve, or your ability to say no to serving? For reference, Foster asks, “When should you say no to the demands that people place upon your time and attention?”
  4. Make a list of attributes or people that best exemplify service for you. Choose the top three. Which of these do you most desire to emulate, and why?
  5. Write a paragraph between you and the Lord about ways you would like to better understand or practice service. Ask for specific lessons God would like you to learn. Do you find joy in serving?

Questions: Service

  1. If the towel is the sign of service, how can that sign be manifested in twentieth-century culture?
  2. Did you fin the discussion of self-righteous service, as contrasted from true service, to be:
  • Right on
  • Terribly idealistic
  • Naïve
  • Faithful to scripture, but impractical for today
  • Strange
  1. Debate the notion that love is a “reasoned concern for the well-being of all,” and consider the implications of this notion with reference to service.
  2. In the book Richard Foster mentions that service works humility into our lives. What in the world do you think humility means? That is, what does humility look like?
  3. Have you ever allowed yourself to be taken advantage of? Did the experience turn out to be destructive rather than redemptive?
  4. Does the believer have rights that should not be given up for the sake of others?
  5. What would the service of hiddenness look like in your life?
  6. During this next week, see if you can find one way each day to exercise the service of common courtesy.
  7. When should you say no to the demands that people place upon your time and attention?
  8. Give this prayer a try sometime this month: “Lord Jesus, I would so appreciate it if you would bring me someone today who I can serve.”
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