Summary: Looking again at the First Church, another aspect that made them so effective was that they practice hospitality. It is more than sharing lemonade and cookies.
The effective church practices hospitality. In Romans 12 Paul commends the Roman Christians to practice hospitality. Yet what is that exactly how do we practice hospitality?
1. Open our homes to take in strangers?
2. Do we work to meet needs in the lives of strangers?
I knew that hospitality is mentioned several times in the New Testament, and it was a subject to which I had never given much thought. Yet I was grateful that other folks at church on the "hospitality committee" stir the lemonade and put out the cookies every Sunday. Perhaps I could put some theology behind the lemonade and cookies.
The English dictionary defines hospitality as "the friendly treatment of guests or strangers; an act or show of welcome." That's not too far from how the New Testament Greek word (philo-xenia) breaks down—love of strangers. Lemonade and cookies invite strangers to stay. A snack communicates to newcomers, "You are welcome here!" Great, this was going to be an easy sermon.
However the more we research it, the more we are going to see that hospitality is more than lemonade and cookies.
Romans 12:13 says
Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
So how do we do this? I intend to show us by using 2 stories.
STORY #1First meet Ruth, a typical housewife in a typical town in the USA. Ruth one morning receives a letter, a very simple letter, it is from Jesus, and it said: “I am going to be in the neighborhood tomorrow, and I would like to visit.”
Ruth first thought
Why would the Lord want to visit me? I am nobody special, I do not have anything special to offer, and even my pantry is bare. All she had in her purse was $5.40, maybe I can get a loaf of bread and some cold cuts
Interlude: Paul told Timothy that Elders were to be hospitable. Even the older women were to teach the younger to be hospitable.
The Second story is about a man named Artaban, his is more famously known as the 4th or Other Wise Man.
Artaban is watchful for the signs of the coming of the King of the Jews. When he sees the sign he gathers up his 3 prize possessions to give to the King of the Jews, a sapphire, a ruby and an exquisite pearl. As he raced against time to meet up with the other 3 Wise men he was delayed and missed them at the meeting point, his horse was not ready to make the trip through the desert, so he used the sapphire to buy camels and provisions to go to meet the newborn King.
Upon his arrival in Jerusalem he is told that companions similar to him had just made their way to Bethlehem. As he arrived in Bethlehem he found soldiers were murdering mothers and children. He entered a house to get out of the way. In the house he met a young mother and her infant son. He stood then in the doorway, blocking it with his broad shoulders, a Roman Captain came to the door. Artaban offered the Captain a ruby to leave the house in peace. The captain took the ruby and ordered the soldiers to march on. Artaban was depressed, two of his gifts were gone, and he had only one more, the pearl. So he hid the pearl in his purse and held it close to his chest.
Interlude: The early Church practiced hospitality. In Acts 2:43-47 we see they shared everything and met from house to house. They used what they had so that others could have as well. This goes far beyond lemonade and cookies.
1st Story continued:
Ruth went to the local store to get some provisions for her meeting with Jesus. She picked up a loaf of French bread, a half-pound of turkey and half gallon of milk. This left Ruth with a grand total of 12 cents until Monday. Nonetheless she felt good as she headed home with her meager offerings tucked under her arm.
2nd Story continued
Artaban spent 30 years trying to find Jesus. During his journey he came across a leper colony. He saw the sick, the suffering and the dying. He had a vast medical knowledge, he told his servant to sell the camels and get provisions so he can take care of these people. He spent most of 30 years there taking care of the sick, the blind and the lame.
2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. 3 Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.