Friday, May 4, 2012

The mystery of hospitality

"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have entertained angels without knowing it."

This was the text from Hebrews 13 that Dr. Corey spoke from at the Brea Mayor's prayer breakfast yesterday.
It was an incisive word that stirred a lively conversation among our people.
It has direct application for how we relate to people outside of the church.
It may stir you to host a street party for your neighbors, start helping out in a homeless shelters, or take a work colleague out to lunch.
I believe though, that it also has an application for the way we interact within our church communities.

Let me illustrate. I recently had two conversations. One was with a friend who has been a part of Southlands for eight years. He was lamenting the change of dynamics within the community. His lament went something like this. "Some of my friends have moved on to other churches in other cities and there are so many new people I don't know. It's just not the community that it used to be." I told him that his discomfort was understandable, but reminded him that when I first met him he was lamenting that the church wasn't growing. Now that it was, he was lamenting the intrusion!

The other conversation was with a lady who has been part of the church for more than 20 years. She and her husband have offered to host a couple for a month, who arrive this weekend from New Zealand. They have never met this couple. Their house is not big. Neither is their budget. But their hearts are and she was talking with excitement about helping this couple to land in their new city. They are welcoming the intrusion of strangers with joy and anticipation.

Make no mistake, compelling community is a vital part of any healthy church. But it can easily become an idol.
The early church were devoted to fellowship, they broke bread together with gladness and sincerity. They loved each other deeply, caring for each other in practical ways. They did life together. However, it seems clear that the mixture of growth and persecution kept them from becoming a cozy, closed community. Community was not the center. The Gospel was.

God seems often to disrupt the coziness of our communities with Gospel multiplication which results in painful good-byes. He also disrupts with Gospel intrusion which results in uncomfortable hellos. Very few enjoy good-byes and that's understandable. I am amazed though, how many seem to resent 'hellos.'

And this is what the writer to the Hebrews was saying. Do not resent Gospel intrusion. Keep investing into new friendships through hospitality to strangers. You simply do not know what God might do through it.

I know. Long-standing, mature friendships are wonderful. Like putting on an old pair of slippers. They are warm, fuzzy and comfy. The new ones are far more costly. Like buying and wearing in a new pair of Chuck Taylors! It's a new investment, you have to walk more carefully, your feet may get a bit sore. But this is the way of the Gospel. Investing in new friendships enlarges us and often extends new Gospel frontiers.

Let's not lament that community is not forever static, or wait for someone to lay on community for us. Let's take initiative in showing hospitality to strangers, both within and without the church. We never know who we might be entertaining.

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