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.

It’s Time to Take Control of Your Financial Health

It’s Time to Take Control of Your Financial Health

Recently, a co-worker shared something that enlightened me. They always used a financial counselor to advise them on various decisions that they needed to make regarding their finances and investments. However, they didn’t seem to be satisfied with the outcome of their investments.

They shared with me that, after talking in detail with their spouse, they decided to learn more about investments and the stock market. They signed up for classes and realized they could actually manage their own financial portfolio. They took charge of their investments and began to see a positive turnaround within the first few months of releasing their financial counselor.

They seemed confident about what they had learned and we’re looking forward to managing their financial portfolio in the months and years to come.

The biggest fear that many people have, is the fear of not knowing what you don’t know. That sounds odd but it is true. What you do not know about your finances, or financial health, may seem scary to some to the point of denying its existence or choosing to deal with it when things get really tough.

God desires for us to have balance in everything we do. Having the confidence to handle your finances is a commitment you have to make to yourself. Hosea 4:6 states “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge” KJV.

If people are bold enough to admit they do not know, they take the time to educate themselves in the areas that matter to them. So, why not us, children of the faith?

There are so many resources on finances. The question you need to ask yourself is, “What is my area of struggle when dealing with money?”

  • Is it a saving problem? Most likely you have not established boundaries and self-control, and you may need to set up a budget to stick to it.
  • Do you have unrealistic goals and expectations that leave you disheartened each month when you review your finances? Set goals for yourself that will boost your confidence because you are able to achieve them. This will result in becoming a better steward of your money because you have established a level of faith in yourself that you are capable of meeting goals when you set them.
  • Are you drowning in debt? Find out the exact amount that you owe so that you can establish a precise plan of tackling it.

When it comes to money, you have to be bold and face the issues head on. If you are tremendously blessed financially and have no issues with money, find ways to educate others to live in that liberty that you have been blessed to experience.

I learned a great lesson from that co-worker. What you don’t know, you can learn, and what you learn can enlighten you to make better and sound decisions that can position you financially to be in a stable place.

Are you ready to face what you don’t know about your finances? Start today. Learn something. It could serve as the trigger of change to a great financial future for you in the years to come.

When Women Strike: A Closer Look at ‘A Day Without A Woman’

When Women Strike: A Closer Look at ‘A Day Without A Woman’

March, in many ways, has become the month of women. Each year, the month is set aside to pay homage to women who have been world changers throughout history and acknowledge the impact of women on present-day society.

Within Women’s History Month is International Women’s Day, a yearly campaign that encourages solidarity on issues related to women and girls. This year’s theme is #BeBoldForChange: “a call on the masses to help forge a better working world—a more gender-inclusive world,” according to the International Women’s Day website. In the spirit of this year’s theme, women and men across the United States are encouraged to #BeBoldForChange by staying home from work.

On the heels of the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, women, men, and children came out by the millions to protest a man who has been criticized for being misogynistic, sexist, and hostile toward women and immigrants during the Women’s March in January. On February 16, a nationwide Day Without Immigrants was organized to stand in solidarity with those who are often mischaracterized as criminals, “illegals,” and over-consumers of the United States’ economic resources. This year’s “A Day Without A Woman” protest intentionally overlaps with the global International Women’s Strike and International Women’s Day during Women’s History Month.

“A Day Without A Woman” protest is a one-day international strike from paid and unpaid work and a one-day freeze on spending at non-women or minority owned businesses. Women make up nearly half of the United States’ workforce but continue to earn less than their male counterparts. The goal of the strike is “to highlight the economic power and significance that women have in the U.S. and global economies, while calling attention to the economic injustices women and gender nonconforming people continue to face.” Women and men were encouraged to wear red as a symbol of “revolutionary love and sacrifice” and participate in any way that they can.

“I have taken the day off from my 8-to-5 office career but I am also a business owner,” said Ronisha Sanders, who participated in the strike. “I have orders to fulfill and brides to meet for cake tastings as well as speaking to a young group of ladies about what it means to be a black female business owner. That is all today! I am also wearing my red in solidarity.”

“I will be participating by not buying anything and wearing red,” said Alanah Dillard, a youth and family therapist. “I am not able to stay home from work today, ­but I will be having a staff meeting and spending time addressing the importance of recognizing this month and this day.”

Like Dillard, all women and men across the country are not able to take off from work to show their support. Organizers have recognized that some workers do not have the option of refraining from work for a day, particularly those with jobs that “provide essential services” like the medical field, as well as women and men who face “economic insecurity” and literally cannot afford to lose a day of pay.

A Day Without A Woman is a testament to the major contributions of women in paid, unpaid, and unnoticed labor capacities. According to the Center for American Progress projections, a total of $21 billion (in GDP) could be lost if all women took off work for one day. Although the idea of all working women in the country staying home from work is improbable, the potential impact of the strike is not only economic.

“I work in a predominantly woman-dominated profession [mental health counseling and social services] so to have women not show up to work would make a huge difference,” Dillard said.

Education—a field typically dominated by women—has already been affected. Some public school systems such as Prince George’s County, Maryland, have closed after hundreds of teachers and school staff members requested the day off.

As young professional women, both Dillard and Sanders acknowledge the importance of A Day Without A Woman through the perspective of their livelihoods.

As a resident manager for the YMCA, Dillard works closely with young adults and has noticed the need to continue to empower women and fight for female equality and respect.

“I was told by two African American male residents, ‘I don’t have to respect you. You are a woman and you can’t get me a job unless you are a white male, so I don’t have to do anything for you.’ This is why these strikes are important. In this day, these comments are made with no hesitation—and by kids born in the 2000s.”

For Sanders, the strike and call to support women and minority businesses strike a personal chord.

“For me, this strike is a solidified push against Mr. Trump, [and a call] to be bold in pushing for change when it comes to women inequality. As a young, minority, female business owner, I pray and hope that other women know their worth and that their purpose collided with destiny,” she said. “I hope we women never question who we are. The sky is the limit. I hope that supporting women-owned business continues even after this International Women’s Day.”

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Shack’ takes moviegoers on an emotional journey

‘The Shack’ takes moviegoers on an emotional journey

Forgiveness is the ultimate form of love—and that love is a creation of God that is seen throughout Octavia Spencer’s performance as Papa, a character that is one of the depictions of God , in The Shack. Mack Phillips, played by Sam Worthington (Avatar), is a character whom some would call a “churching” Christian due to a combination of an upbringing by an abusive father who was an elder in the church, and the unwavering faith of his wife.

The movie, based on the bestselling novel with the same title, centers on Mack’s loss of faith after his daughter is kidnapped and killed during a period the author calls “The Great Sadness.” When Mack receives a letter from Papa, he encounters the many faces of God, including Jesus (Avraham Aviv Alush), Wisdom/Sophia (Alice Braga), and what is described as the Breath of Life (Sumire Matsubara). This film will take moviegoers on a spiritual and emotional journey beyond the Bible and help them understand how God works all things out with love. Be prepared for a light chuckle, the vibration of an elevated way of thinking, and a healing upon leaving the theater.

We Are Made in His Image

                  In a time when the racial rhetoric has become aggressive and the Bible is sometimes used as justification, it is beautiful to see the different elements of God played by a racially and ethnically diverse cast. There was some criticism leading up to the film’s release that Papa was being portrayed as a Black woman: To some people, that is just not how God looks. As the film reaches more people, the color and gender of God depicted will matter less. Papa appears as many people to convey the idea of many religions in the film; the message is that, essentially, we are all connected through the same God, no matter the appearance.

Bad Things Happen

                  The biggest question that is continually reiterated in this film is: “Why did you let this happen?” This is a question on everyone’s mind as our world is filled with senseless violence, corrupt politics, and very little compassion for our brothers and sisters. Sometimes we wonder why terrible things occur if God is so mighty and powerful, or why God has abandoned us. One moviegoer, Chaunetta, a former doubter, identifies with this sentiment.

“I’ve always felt like I got the short end of the stick when it came to my life,” Chaunetta explained. “I use to say that God may be all-present but he forgot about me. Seeing this film was right on time, because now I see that I am not alone [in that feeling]. This was a message to all who feel like they’ve been abandoned, and they haven’t been.”

There is a powerful image of Mack drowning in his fears and sorrows instead of relying on God, in all forms, to work with Him and take it away. When unfortunate things occur, we can blame ourselves, God, and whomever else before surrendering it to God, which drives us into a deeper darkness and further from our peace.

We Must Forgive

                  Mack goes through a path of forgiveness in which he combats a variety of emotions, including anger. Wisdom gives him a “Ghost of Christmas Past”-like awakening to show that Papa is the final judge and that our willingness to take that power away is so rampant that it creates wars and more sorrow, as explained by the Holy Spirit. Jesus teaches Mack how to rely on God for healing and in those moments you’ll feel like you can walk on water. Forgiveness in this film is the direct key to peace for Mack and although it is not an easy road, it is worth the journey.

The Shack is a film for the moviegoer who wants to experience a connection to God instead of the sermon of a preacher. It is also for those who want to experience God’s grace through the eyes of Mack. And for those who have questions about God’s existence, this is a great flying lesson that reinforces how the love of our omnipresent God is with us always.

 

Check out the official movie trailer of The Shack below:

Do you agree with the portrayal of God in The Shack? Share your thoughts below.

11 Must-Read Books for Black History Month

11 Must-Read Books for Black History Month

As Black History Month commences, here are a few must-have books from Black authors, spanning time periods, themes and genres. However, one thing they have in common is critical acclaim and a strong command of tackling the Black experience with grace, courage, originality, and historical context, making them essential reads during Black History Month and throughout the year.
 

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Ralph Ellison’s masterpiece novel is frequently included on the list of must-read American books by one of the most prolific Black authors. The story follows an African American man whose color renders him invisible. It’s a groundbreaking take on a racially polarized society and the struggle to find oneself through it all.
 

Home by Toni Morrison

The 2012 novel by Morrison tells the story of a 20-something Korean War veteran and his journey home from an integrated army to a segregated society. The book was named one of the best novels of 2012 for its careful consideration of mental illness, race relations, family, history, and the concept of home.
 

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston

Baratunde Thurston, a longtime writer for The Onion, serves up laughs with this collection of comical essays, such as “How to Speak for All Black People” and “How To Celebrate Black History Month.” Thurston covers social interactions and media portrayals with an insightful and satirical perspective.

 

God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse by James Weldon Johnson

James Weldon Johnson, creator of the Black National AnthemLift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” first published God’s Trombones in 1927 as a book of poems. The poems take on the structure of a traditional sermon and tell several different parables and Bible stories, some of which specifically focus on the African American story. Dr. Cornel West and Henry Louis Gates have called this collection one of Johnson’s most notable works.

 

The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates

From the best-selling author comes a poignant tale of life and race in the inner city. Coates explains how his father worked for his sons to obtain a free education and escape Baltimore’s drug culture. This inspiring book tells a powerful narrative about community and honoring your history across generations.

 

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Citizen is an award-winning collection of literature blurring the lines between poetry and criticism. Divided into seven chapters, it provides a powerful meditation on race that creates a lyrical portrait of our current social and political climate. Hailed as “a dazzling expression of the painful double consciousness of Black life in America,” according to the Washington Post. Citizen is said to feel like an “eavesdropping on America.”

 

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

You may think you know Malcolm X, but you’ve never read anything like Marable’s highly-regarded biography, which provides new perspectives and information on the controversial leader. Marable connects Malcolm’s life with other leaders, faith, and Black Nationalism in a masterful, historical context and call for social change.

 

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

In this novel, an African American teenager spends a summer with his brother in 1985 Sag Harbor. The work is more personal than most of Whitehead’s books and explores race, class, and commercial culture in light of a newer generation of Black Americans who are less marked by their color.

 

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

In a classic tale, Wilkerson chronicles the journey of three African Americans who took part in the massive movement from the South to the North, Midwest, and West that millions of Black families took in the 20th century. The Warmth of Other Suns is an acclaimed historical account that studies a definitive period in American history.

 

Selected Poems of Langston Hughes by Langston Hughes

This extensive collection of poems was hand-picked by Hughes, himself, prior to his death in 1967 and span his entire career. They offer a breathtaking look at being Black in America that is contemplative, celebratory, gut-wrenching and praiseworthy. From “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “The Weary Blues,” to “Still Here” and “Refugee in America,” this collection directs us to fight, believe, dream, and claim our self-worth.

 

Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals

In this riveting memoir, Beals recounts her time on the front lines of school desegregation as a member of the Little Rock Nine – the group of African-American students who famously integrated Arkansas’ Central High School. Her account of the harrowing experiences that forged her courage will stick with you long after the last page.

 

Are there other titles that you’d like to add to the list? Share them below.