Knox Presbyterian Church Sermon August 28, 2016 Hospitality for Hospitality s Sake By David Annett

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1 Knox Presbyterian Church Sermon August 28, 2016 Hospitality for Hospitality s Sake By David Annett I get those s from time to time about the heartwarming story of hospitality and generosity that has been rewarded. I am sure you all see them as well. The latest I received was about a worker in a hotel who was on duty one busy night when all the rooms were taken. An older gentleman came in from a storm that had begun outside and inquired if there was a vacant room. The clerk mentioned it had been a busy night and he thought that all the rooms were taken but he would double-check. After a moment, he said. I believe there is a small room available, if you don t mind the simplicity. The man was relieved to be out of the storm, but soon came to find the room he had been offered was the clerk s own humble resting place. The next morning, the man invited the clerk to visit him in the big city if he ever had the chance and left his contact information. I am sure you will enjoy the visit. he said. Some time later, the clerk took him up on the offer and found the area and then the address he had been given which was another hotel. He met with the older gentleman who revealed to him that he was the owner of a chain of hotels and had been looking for a new manger for his new one. He then offered the position to the clerk. He said that he had known straight away when he met the clerk that stormy evening he had found a person who understood the essence of generous hospitality. These types of stories tend to make their rounds about the internet, going viral in an , or on Facebook. Sometimes they make up the last segment of the nightly news as a feel good story. You may have watched television shows around this concept where an unsuspecting person finds themselves in a position of showing hospitality to a random someone, but that someone turns out to be the CEO of the company, or a millionaire with the capability of making their dreams a reality. These stories make us feel good. We point to them as evidence that there are good people in the world, that amidst the horrible stories of war, poverty, disease and human suffering that dominate most of the nightly news time, we can dig up, if we look hard enough, stories that remind us of the good in humanity. That give us hope. There is a basic human need to know that if we are ourselves in need, that there are people in this world around us who would show us hospitality. The scripture from Hebrews that we heard today talks about hospitality, but focuses on us as the giver of hospitality. The Epistle to the Hebrews passage beings with the phrase, Let mutual love continue, meaning the early church was doing a good job of demonstrating brotherly and sisterly love toward one another. But this quick remark of praise is followed by an admonishment to not forget about the

2 stranger among us. The hospitality talked about in this passage is good to show to one another who we know well, who are a part of our families, who believe and look and think like we do, but the real thrust of the message in the letter to the Hebrews is a challenge to show this kind of love to people who they do not know. People outside of the tribe. We can t get so good at loving the ones we know, that we fail to extend our hand to the ones just outside of our circles. This is in fact a reoccurring and important Biblical theme. GOD often showed up in the Bible to folks as someone from outside the tribe, a stranger. Our text this morning echoes back to a story in Genesis 18 where God appeared to Abraham and Sarah in the form of three strangers. The writer tells us that Abraham saw them and ran from his tent to meet them, bowing down and saying Lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. They were strangers, and yet Abraham greeted them by seeing God in them, by washing their feet, welcoming them into his home, feeding them and giving them rest. This story highlights what typical Middle Eastern hospitality of the time looked like. The travelers in return had the seemingly absurd message for the couple that they would have a child in their old age, a message that made Sarah laugh, but one which they had prayed for their whole lives. Had Abraham and Sarah let these strangers pass by, and not shown them hospitality, then they would have missed the opportunity to be met by God, and to receive a message that would change their life. This tool of hospitality is one that we can put to use as soon as we say Amen and the organ sounds, for we are called to show each other hospitality in this place, this very day. This is not a message for another time friends, to only put into action outside of our walls. We need to reach out to the people in our church, especially those who are new or not in our circles. And we do it not because they might make great additions to our committees, or because they might support the work of the church financially, or because they have a job that would really lend some support to a mission partner or project we are working on we reach out to each other because that other person that you do not know well is a child of God, who is in this place today for a reason, and because someone once reached out to you and me in the same manner. Someone made us feel welcomed, someone extended a gracious hand, someone showed us the hospitality that is deserved by an angel, and we came back. The first thing that I do when we have youth group meetings here at Knox is look for new students who might have just joined us, or youth who might be out the fringes that evening, for whatever reason. I extend hospitality to them, because I know how special the love of God is in this place, and I want them to experience it too. I want them to come back. I want them to be here long enough to feel a part of this family so that they can be the ones to bring other strangers in and show them God s love as well. This is the process that God s restoration in the world takes, and it starts with us. There is another dimension to the readings this morning that we cannot miss. We are called to show hospitality to those around us, yes, but not in hopes

3 that we will be repaid, for as Jesus says in our Luke passage, you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Truest hospitality occurs when we reach out to another human being, not in the hopes that they are our boss in disguise, or a wealthy person who will repay tenfold our good deeds, or even that the story will spread among family and friends, letting people see what a good thing we have done. Hospitality of the stranger happens when we see that person as the beloved, valued child of God that they are, and act because of it. Look at the party that Jesus has described in the Luke passage. At the house of the Pharisee, with the powerful and important people of the day in attendance, Jesus tells the host that he should not have invited his relatives, friends and rich neighbors only that they might invite him back in return, but that he should have invited the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Jesus challenges us to hold a place of honor not for those who can repay us with a place of honor later, but for the most humbled in our midst. For the displaced persons from war torn regions in need of a place to go. For the victims of violence in our city, or natural disasters in our country or the homeless family that finds shelter together in our building. If the church cannot take the lead on showing hospitality in situations like those, then we are missing the challenge and restorative message of Jesus. 17 th Century English preacher John Bunyan once remarked to his congregation, You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you. What would the church universal look like if we heeded the message of Jesus to reach out in hospitality to the unloved, the naked, the hungry all without the prerequisite that the person receiving the help is not too different from us. Not too threatening. Not too far away. Not unable to repay the kind deed in some way in the future. What if we took the risk to love the stranger, no strings attached? Many years ago, when the famous pastor Fred Craddock was a young preacher out of seminary, he was called to a small church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. At that time, Oak Ridge was rapidly expanding. Lots of people were moving to town to help in the construction work. Many of the newcomers lived in a mobile home park located near the church. The trailer park was packed with newcomers, including a large number of children. Fred saw all those new people and thought his church ought to reach out to them. So at the next Board meeting Fred recommended a plan to reach out to the newcomers. "Oh, I don't know" said the chairman of the board. "They might not fit in here very well." Fred said, "But they live right next to our church. I think we should invite them to worship with us." But Fred got resistance to the idea. They finally decided to table the discussion and deal with it at their next business meeting. At that meeting a member said, "I move that in order to be a member of this church you have to own property in the county." "I'll second that motion," said another man. Fred was mortified and spoke against it. But in the end, the motion passed. As a result, no effort was made to reach out to the newcomers. Soon thereafter Fred left that church. Twenty years later, Fred and his wife were

4 driving past Oak Ridge on a trip through Tennessee. Since he was single when he served that church, his wife had never seen it. So Fred decided to show it to her. The beautiful white frame church was sitting there as always, but something was different. There was a big parking lot out front full of cars, trucks, motor homes and even motorcycles. As they pulled into the lot they saw a big sign in front of the church. It said, "BBQ: All You Can Eat." It was a restaurant! Fred and his wife went inside and the place was packed with all kinds of people white and black and Hispanic. Rich and poor. Southerners and northerners. Fred said to his wife, "It's a good thing this isn't a church anymore. If it were, these people would not be allowed in." This challenge of Jesus is not easy to actually live out. It is easy to say we should love each other and show kindness and hospitality to one another, but in practice, it is often difficult. It can be messy, challenging work that is not going to pay us back. Being the giver of hospitality means that we have to make the first move, leaving our place of comfort and entering an uncertain and risky posture with someone we don t know or trust. But we can take that first step, with trust that God s loving presence accompanies us, and maybe we will catch glimpses of another person s resurrection into that love. I spent this summer as a Chaplain in the Clinical Pastoral Education program at Christ Hospital. Chaplaincy is based upon the idea that the person you are with usually doesn t know you at all and won t have any way, or reason for that matter, to want to pay you back for the time that you spend with them. Most of the staff at Christ Hospital in this kind of work are volunteers, receiving no form of compensation for their time and service. It is one of the purest ways I have seen people in service to others through hospitality and love. There was one day each week where I would sleep overnight at the hospital and be on call in case any emergency situations were to arise. There was one evening that stands out in my mind as especially difficult. I was called to be with a young mother and father who had just delivered a 16 week old preterm child. I sat with a brother and sister who brought their aging mother into the emergency department for a cough and an hour later unexpectedly held her hand as she passed. And I accompanied a woman who knew she would die very soon who had no family or friends at be with her in the hospital, and needed to know that she was still loved and valued. I was privileged to entertained angels in each of those rooms that night. As the summer progressed, I moved from being afraid of entering into those kinds of situations, to feeling grateful to be able to extend hospitality toward those most in need, and to tell them that they are a beloved child of God, my brother or sister, and that they were not alone that night. Let s take the chance to be hospitable to the stranger. Let s extend our hands to others, some in this very room, without the expectation of anything in return. And in doing so, may we encounter the living God in those people, and in ourselves.

5 Thanks be to God, Amen. Scriptures: Psalm 81, Hebrews 13: 1-8, Luke 14: 7-14

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