Radically Hospitality

    01.21.24 | by Stephen Haverstick

    Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Radical Hospitality – Deuteronomy 10:12-22

    Fuller Youth Institute recently conducted a research study of the top 250 churches nationwide that are “growing young” - that is reaching and engaging young people ages 15-29 in a time when this demographic is typically leaving the church. When researchers asked teenagers and young adults to describe their church, there was a trend of the same type of words (or should I say temperature of words): welcoming, accepting, belonging, authentic, hospitable, caring. More important than any program or style, and more attractive than a building or special effects is the relational warmth these young adults feel at their church. Researchers concluded that for 15–29-year-olds: “warm is the new cool.” Fueling warm community is one of the six core commitments the book identifies as essential for churches to grow young.

    How important too in a time when an opposing relational temperature is at work in our world, particularly in this country. Political polarization. You’ve probably heard it…many sociologists and historians have claimed that we’ve not been this divided since the Civil War. Happy election year, by the way.

    Ironically one of the few things that has not been politically polarized is the topic of loneliness…in the past 5 years the surgeon generals of both the Trump and Biden administrations have declared loneliness to be an epidemic in this country.

    There are a lot of people looking for a table. Looking for a host to give them a warm welcome. Is there a biblical practice, a practice the church can embody to reach across the icy political divide and heal the ills of loneliness?

    Yes, there is, it is the warm practice of hospitality. Radical hospitality as Bishop Robert Schnazy puts it in his book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. This is part 3 of our Epiphany sermon series when we are considering how we are called to shine the light of Christ in dark places.

    Before we get into the how, or even the what of hospitality, we need to re-discover the why. Why practice hospitality? There is a biblical answer even more compelling than the Growing Young research, an answer even more urgent than polarization or loneliness. Our passage in Deuteronomy has the answer. I know this isn’t typical for us, but I’d encourage you to follow along with a physical Bible in front of you. It’s so helpful to see the whole passage at once…and with the screen it’ll only show a few verses at a time. So, if you brought a Bible or you can use the pew Bible…turn to Deuteronomy 10:12-22. We’re going to be here for a few minutes.

    Let me set the scene for you:

    Moses is the author and speaker. The original audience he is speaking to is the new generation of Israelites. These are the children of the “Exodus” generation - the generation rescued out of slavery in Egypt with the iconic Red Sea moment. God makes a Covenant with them, and they instantly blew it. You know the Golden Calf story. It’s like getting married and immediately after the “I do’s,” running off the altar with another partner. A bad chick-flick romantic comedy or something. Anyways that generation wanders in the wilderness for 40 years in disobedience to the Lord forfeiting their opportunity to enter the Promised Land. But God is faithful to his promises to his end of the Covenant to Israel. So the Israelite children are now adults and are about to enter the Promised Land. Moses is dying. He won’t be entering the Land with them. So, this is his pep talk, his final sermon, his last words. Crucial moment in the history of Israel… they’re about to become a nation with land. This is the eve of their emergence as a political power.

    A dominant theme of Moses’s message – really, it’s a warning: Don’t become your parents.

    Progressive commercial.

    What is the key to not falling into the same patterns of the previous generation?

    Read verses 12-15.

    Reminding them of the story. This passage sits on the very end of the 1st of 3 parts in Deuteronomy, this 1st part is dedicated almost entirely to remembering the history of Israel up to this point. You can see it here even without the explicit use of the word Remember. “Keep the commandments” – remember the Covenant. “Set his heart…” Remember the Lord’s faithfulness. “Chose you,” Remember who you are.

    Remember.

    But the remembering gets more specific. More practical. Some of you are probably thinking, I thought this was about hospitality…we’re almost there. In fact, it’s time to make a sandwich. Three volunteers.

    Verse 17 – The character of Yahweh. Great, mighty, awesome. This is your God.

    Verse 21 – The character of Yahweh. Great and awesome things. This is your God.

    Verses 18-20. The middle. A biblical writer especially in the OT uses this literary tool for drawing our attention to something important. Call to obedience. The specifics of remembering.

    Verse 18

    Verse 20

    Verse 19 – The first phrase, a call to obedience is founded by, motivated by the second phrase, a call to remember. This is the hallmark commandment of Moses to the new generation… love the stranger. Stranger. It’s our Hebrew of the day…

    “Ger” (gare)

    In parts 2 and 3 of Deuteronomy it shows up not once, not twice, but 17 times.

    Translations: stranger (NRSV), foreigner (NIV), sojourner (ESV), immigrant (CEB)

    Definition: A sojourner, newcomer

    Usage: A non-Hebrew living permanently with the Israelites.

    Here’s where I’ll make a bit of a leap from the world of our bible passage to today…

    Our use today: “Ger” = Guest/outsider

    Biblical scholars will have to forgive me for that one, but the link between the biblical usage and mine is hospitality.

    Hospitality definition in book: “Engaging strangers with goodwill, overcoming the distance with a receiving Spirit.” Pg. 46

    “Seeing people as Jesus sees them…seeing Jesus in the people God brings us into contact with.” Pg. 50

    Let me nerd out for a minute, there’s something fascinating here as it relates to Church history…

    Do you know the origin of the words “hospital” and “hotel?” Both in literary form and in practice, their origins are hospitality. Before there were hospitals or hotels, there was the first Christian community, the Early Church as its known, during 1st century Rome. The Early Church was a significant group but still very, very small comparably to the Roman Empire. As the Roman roads system developed, there emerged a felt need in the world for travelers to have places to stay and also be cared for when sick. Compelled by the love of their Lord and Savior whom they had seen do this with their very eyes, the Early Church opened their homes and served as the first hospitals and hotels for travelers. Not only did it meet tangible, physical needs, but the effects were spiritual too. Followers of Jesus spread the Gospel one act of hospitality at a time. It was a warmth that was irresistible. The Early Church exploded with growth, so much so that within a few hundred years Christianity became the official religion of Rome. Christianity brought the Empire to its knees not by the fires of violence or bloodshed, but by the flame of the Holy Spirit which had ignited a minority group of people to embody the warmth of Christ. One meal, one bed, one act of hospitality at a time.

    This was of course modeled after Jesus whose most practical method of ushering in the Kingdom of God could very well be argued as sharing a meal. “The son of man came Eating and Drinking… a friend of sinners and tax collectors.”

    In the Gospel of Luke alone there are not one, not two, but 54 references to food.

    NT scholar Robert Karris says, “Jesus is either going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal.

    This is why I would argue, and no need to agree with me here this is debatably. I’d say the most tangible form of hospitality happens at a table over a meal.

    Deuteronomy 10:18: “who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing.”

    For those of us with a building, a home, or a table to offer, which is not everyone, but is a lot of us, let’s dream for a moment here.

    Truly my intent is not guilt or shame, but imagination and invitation…

    What if our buildings and tables are not just meant to be castles where we take refuge from the world, but also outposts for the Kingdom of God to come in the world. Outposts offering space to the outsider, the suffering, the lonely, the disadvantaged, the lost who need a taste of the Kingdom of God. Do we see our homes that way? Do we see our tables that way?

    In an increasingly secular and post-Christian world, the best form of evangelism is a very old one…hospitality.

    It is very possible to be a host wherever you are. Jesus was the master at hospitality in places he was first invited as a guest. Creating space for the presence of God and warmth of love.

    Show definitions again.

    Perhaps it is here in this building, or at school, or during youth group, or whenever you’re at someone else’s home. Or even at Starbucks. (Maybe Dave “Come into my office”)

    I wish I could spend more time with the practicalities, there’s SO many little and big ways no matter where you are with this practice…I would love to talk to you more. I’ve got a lot of resources I could point you in the direction of. Start where you are, not where you think you should be or even where you want to be. I will just offer this quick myth-buster about hospitality:

    You do not need a big house, or even a nice one. You do not need to be a skilled entertainer, party planner, or cook. You do not need to be an extravert or be good at connecting with people.

    I get it. This is a daunting, foreign concept that sounds like a lot of work…partially because our culture has confused hospitality with entertainment.

    But our passage has a different way to look at this. All you need to practice hospitality is a heart that can remember.  

    Remember.

    Remember what?

    What was the middle of our sandwich?

    Verse 19

    It was true of the Israelites, it was true of the Early Church, and it is true of us. We were the stranger first. We were the outsiders first. We were the one in need of a welcome, in need of a meal, in need of a home. The Lord was the first host.

    “We love because God first loved us.”

    This is the good news. Gospel news. The warmth of our hospitality is not dependent on us…our effort or performance will not make or break this. Radical hospitality is marked by the grace and redemption we have already received from Christ.

    It is called radical hospitality because God’s saving grace, his self-giving love on the cross, the victory over death…it was all for “strangers” of God. “Enemies” as Romans put it. That’s radical. Make no mistake there is nothing else like it in all of religion.

    The same grace that rescued and welcomed us when we were strangers, died for us on Calvary, and will again defeat death forever. Remember the bread of our sandwich… “He has done for you these great and awesome things” (verses 17+21).

    Maybe a better question to ask than can I open my home is…Have I seen God do great and awesome things? The Israelites had. The Early Church did. Have I been rescued? Have I had a Red Sea moment, a release from the captivity of my sin? Have I been ignited with the flame of the Holy Spirit?

    You can’t help but offer the warmth and love of Christ once you’ve received it.

    Romans 15:7

    Hospitality is inconvenient…it will cost us something. Time. Patience. Awkwardness. Money. But remember. You were once strangers in Egypt. Remember the cost of God’s grace and all we have received…Then we are freed to (Romans 15:7.

    Let’s Pray

    Guide us to consider how our we might steward our lives, our time, our gifts, our tables, our homes to shine the light of Christ. To welcome the guest, the outsider, the stranger.

    On a morning when we read and remember the story of Israel, it is not lost on us how war, suffering, death, injustice has dominated that Land. The tension that brings within our hearts and minds. Lord, we pray for our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ…a population that is disappearing by the day. We pray for their rescue. We also pray for our suffering Jewish brothers and sisters, people of whom we share so much in common. In the words of Psalm 46 we cry out Lord make the wars cease. Break the bow, shatter the spear, burn the shields. We long for peace.