Hospitality: What the First Century Church Teaches Us About Welcoming the Stranger

Hospitality: What the First Century Church Teaches Us About Welcoming the Stranger

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2, NIV).

Have you ever known someone who never meets a stranger?

Folks who live their lives in such a way that nearly everyone they meet becomes a new friend astound me with their generosity of spirit. I admire their courage and zest for life, which compels them to embrace even those they do not know well, knowing that each creature has gifts to share with the world.

As a faith leader, when I meet folks with those sorts of spirits, I see some of the Spirit of Christ who, although divine, shared meals with the poor, sick, and sinful, laid hands on the infirm, and drew close to the crowds without reservation.

Even in His dying moment, Jesus stretched His arms wide as though embracing all of us and declared forgiveness over us because we did not realize what we were doing. Jesus is the embodiment of the grace of hospitality, and I would argue that hospitality is the biggest gift we, the body of Christ, can offer the world right now.

The Fear Factor

The current social and political climates have caused me to take a step back to examine what Scripture teaches us about welcoming strangers among us. I confess that I focus much of my time concerning myself with the sins that other people perpetrate on each other. I concentrate on the news stories about hate crimes without giving much consideration to the ways that I allow hate and fear to fuel my actions.

The truth is that fear motivates so much of what we do. Our fears prevent us from loving and practicing hospitality in the ways that our faith demands of us. In today’s social media culture, many of us have a fear of rejection. As humans, many of us also have a fear of not knowing which prevents us from meeting new people and having new experiences.

We also often have fears of being powerless that cause us to try to stay in places that make us feel powerful. We allow our fears to impede upon our ability to love.

Before turning outward and critiquing national and international leaders, I want to encourage us, especially during this introspective liturgical season called Lent, to look within to ask ourselves how we are practicing the kind of hospitality that Scripture and the example of Jesus Christ demand of us.

Love Thy Neighbor?

Many of us have learned the classic stories about hospitality in Sunday School and Sunday morning sermons.

We have heard about Abraham and Sarah, who unknowingly hosted angels who foretold the birth of Sarah’s son. In the passage from Hebrews I cited at the top of this article, the author alludes to that passage from Genesis. Despite the many admonitions throughout the Hebrew Bible to care for the foreigner, widow, and orphan, we, like the lawyer in Luke 10, often ask, “Who is my neighbor?”

In response to that question, we have heard Luke’s well-known story of the Good Samaritan who, despite his vastly different culture and faith, cared for an Israelite stranger he found injured on the side of the road. Even after hearing such a dramatic story of sacrificial love, we continue to struggle with caring for our neighbors. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the story is the way it condemns us for the times we fail to show love to people who are just like us.

We have become politically motivated to care for immigrants in recent months, as we should, but we mistreat those who sit right next to us in the pew or who share our offices at work!

Jesus tells Israelite listeners the story of an Israelite man who was robbed as he traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho. A priest passed by and walked on the opposite side of the road to avoid helping. Then, a Levite, a religious leader from the priestly tribe of Levi, passed him. Only a Samaritan, a man who was from a different culture and faith background, cared for the man.

Many commentaries have explained that the priest and the Levite probably did not interact with the victim because of concerns about ritual purity, but does that not cause us to consider our priorities? We cannot prioritize legalism over mercy and love. Here was Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, essentially urging His listeners to ritually defile themselves because mercy is at the heart of the Gospel.

The Missing Link

What the world needs from the church is for us to be the church. The time is now for us to commit ourselves to following Jesus Christ in our actions. It was the way the early Church first began to thrive.

As J. Ellsworth Kalas puts it in his book The Story Continues: The Acts of the Apostles for Today, “The Christian church was born in a time and culture when the marketplace of beliefs was crowded to its borders. Religion was everywhere … This meant that it was easy to talk religion, but also that it was difficult for the decision to get serious. No wonder, then, that the followers of Christ were known as ‘people of the Way.’”

The earliest Christians stood out, and they increased in number because they lived their Christianity; for them, it was not simply an interesting intellectual idea. They attracted converts because of their countercultural way of viewing religion as more than a list of philosophies.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. provided a practical understanding of this concept in his sermon “A Knock at Midnight,” which appears in his 1963 book of sermons called Strength to Love. King preached, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state … if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace.”

In other words, from the Scripture we read, to the prayers we pray, to the songs we sing, our worship is real and lived and must transform us from the inside out. The church is not a place to go; the church is a thing to do. We call the physical buildings in which we worship churches, but the church is the body of Christ, at work in the world.

So, what does living our faith teach us about hospitality?

A Place Where Ministry Happens

One of my mentors in ministry began a new pastorate at the end of 2016. After examining the needs and challenges of ministry at her new church, she chose as her theme of her church “Radical Hospitality.” The new framework of thinking about the church as a place where radical hospitality happens has changed it in practical ways in just a few short months.

Church members are beginning to imagine their worship space as first and foremost a place where ministry happens. That sounds obvious, I know, but so many churches have gotten away from thinking of themselves as being ministry spaces above all else.

One of the most drastic changes she has made as pastor has been to reimagine the parsonage, the house that is owned by the church for use by pastors and their families. That house now serves a dual purpose. It is both a “meeting house” where retreats, Bible study, and meetings can occur, and it provides accommodations for the pastor and visiting ministers.

Knowing my colleague, and understanding what it means to be “radical,” I am expecting that in the months and years to come, her new ministry will continue to grow and transform to become more welcoming for all people.

It is our task, as the Samaritan did in the Gospel of Luke, to embrace all we meet. As Hebrews 13:2 reminds us, we do not know the actual identity of those we encounter each day. Scripture teaches us that if we open our hearts to the possibility, each stranger has gifts to share with us that will enhance our lives. My fellow people of the Way, let us go forward with joy to spread Christian hospitality.

Jaimie Crumley is a minister, blogger, podcaster, and ministry consultant. She blogs about race, gender, history, and Christian faith at iamfreeagent.com.

 Share your thoughts on ministry and hospitality below.

The Journey: An Interview with Dr. Tony Evans & Priscilla Shirer

The Journey: An Interview with Dr. Tony Evans & Priscilla Shirer

Dr. Tony Evans is one of the most influential pastors and theologians in the United States and his daughter Priscilla Shirer is one of the most well-known authors and speakers. UrbanFaith sat down with them to discuss their documentary Journey with Jesus and their book Divine Disruption written as a family holding onto faith in the midst of grief.

What to do when Jesus sleeps while the boat is rocking

What to do when Jesus sleeps while the boat is rocking

Matthew 8:23-27 KJV

23 And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him.

24 And, behold, there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.

25 And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish.

26 And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.

27 But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!

This scripture really ministers to me. Before you judge the disciples for running to Jesus in a panic and waking Him up from His sweet nap, may I say that if we truly were honest with ourselves, many of us have been in similar situations.

Have you ever felt as though God was on a yacht drinking His favorite smoothie and enjoying Himself when you are clutching onto the boat with all of your strength because of the storm that is rocking the boat? Have you ever questioned God when you wondered why each time you set sail in faith on what He showed you, all of a sudden the waters of your life turn to angry waves?

If your life has been a smooth sail and you wake up every day with everything laid out and nothing to worry about then we praise God for you! But this inspiration today is for that person who cannot make sense of what is going on.

You gave your life to God and now everything seems chaotic. You have been praying like never before, reading your word, going to church, sending tweets and memes on how good God is, but the more you do, the more you feel as though you are shaking and everything around you is rocking.

Take courage and let your faith be empowered today by the following:

1. You cannot sink in a ship that Jesus is sailing

The disciples followed Jesus onto the ship. He is the Shepherd and He knows everything. The situations you are dealing with have not come to drown you but to teach you how to swim and navigate through life. Don’t worry, you will not sink.

2. While you are pacing around and worrying, Jesus is chilling

The disciples were looking at the storm and wondering why would Jesus be asleep? You have been asking yourself “where is God?” but the reality is Jesus is there. He is resting and waiting to see what your reaction will be. If God is not stressed out, why are you stressed out? This is a perspective issue. How are you viewing your situation? Shift and think like your God. If He is not worried, neither should you.

3. If you cry out to God He will answer.

The disciples saw the waves and water getting in the boat and went to wake up Jesus. A lot of times we think that the disciples were weak for waking up Jesus and acting scared, but the reality is we scream and call on Jesus all the time, because we do not know what to do with the storms we are facing. Guess what, it is okay!

Sometimes crying out to Jesus for help shows us His authority. Jesus woke up and calmed the storm. Even though He rebuked the disciples for their lack of faith, the reality is the boat stopped rocking. People may wonder why you cry out to God so much or why you seek God so much and yes God may give you a rebuke here and there but He will answer you and calm your storms. Don’t stop calling on Him, Jesus will pay attention to your situation.

Be encouraged this month, and strive to wake up Jesus in every situation if you have to. Better to call on Jesus even if the boat is rocking, than to wonder if Jesus is even in the boat of your life during a storm!

 

Dear God,

Thank you for encouraging me that each time I follow You, You will walk me into a ship that will begin sailing to my destiny. In that journey, there will be storms, and I may be afraid, but remind me that You are on my boat, and I can call on You. I can come to You to wake You up, and You will ease my fears, and calm the storm. I am honored to serve a God who hears and answers my cry of help…

Blessed be Your name…

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Legendary Woman: An Interview with Michelle McClain Walters

Legendary Woman: An Interview with Michelle McClain Walters

As more women than ever continue to move into positions of leadership and all women seek their purposes it is important to have role models from Scripture to help inspire and encourage us. Michelle McClain Walters has identified not only role models, but Biblical principles that can be learned from their stories to help women and men discover and walk in God’s calling for their lives. UrbanFaith sat down with Michelle to talk about her new book Legendary Woman: Partnering with God to Become the Heroine of Your Own Story, which captures the wisdom and encouragement we need for this moment. The full interview is linked above and more about the book is below.

In today’s times of women go-getters, entrepreneurs and bosses, Michelle McClain Walters uses her faith and God’s promises to motivate women to their calling! The book highlights the legendary women who aren’t just those in traditional powerhouse positions in business, finance or politics, but also the everyday women — the single mom, the prayer leader, the stay-at-home wife— who choose to say yes to God, are also indeed, legendary. She also shares the twelve characteristics of a legendary woman,and challenges women to identify their defining moments—those moments when your destiny intersects with an epic need within your family, community, nation, or your world—and be willing to say yes to the legendary role God has uniquely fashioned for them. 

God Knows the Plans

God Knows the Plans

The late Chadwick Boseman provides words of inspiration to college graduates about finding purpose in life.


“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11, NIV

Although the above words were initially intended to reassure those that had been carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon that they’d be brought back from captivity, they also provide comfort and encouragement in the present day for anyone that worries about what the future holds for them. And, thanks to all of the recent news stories about the state of the economy, not to mention all the reports of shocking acts of violence and natural disasters, many people are probably not only wondering—but worrying—about the future.

I usually think of myself as an optimistic person, however, I must admit that on more than a few occasions, I’ve worried about how I’d handle a particular situation or how it might turn out. Fortunately, it was during some of those times that I felt as though God was reaching out to me in a special way through the words found in Jeremiah 29:11. This is why it’s become one of my favorite scriptures.

The first time I felt God was speaking to me through this verse was right before I was scheduled to take a trip on an airplane. For some reason, I’d become terrified of doing something I had been doing since I was about six years old. I’d never had any bad experiences while flying, so I’m not sure why I was so scared that particular time. I just was. That’s why I was so happy that I came across Jeremiah 29:11 in the days leading up to that trip. I felt as if God was trying to tell me to go ahead and take the trip and trust that I’d be safe. I did go on that trip, and it was a safe and enjoyable one.

This verse also ministered to me was when I was sitting in a breast surgeon’s office trying to figure out if I should have a biopsy done. As my husband, Vince, and I sat in this Christian doctor’s office listening to her explain how routine it would be and how quickly it could be completed, I couldn’t help but fear she might find something bad or, worse yet, that I might not make it through the procedure. But, before I could tell her I needed to think about it more, she stopped talking and turned around the nameplate resting on her desk and asked me to read the Scripture verse that was taped to the back of it. Can you guess what it was? Yes, Jeremiah 29:11. I had no idea that we shared a fondness for this scripture, but when I read it, I knew everything would be fine. The procedure was uneventful and results of the biopsy were normal.

That same scripture spoke to me again a few years later on the day that my husband and I moved back to Illinois—along with our then-infant daughter—after residing on the East Coast for several years. I was extremely happy about the fact that I’d again be living near my parents and my sister and her growing family. But, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I’d be leaving behind the church family that had showered us with love during the four years we lived in New Jersey.

Since my husband was one of the staff ministers at the church, the other ministers and their wives threw a special farewell luncheon for us. Near the end of the luncheon, they presented gifts to each of us. My husband’s gift—a personalized black briefcase—was a very nice one and came in handy when he started teaching undergrads several weeks later. However, the decorative little plaque that contained a Bible verse that I received was priceless. And, you may be able to figure out why. Yes, the scripture inscribed on the plaque was my favorite one. The gift served as the perfect reminder that, even as I left the amazing church family that I had come to love and made the switch from career woman to stay-at-home-mom, God would be with me. And, since I’d never told any of them about my fondness for that scripture, I saw it as a true gift from above.

So, if you’re going through an unsettling situation or circumstance, don’t despair. Instead, reflect on the words of Jeremiah 29:11 and think about how they might apply in your life right now.

And remember this: God has unique plans for all of our lives. They may not always line up with the pictures we’ve sketched in our own minds or the life plans we’ve drafted for ourselves, but they are special because He created them just for us. And, because of this, He will enable us and empower us to handle any situation and accomplish any task that He places in our lives.

I also hope you’ll remember that we serve a merciful, gracious, trustworthy, and loving God. Sometimes we spend far too much time thinking about all the ways God is going to punish our sin and nearly not enough time thinking about and giving thanks for all the ways He has blessed us.

Sometimes God will speak to us by repeatedly placing in front of our faces a particular scripture, and sometimes He’ll use other people to get a particular message to us. But, regardless of how He chooses to speak to you, I pray you’ll never stop desiring to hear from Him. So, don’t spend a lot of time worrying or fretting over how you’ll handle something that you’re currently or soon may be going through; God is already handling it for you, His unique and precious child.