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Last Sunday, Rev. Alex Rogers kicked off Rally Day by introducing our theme for the year,
Wide Open Doors. As Alex described in her sermon,
opening wide the doors of our hearts to God and to others involves great opportunity,
yet also involves some measure of fear and vulnerability.
Today, the author of Hebrews offers practical instruction
regarding living a faithful Christian life.
His command related to hospitality comes at the end of a long theological sermon.
The author has waxed poetically about the high priestly ministry of Jesus Christ.
He has reminded his congregation of the great heroes of the biblical story,
and encouraged the church to remain faithful in times of triumph and in despair.
In this last chapter of Hebrews, he offers a laundry list of community expectations.
In effect, the preacher is saying, given all that I have said before about the ministry of Jesus,
about who he is and what he is about, this, then, is how we should live in Christian community.
Hebrews 13:1-7, 20-21
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith…
Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
There is so much to be explored in these several verses from Hebrews
about the basics of Christian living, but today we will focus upon hospitality.
It seems like a long time ago now, but last Monday’s eclipse of the sun was an amazing event.
For those who traveled into the band of totality,
the experience itself felt like a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.
When the sky grew dark, the dogs began to bark, crickets chirped, fish jumped in the lake,
and human beings stood together, silent in awe of the wonder of creation.
I was greatly impressed by how many people made special plans to participate in the wonder,
evidenced by the overwhelming traffic returning to Atlanta last Monday evening.
At the heart of the spectacle was a gracious spirit of hospitality.
Many made plans months in advance. They made preparations; they invited friends.
In awe before one of the wonders of God’s creation, human beings came together.
Long term connections between friends and family were renewed.
Younger friendships were deepened.
And, in many cases, strangers became new friends.
Hospitality is at the heart of being human, and certainly at the heart of faithful Christian practice.
Our text for today offers the Church a command:
do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.
Hospitality has long been identified as a critical spiritual practice for Christian community.
Hospitality is a way of life that we are called to live as followers of Jesus, but admittedly,
when it comes down to it, offering hospitality can also be challenging and fearful.
Ana María Pineda, a professor of religious studies at Santa Clara University, writes:
“Many of us know that we should offer hospitality, but we wonder whether we can.
Hospitality is made up of hard work undertaken under risky conditions…
fear crowds out what needs to be done…
In the face of overwhelming human need for shelter and care,
and in the face of our own fear of strangers,
(the church) needs to develop ways of supporting one another in the practice of hospitality.”
Robert Schnase, in his book, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations,
outlines five fundamental practices of healthy, vital churches.
“These fundamental practices are so critical to a congregation’s mission
that failure to perform them in an exemplary way
results in congregational decline and deterioration.”
Shnase is convinced, and I believe he is onto something here, that
“The practices themselves are basic and fundamental to congregational strength,
but the ‘dangerous, edgy, and provocative’ adjectives intensify the practices
toward the unexpected and exemplary.”
The five practices – Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development,
Risk-taking Mission and Service, Extravagant Generosity
With an emphasis on Radical Hospitality, the idea is that church members begin to
“focus on those outside their congregations with as much passion
as they attend to the nurture and growth of those who already belong to the family of faith…”
We have talked in this congregation before about balancing our real strength of inward focus,
our tender, committed care for one another, with an outward focus on strangers.
An outward focus flows from the virtue of Christian hospitality.
Hospitality is endemic to genuine Christian community
as well as to the commitment to grow in the likeness and image of Jesus Christ.
The power of invitation to change a person’s life must never be underestimated!
An invitational posture and hospitable culture can change everything –
for both a church and an individual.
Radical hospitality – “drastically different from ordinary practice, outside the normal…
surprising, unexpected, authentic” will communicate to newcomers that:
“I’m not just a number here…These people really care about me.
They really want the best for me.”
I had a recent conversation with someone about their experience in one of the mega-churches.
They participated for a while, and appreciated all that the church was doing,
but ultimately, they came back home to a Presbyterian church.
One thing they said really challenged me.
She said that even a huge mega-church can make you feel like they really want you.
They push you to join that small group, to show up for a special event, to give to some cause.
Presbyterians, on the other hand, tend not to be very pushy.
We tend to be more laid back about attendance.
To those who do show up, we say, come back if you feel like it.
Participate if you want to, if you’re so inclined, if you happen to be in town this weekend
and don’t have anything else going on. We want you to be comfortable here.
We, me included, could be more invitational.
We could be more pushy even, not in a negative way, but in a “we want you here” sort of way.
As Robert Schnase has written, “By God’s grace,
people may be more ready than we realize to accept the invitation and initiation of Christ
that comes through gracious hospitality.” (Schnase, p. 15)
“Sometimes members forget that churches offer something people need…
I remember Bill Jackson talking about Ann’s death last year. He said:
“I don’t know how people go through this sort of experience without a church family.”
“Is it too presumptuous, self-righteous, or arrogant to perceive a responsibility,
or even a calling, to invite and encourage others
so that they may receive what we have received?” (p. 18)
The majority of people in our “greater Decatur” neighborhood do not have a church family.
They do not have the kind of love and support that many of us take for granted.
Many do not participate regularly in the communal life that we enjoy at DPC.
Consider your…neighbors, coworkers, fellow band parents, soccer sideline friends,
restaurant workers, those sitting around us at dinner or at the movies,
those we may know from ballgames or waiting rooms.
Who do you know who would truly benefit from being a part of this congregation?
Consider the name of one person that you could invite to join you at worship
or another church activity.
“Radical Hospitality begins with a single heart, a growing openness,
a prayerful desire for the highest good of a stranger.” (Schnase)
We honored Alan Kenton in worship several weeks ago because of how much
Alan made people feel welcome, how he followed up with people and invited them, graciously,
to come to church, to participate in community.
Some of us have called Alan the “Bulldog Extraordinaire”,
because he would literally chase visitors out to their cars on Sunday mornings,
get their phone number or email address,
and not let go until they had become a part of the church.
We need more Alan Kentons.
Gene Morse had the gift of hospitality.
I remember Gene welcoming a certain disheveled man named Charles into the second pew
where she sat every week. Charles was not with us very long,
but Charles invited a friend of his to join us in worship, who is still with us nine years later.
Bill and Adelaide Owens shared the gift of hospitality.
How many of our church members and groups felt a warm welcome
at the home of Bill and Adelaide?
Lori McMahan has the gift of hospitality.
Lori has done a marvelous job of welcoming non-member families into her children’s choirs
and into the Bible and Music Camps.
-Who first invited you or brought you to this church?
-What service or activity did you first attend?
-How did we feel about the first time you participated in something at this church?
-Who or what made you feel welcome?
Last week, Alex appropriately kicked off this Wide Open doors series starting with God.
Beginning with God is a good place to start.
We cannot be open toward our neighbor, we cannot love our neighbor as we love ourselves,
before we first know God’s love, before we take to heart the love of God for us,
and then receive that desire to share love with others.
Our hospitality toward others begins with God’s hospitality towards us.
Notice the blessing included in the command:
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that
some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
In the biblical narrative, angels are often messengers from God.
An “angel” can be any person who embodies or speaks a divine message.
The message may be one of comfort or one of challenge.
The stranger entertained may offer kind words of care of prophetic words of call.
I am convinced that one of the Church’s great tasks for the next decade or so
will be to listen more, to listen to voices long unheard,
to listen to those who have long been silenced,
to listen to those who have been hurt or offended
to listen to those whose life experience is far different from our own,
those who have a different understanding of God or what it means to be faithful.
“To offer hospitality to a stranger is to welcome something new, unfamiliar,
and unknown into our life-world…
Strangers have stories to tell which we have never heard before,
stories which can redirect our seeing and stimulate our imaginations.
The stories invite us to view the world from a novel perspective.” – Thomas Ogletree
What better way to listen to people’s stories than to invite people to dinner,
to sit at table and break bread together.
In your bulletin is an encouragement to participate in a Break Bread group.
These dinner groups we form twice a year are a wonderful way to offer and receive hospitality,
a terrific way to get to know people who may currently be strangers to you,
yet just may offer you some divine message or encouragement.
In the Biblical narrative, we have numerous examples of hospitality,
like Abraham and Sarah showing hospitality to three strangers
who brought them the news that a child would be born to them.
Or the example of Peter’s mother in Capernaum,
who showed hospitality to Jesus and his disciples.
She welcomed all those young men into her home, fed them, and cared for their needs.
Or the example of Lydia in Philippi, the dealer in purple cloth,
who welcomed a fledgling congregation to meet in her home.
“Hospitality is essentially an expression of love…
It is the act of sharing who we are as well as what we have.”
Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson pg. 122
Ideas for practicing hospitality…
Invite someone to lunch after worship.
Cook dinner for a combination of old and potentially new friends.
Host a Break Bread group in your home
Provide the meal for the Hagar’s House families
Invite the church the staff over for lunch!
(as Angie and Harley Smith have done)
Meet someone for coffee, just to get to know them.
Invite your neighbors over for a get-together.
Pick someone up in your car and bring them with you to your Sunday School class
or Bible study.
Instead of just handing out a bag lunch to a Threshold client,
sit down with them and share a meal together. Hear their story.
Jesus told his disciples: “Whoever welcomes (these) welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Matthew 10:42
Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus,
the great shepherd of the sheep… make you complete in everything good
so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight,
through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever and ever.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
August 27, 2017
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
Join us for worship on Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m.
Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
205 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030