Pastor John Kerr
June 28, 2020 Theme: “Hospitality” Text: Matthew 10:40-42
In my confirmation classes, I give a test on the unit we studied to see if the confirmands grasped the material and were paying attention. My wife Diane, who was a schoolteacher, added that it also probably said something about my teaching!
One day a student asked, “Is this going to be on the test?” I said, “Why do you ask?” “Because we discuss things and you tell stories and sometimes you tell us that this is going to be on the test, but you haven’t said anything so far, and so I just wondered,” I assured him that it would be on the exam in some form or other. Immediately he and the others feverously began taking notes and got serious about what was being said and discussed.
So, if any of you are wondering if what I say to you today is going to be on the final exam, I can assure you that it is going to be on the final exam!
It has to do with the giving and receiving of hospitality. Hospitality is buried in the word “welcome” that Jesus uses. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me and whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones. . . “ All of this has to do with giving and receiving hospitality.
Jesus was dead serious. “Anyone hospitable to you is hospitable to me and anyone hospitable to me is hospitable to God.” He elevates hospitality to the highest level. He even undergirds it with his familiar reference to reward: “Whoever receives a prophet or good person in the name of—that “in the name of” is a good Jewish way of saying ‘because they are’—whoever receives a prophet because they are a prophet or good person, or whoever gives a cup of cold water to a child because that child is a disciple, you’ll receive a reward.” To Jesus this was serious stuff!
Matthew says in the last sermon Jesus preached in Matthew 25 that when the son of man comes and all the nations are gathered and he separates the sheep from the goats as a shepherd does, he’s going to ask on the final exam, “I was an outsider. Did you or did you not extend hospitality.?” That will be on the final exam.
The early church heard this message, because hospitality was at the heart of the early church. Christians had a solid background in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19 it says, “You are to welcome an outsider, because of all those years that you were in Egypt, you were an outsider, and you know what that is like.”
The church also had the example of Jesus. He welcomed and was hospitable to publicans and sinners, and he received the hospitality of so many people and was a guest in many homes. He made no distinctions. If anybody—tax collectors, sinners, religious or non-religious—said to him, “Jesus, do you care for a sandwich and bowl of soup?” he went. He knew what hospitality was like.
Hospitality was a necessity back then. So many people were on the move. Some were homeless. Wars tore up homes and places, and people had no place to call home. Some women chose to move all their lives rather than face the abuse and oppression put on them by men. Many women travelled about and that was their only taste of freedom.
Be hospitable, Jesus said, because some of those traveling about with you are Christian missionaries, telling my story from house to house, and because churches met in houses this meant opening up homes to be hospitable.
But problems came up. I guess you can’t have church without some problems. One problem was that people claimed to be Christian and weren’t, and they were getting inside and abusing the hospitality and wearing out their welcome that churches offered. Some people actually did that.
This was the reason for some of the church letters. One purpose of the church letter was to be a letter of introduction. Paul said to the church in Thessalonica, “I’m sorry that I can’t come now, but I’m sending Timothy. He is a good man, is my helper and I want you to welcome him and be hospitable to him as you would be to me” (I Thessalonians 3). And Paul said to the church in Rome, “Welcome Phoebe. I recommend her to you. Give her everything she needs. She’s been so helpful to me so many times in so many ways” (Romans 6). That’s the church letter.
The time came, however, when the church got so big it had to move out of homes to other buildings and hospitality was institutionalized, and the church set up what was called “hospitals.” They had nothing to do with being sick. Hospitals were places to receive and care for and feed pilgrims—to be hospitable to strangers and travelers. Sometimes they were called hostiles or hospices, all based on the word “hospice” that means guest or host.
Pretty soon these hospitals got specialized. They had some for the poor called Lazarus houses. They had some for the mentally challenged called Bethlehem houses. There were some for children who didn’t have a place to go to school and no place to live and so they formed boarding schools for them. They did all of this because of hospitality. Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me . . . . A cup of cold water affects me and what affects me affects God.”
Being a host isn’t troublesome for some people. You just put stuff out and welcome them. “I’m happy to share this with you.” That’s easy for some, except stingy people. There are those who won’t be a host because they are stingy and saving up for a rainy day. Others aren’t hospitable because they are picky as to who comes into their home. They let the social, cultural, educational and economic values affect who is welcome and who isn’t welcome at their place.
For others they aren’t hospitable because of their church doctrines and teachings. Two little letters at the end of the New Testament, 2nd John and 3rd John, talk about welcoming and not welcoming. One of the churches had a man by the name of Diotrephes who stood at the door and had a list of questions he asked everybody who came, and if they didn’t answer correctly, they didn’t get in. Does that sound familiar to any of you?
The story is told about a man who was shipwrecked on a deserted island all by himself. He was out there for 10 years and tried to make himself feel at home, and so he built a little town like his hometown. When he was finally rescued, he took his rescuer around. “I want to show you the town I built.” There was a bank, movie theater, grocery, drugstore, church and across the street from the church another church. The man said, “You’re the only one here, why two churches?” He said, “Oh, I would never think of stepping a foot inside that church!”
Some people have trouble being a guest. I think that may be because they have an ego problem. They just can’t receive. They will be generous and gracious hosts for you, but they won’t show up at your place or someone else’s place. It might be because of pride, ego or a feeling of superiority.
The Native Americans had something that made a lot of sense. They said that nobody owns a square inch of land. We are all guests here. Who owns the mountains? Nobody. Who owns the breeze? No one. Who owns the rain, streams and lakes? What do you mean no trespassing? Nobody owns! We’re all guests here.
I love reading about John Muir’s record of his walk from the north to the south in his book A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf. Muir is the father of our country’s national park system and was a great naturalist and a marvelous man. He walked 1000 miles to Florida, and in his book he talks about the differences in hospitality he encountered along the way. He says that some places, had plenty but their doors were shut in his face at night as he was walking through. In other places, a piece of cornbread and glass of milk were as welcome as could be. When no door was opened to him, he went to the local cemetery and slept there, because he knew no one would come and bother him in a cemetery at night. Sometimes doors were opened to him and sometimes not. I bet that many of them reading his book later said, “He was here? I wish I had opened the door to him.”
Diane and I have been guests in many homes over the years of our ministry. In seminary when I would conduct worship as a supply in churches, we’d stay in homes of wonderful members. There were those who said, “Come on in. We’re the official hosts of guest pastors and seminarians.” In our first interim pastorate in Palo Alto, California, we were guestsof Don and Miriam Teeter in their home for over a month while they toured Norway and our apartment was being secured and furnished. Miriam said, “Come on in and stay with us. Our home is your home away from home.”
In a sense, in every church we’ve served, we are guests. Every time I stand up in worship, I depend on the hospitality of your mind to listen. Every time I stand at a lectern or in a pulpit, I say to myself, “Who am I? I’m a guest here. I’m a guest of God and a guest of Christ.”
Well, that’s my witness. But you’ll have to answer for yourself, because it’s going to be on the final exam—Did you or did you not extend hospitality?