The Rev. Frank
The Value of
Victoria and I went to Nepal for two months on our honeymoon. During that trip we both lost a good bit of weight. We were getting accustomed to traveling in the two-thirds world and it took a bit of a toll on our bodies. So, when I went to work as an intern in the Anglican Church of Tanzania, I didn’t mind that I left the United States a bit heavier than I would like. No problem, I would lose weight during the internship anyway. No chance. I came heavier than ever.
The difference between the two trips was hospitality. In Nepal, Victoria and I were tourists, staying in a motel. In Tanzania, I was always the guest, relying on the hospitality of others. Many times I would sit down to a meal to be told that the family did not always eat like this but it was a special meal as they had a guest. I found out soon enough that the guest had to have seconds. This was not an option. In time I did learn to get little on the first pass, so that I could get seconds or even thirds. I could come away having eaten less food, but my hosts would feel better about it.
In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus “sets his face to go to Jerusalem.” From now until he enters the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus is almost always on the road. In his travels, an even back in his home base of Capernaum, Jesus stays with others. He relies on hospitality for his very existence. Jesus is not always greeted warmly as we also in this Morning’s reading as he is not welcomed in the first Samaritan village he tries to visit.
This is not unusual. Jesus remains the stranger, the one on the margins of society in need of the hospitality of others. Yet, we remember Jesus as the host. Jesus welcomes others, extending hospitality himself. Jesus used table fellowship to show what the Kingdom of God should be like when he shared the table with “tax collectors and sinners.”
Hospitality is not an option for Christians. Hospitality is something God expects of us. To understand what it means more fully, let’s look at the New Testament word for hospitality. Hospitality comes from the Greek words philos for “love” and xenos for “stranger.” Philoxenos, the New Testament word for hospitality, means literally to love the stranger. So to offer hospitality in the New Testament is by definition to show love for the stranger. Jesus epitomizes this as both the stranger and the one offering hospitality.
Finally, love of strangers is an important part of Jesus’ teaching. In the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), love for the stranger is seen as a form of love of neighbor. So throughout the Gospels, we see that hospitality was both something Jesus depended on for his life and ministry and a vital part of who he was as God incarnate.
Other New Testament passages show the importance of welcoming the stranger. In Romans 12:13, Paul told Christians to “Contribute to the needs of the saint; extend hospitality to strangers.” Hebrews 13:1-2 says, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Christians are clearly called upon to continually show love for the stranger. The hospitality Jesus taught is not a decorative add on to our beliefs, but a central tenant. That’s why hospitality is listed as a value of King of Peace. If you are curious about our other values, there is a hand out in the entry hall listing and explaining something of our values.
Just as hospitality (love of stranger) was part of who Jesus was, it is to be part of who we are. Acts of hospitality flow out of love for the stranger.
The reason why hospitality is so essential for a church as this is the one place where no one can ever be a stranger. Sure, folks come who I don’t know, and may never have a chance to meet. But the table in our midst is not my table. It is the Lord’s table. And there is no one who crosses our threshold who is not fully known to the host. Whether we as a church are welcoming or not, everyone who shows up at King of Peace—all sorts and conditions of people—is welcome.
The term stranger is a temporary one anyway in eternal terms. For in God’s time, there will be no strangers. All will know God and one another fully. Today’s stranger is the person you may come to know for all eternity. This is the communion of the saints—those of us in the here and now and the rest of the Body of Christ through time. To this communion, each stranger brings his or her own unique gifts. We at King of Peace are made more fully into the image of Christ through each newcomer we welcome. This means that we will want to welcome into our community people whose experiences, backgrounds, abilities and interests are different from our own.
God will speak to us through the strangers we encounter. The uniqueness of each newcomer is not to be overlooked. To shut ourselves off to the diversity that strangers offer is to shut ourselves off from the wonderful gift of coming to know God more fully through the stranger.
But, of course we have to be welcoming here. After all everyone here, me included, arrived at King of Peace as a stranger. My wife and daughter and I may have been the first three to come to establish this church, but we all came as strangers to Camden County and were welcomed in. Then the welcome extended to others. None of us arrived fully known by anyone but God. All of us were strangers.
Yet, showing love for the stranger is not a Sunday only deal. Welcome folks in church and then go on your merry way. I’m not suggesting you butt in where you are not needed, but there are times when it is appropriate to reach out to someone you don’t know to share God’s love. These situations are hard to characterize this Sunday morning, but you’ll know the chance when you see it.
It’s not easy to reach out and show God’s love to strangers. But there is a blessing in it. My many hosts in Tanzania taught me this. Once I heard that a guest brought blessings. I thought that it meant, welcome a guest and blessings will come. I remember telling the pastor I worked for, “So, they just want me to come visit so they can receive a blessing?” “Yes,” he replied, then he realized that I meant a sort of do this get that approach to hospitality. “No” he corrected. “The Guest is the blessing. They don’t host you so that God will give them something in return. Having you come to visit is the gift.”
One word of warning as I close: While working on the sermon this week, I got a call from someone in need of a place to stay. Preaching on hospitality is dangerous, because God will show you some strangers in need of love.
I preached about philoxenos once before here at King of Peace. It has been some years, but Gil and Jason White may remember the outcome. The Whites were among the last folks to leave that Sunday and before they had gotten away, a car stopped with a flat tire not quite in front of the church, but almost. The car was in the decal lane for the high school and was clearly visible out of the windows of the house that served as our church building. Gil and Jason rose to the task and were changing a flat for a stranger before they even got out of the parking lot.
I’m telling you I took a risk this week. You’ve taken one by listening. Keep your eyes open. God is ready to show you that opportunities to show hospitality are closer at hand than you think.
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526