Before my first anniversary as your pastor, I talked to the Church Council about having church-wide opportunities to show Christian hospitality on grand scales and that we would provide this ministry on even-numbered years and have revivals on odd-numbered years. Church-wide hospitality initiatives allow us together to focus on ways we can serve, and some might call this the “outward journey”; revivals allow us together to focus on personal renewal, and some might call this the “inward journey.” The primary objective of extending Christian hospitality was not a membership drive or marketing campaign; instead, we simply wanted to follow the directive of Jesus “to give a cup of cold water” to others. We extend hospitality to others to show that God loves them but also to express our appreciation for them.
In 2012, our church adopted the City of Madison employees; different Sunday School Classes expressed appreciation in tangible ways to the following departments: Police, Fire, Street/Sanitation, Utilities, City Council, and City Hall. In 2014, we adopted every county fire department and thanked all firefighters; last year, we expressed appreciation to every employee in the Morgan County Sherriff’s Department.
Earlier this year, I decided that it would be too much to ask our new Minister of Music within her first two months to plan revival music with enlistment of area choirs/groups and also prepare for Advent Devotional Book. We have decided to forego revival services in 2017, and instead are sharing God’s love in tangible ways with all employees in the Morgan County School System. Bags of gratitude (including a pen, candy, granola bar, and greeting from our church) were assembled by children, youth, and some adults on August 23 and distributed to all school employees on August 24.
This past Wednesday, our Sanctuary Choir provided breakfast to the Morgan County Primary School employees. Five choir members arrived shortly after 7:00 and presented a bounty of breakfast options. Some choir members stayed until around 9:00-ish greeting Primary School employees and telling them how much they are appreciated. There were lots of smiling faces and many “Thank yous.” One school employee told Renae, “I’ve had this on my calendar and have been looking forward to it.”
Four Sunday School Classes have adopted the other schools to provide breakfast in specific months. We are looking for four additional Sunday School Classes to provide desserts to the primary, elementary, middle, and high schools from February-May; the sign-up sheet is on the Information Table. If you are not part of a Sunday School Class or if your Sunday School Class chooses not to participate yet you want to extend Christian hospitality to our school employees, please contact the Church Office, and we will pair you with a class.
Every individual is a person created in the image of God; every individual is a person for whom Jesus died on the cross. Every individual has worth, no matter what political party they support, or the color of their skin, or their nationality or language. When we can look at others, no matter who they are, and see Jesus, we are acting like his disciples. When we look at others and don’t see Jesus, we are not acting like his disciples. Jesus said to love our neighbor as ourselves, and when a lawyer asked Jesus who was his neighbor, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man needed help and two very religious people did not assist, but instead, someone who was different and hated provided the aid; we are to love and serve even those who are different, even those we have difficulty loving. When we can offer hospitality, which is what Jesus mandates from our text, we are acting as a disciple.
Author Karen Mains distinguishes between hospitality and entertaining. Entertaining says, “I want to impress you with my home, my clever decorating, my cooking.” Hospitality, seeking to minister, says, “This home is a gift from my Master. I use it as he desires.” Hospitality aims to serve.
Entertaining puts things before people. “As soon as I get the house finished, the living room decorated, my house cleaning done–then I will start inviting people.” Hospitality puts people first. “No furniture–we’ll eat on the floor! The decorating may never get done–you come anyway. The house is a mess–but you are friends–come home with us.”
Entertaining subtly declares, “This home is mine, an expression of my personality. Look and admire.” Hospitality whispers, “What is mine is yours.” (Karen Mains, Open Heart, Open Home, Inter-varsity Press, 2002)
Hospitality seeks to serve others; in serving others, we are serving God. Jesus’ words of instruction to the disciples apply to us, the disciples of today. “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me,” Jesus said, “and whoever welcomes me welcomes the Father who sent me” (10:40). Their mission was God’s mission; their words were God’s words; the people whom they met encountered God in them and in their teachings. These are strong words, but we know that these disciples (minus Judas) turned the whole world upside down with their proclamation. Whoever welcomed them did indeed welcome Christ and the one who sent him.
Selfishness has become the rule rather than the exception, but a “me-first society” is the opposite of what Christ calls for. It certainly shouldn’t be that way in the Church, among the Body of Christ. Serving others without reservation requires an acceptance of others without hesitation. Jesus pointed out that even the smallest act of kindness shall be rewarded.
In the year 2000, Bill and Melinda Gates launched a Foundation whose primary aims are globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. At the end of 2014, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had an endowment of $44.3 billion. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_&_Melinda_Gates_Foundation)
This great act of benevolence is staggering. None of us will come close to making a contribution of that magnitude. But our acts of hospitality are equally important.
Jesus recognized that there are various levels of kind acts. “Those who help a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward,” Jesus said. He added, “Those who receive a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward.” But then he said, “And if anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones (he was talking about those who help his disciples), I tell you the truth,” he concluded, “he will certainly not lose his reward.”
Jesus referenced a small gesture, a cup of cold water in that arid climate, but nonetheless important, because the act indicated that the person was open to the message of the disciple. The person who receives you receives me, Jesus said. In a small act of kindness is the large act of receiving the Gospel of Christ.
If we extend hospitality to others, we are opening the door for a person to receive the gospel. Our actions should always be pointing others to Christ. Nothing should ever be more important than our relationship with Jesus.
When we understand hospitality as discipleship, when we look at others and see Christ, we will treat individuals with compassion. Jesus said on another occasion, “You will know what kind of tree it is by the fruit which it bears.” If we are a disciple, we will come to the needs of others.
Jesus understood the importance of civility; his harshest words were not for those whom society considered unacceptable, but instead Jesus reserved his strongest rebukes for the religious people who should have known better.
Hospitality, serving others as if serving Christ, has fallen on some hard times these days. Rather than serving others, the past-time has become slamming others. Political and cultural divides are growing wider while animosity and suspicion continue to rise. Being uncomfortable with differences has become the norm.
We deliberately observe Worldwide Communion Sunday every October to remind us that most of the world doesn’t look like us. A variety of breads will be offered during communion to remind us that there are followers of Jesus all over the world. Not every follower of Jesus believes the same way I do; not every follower of Jesus believes the same way you do. But every follower of Jesus is called to show hospitality, meaning extending a hand of help, even it is something as simple as a cup of cold water. If followers of Jesus don’t show compassion to the world, then there is little hope for our world. Being right should always take a back seat to being loving.
The famous anthropologist Margaret Mead was once asked this question, “What was the earliest sign of civilization in any given culture?” The person making the inquiry expected the answer to be a clay pot, or perhaps a fishing hook, or grinding stone. Her answer was “a healed femur.”
The femur, of course, is the shin bone below the knee. Mead explained that no healed femurs are found where the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest, reigns. A healed femur shows that someone cared. Someone had to do that injured person’s hunting and gathering until the leg healed. The evidence of compassion, she said, is the first sign of civilization. I would contend that it is also a sign of the work of Christ in the life of a Christian. If Christ has given his life for you and me, we are to give our lives to him in return. When we encounter others and we offer compassion, we do so in the name and spirit of Christ. Our actions indicate our interests and what we value.
Just as there are three rules in real estate (location, location, location) there are three rules in being one with God – serve, serve, serve.
Are you living your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ? Is your focus on hospitality, where you value individuals, or is your focus on entertaining, where material possessions are your emphasis? Do you respond to others as interacting with Jesus? Are your actions compassionate, realizing that each time we even offer a cup of cold water, we do so as unto Christ?
Jesus said, “He who receives you receives me. “ Hospitality, seeing the face of Christ in one another, is the first step in Christian Discipleship. Join me at the Table as we are reminded again of how much Jesus loves us.