Killing the Hospitality Killers

May 27, 2018 ()

Bible Text: 1 Peter 4:9 |

Killing the Hospitality Killers | 1 Peter 4:9
Del Fehsenfeld | May 27, 2018

Lord, we honor the memory and the sacrifice of those who have served our country by paying the ultimate price, and we thank you for the families who have absorbed that loss on our behalf, and we just ask you this morning, Lord, to bless our country and to help us to serve what is truly good and noble. We thank you for these moments to gather and to look at your word. Thank you for this community. We invite your presence here to work with power. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

So, good morning! Pastor Brian is in Texas, so keep him in your prayers. He texted me right before the service letting us know he’s praying for us, and we’ll return the favor and pray for him. He’s going to be beginning a series next week on practical Christianity from James, and I want to do a little prequel this morning from 1 Peter 4:9.

So, if you have your Scripture text, turn there; it’s a very short verse, I think I have it on the screen for you as well. We will read it together. I have this from the NLT. The Scripture tells us to cheerfully share our home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. So, practical Christianity: cheerfully sharing our homes with those who need a meal or a place to stay. I think the ESV talks about doing this without grumbling, so this idea of cheerfulness in our practice of warmly receiving and caring for others.

I want to talk this morning about the principles of that, and then also why it’s important, not only to our faith but also to the world in which we live, okay? So, I’m going to give you two principles here at the beginning, and then we’ll come back and unpack.

(1) The first principle is this, from the Scriptures: if we have love in our hearts, we will make room in our homes. So if we have love - if we have room in our hearts, we’ll make room in our homes.

Now, this is fundamental, if you think about it for a minute, to the message of Jesus, who, first of all, left heaven to make his home among us, to make a way back so that all of us could have a home with God forever. So, the whole movement of Jesus in his life is one of taking initiative to love, and we who follow him are recipients, right? We’re recipients of unspeakable grace, unspeakable love, so the very shape of our whole identity as a Christian is people who have been loved. Jesus’s mindset, that [is talked] about all through the Scripture, is one in which he did not count his own position or rights as of first preeminence, but he gave those up, right? He became a servant, and he poured himself out, even to the point of death; and his exaltation, actually, flows out of that self-abandonment. So, we live in a world that basically tells us that the only way that we can actually maintain security and wellbeing is to look out for ourselves (so, if we don’t look out for ourselves, who will?), we live in a world where generosity and hospitality and love so readily break down because, basically, when we’re living out of self-protectiveness, we’re living out of fear, right? There’s the sense that, underneath it all, at the end my wellbeing may not be served. So I have to fight for that.

Ironically, what Jesus tells us, in his wisdom, over and over is that, when we put ourselves at the center of our lives with the hope of maintaining and achieving wellbeing, we actually lose it. So, if you hold onto your life, Jesus told us, you’re going to lose it, but if you lose your life “for my sake,” he said, you’d find it. This was the whole shape and movement of his entire life.

So, those of use who follow Jesus, who name the name of Christ and say that we’re Christians, we’re grounded in love, but we’re also given this incredible mindset or example - (this mic is going to drive me nuts, I think; I might grab a handheld here in a second) - the whole movement of that is one where we say, “It’s about you, not about me,” right? This is what it means to be a Christian. So when we say if we have room in our hearts, we’re going to have room in our home, it’s because this mindset produces a certain kind of life. That’s principle number one.

(2) Principle number two is this: homes and tables are where people come to know Christ. Homes and tables are where people come to know Christ. Now, in the first century, when these words were written, this was a matter of actual survival. So, think about the first century Roman world. There’s a system of roads, there’s a central government, but civil rights was not a concept, social safety nets were not a concept, travel wasn’t safe. Primarily, you existed, in first century Rome, on the strength of your family networks and your tribal groups. So, if someone didn’t help you, you had no help. So what would happen to people who lost their family networks was that they would be at great vulnerability and risk - not unlike today, but vastly worse.

Now, what was happening to Christians in the first century is what? They were coming to Christ, and what was happening to them? Their families were rejecting them, many times; so, whether they were pagan in their origins or whether they were religious Jewish families, when people would turn to Christ, they were being rejected. So these people were at great risk, and so really, the apostles were envisioning a new kind of life, following Jesus, but they were talking about a whole new family. So this family was the family of God or the kingdom of God.

So, when you came to follow Christ, you were not only making an individual commitment, you were actually joining a whole family of people in the way of Jesus who saw themselves as fundamentally having been loved and adopted by God. This is the whole message of the gospel, if you think about it, that we are not alone in the universe, that the God who made it has stopped at nothing to redeem it, and he has included you and me and is opening his family to anyone who, through a simple confidence in Jesus, can make their way back to the family of God. So this was fundamental to the faith, right from the beginning. We see it in texts like the one I just read, but all over the Scriptures.

Now, I want to bring that, however, as a thought experiment, for a second into our modern world. I want to ask the question, Why are homes and dinner tables still the place where people, more than ever, come to actually know the love and the power of Jesus Christ?

I think that there are a lot of different things that we could say about this, but we are experiencing an incredible movement in our society towards isolation. It’s interesting that we live in a connected world more than ever, right, through social media and the Internet; and yet, when you actually talk to people everywhere, people are experiencing unparalleled levels of isolation, of loneliness, of depression, of these kinds of things. It’s as if we have hundreds of friends on Facebook, and yet no one who really knows us. This is being charted by sociologists all over and it’s showing up in all kinds of ways. So, we could say, in some ways, that we are the loneliest generation in U.S. history.

This was first chronicled - I don’t know - 20 years ago by a political scientist named Robert Putnam, who wrote a book called Bowling Alone, and I think the title kind of says it all, right? He was noting that membership in social clubs in America of all kinds, religious and otherwise, were at all-time lows; they were declining. Even though more people were bowling, less were doing it in groups. So they were actually going alone. He used that as an image of what actually was happening to America, that we are increasingly isolated in our personal and individual lives.

Of course, social media has resulted in a generation of the ability to sort of hook up and to present one sort of face outward to our friends and yet the dearth of conversation and the ability to make personal connections. So this is being, again, charted even - I was reading, even this week, where a university professor actually was paying, monetarily, students in her class and giving them credit to ask someone out on a date, an actual date, where you actually sat down and had a conversation; because this is becoming epidemic, in terms of the inability to relate face to face while being connected.

So, Mother Teresa, when she did her west visit a couple decades ago was shown all the great cities of the U.S. and our great prosperity and, you know, given the red carpet sort of tour. At the end of the tour, they asked her her impression, and she said, “I think this is the most impoverished place I’ve ever been in the world.”

They said, “Well...what do you mean? I mean, didn’t you see our great cities, didn’t you see our economic engines, didn’t you see our prosperity?”

She said, “I’m not talking about the poverty of the pocketbook, I’m talking about the poverty of the soul. This is the most lonely place that I’ve ever been. You failed at the very first building block of society, which is human connection.”

So, we live in a world where the wisdom of Scripture speaks to us powerfully, still, about the importance of people all over the place who may not come to our churches, our Bible classes, our programs, but we could say it this way: the last no spin zone in America, the last real place of connection, may be your dinner table, because meals still are a central place of human connection. I’m not thinking of the drive-through here; I’m thinking of - you know that thing in your living room? You know, it has chairs around it? That place is still a neutral place for people everywhere who, in the vacuum of relational disconnection, will come to know love.

Now, the second reason that I think this verse speaks so powerfully to us as Christians in our day is that words themselves have become manipulative. Now, think about this: in the 24/7 news cycle era that we live in, don’t you pretty much know what’s happening every time that you turn on a particular cable news network, whatever your choice is? News is no longer about giving information; it’s about pushing agendas, right? So, everyone has pundits and commentaries and on and on, politicians and slogans and things, to what? To propagate an agenda, and we are divided more than ever along these agendas.

So, this is why Tim Keller says there are two kinds of people in the world: those who watch FOX News and those who watch CNN, right? He’s just laughing about the fact that, generally speaking, we end up in a pocket of rhetoric that we live our entire lives in, and we have our allies and our arguments against our other people, and this is fundamentally useless when it comes to actually human connection.

So, words have been used to spin and to bully, including in religion, where there are aspects of Christianity that can become about getting people to believe our message, without ever having really loved them, without ever really listened to them. So, in an era where words are manipulative, where no spin is so important to know who you can trust, i want to suggest to you that your dinner table and your living room may be the last no spin zone in America. It may be a spin free zone, where people actually can come without agendas and without rhetoric to simply be known and to know something that they’ve never experienced, in many cases. Okay?

(3) Thirdly, families are disintegrating. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but for the first time the last couple of censuses, there are more single households, people that are not married, than married. When you look at the kids and where they’re coming from and homes (this is a no judgment statement, it’s just a fact), lots and lots and lots of kids [are] growing up in single parent homes.

So, I remember hearing, 15 years ago, a popular youth speaker named Josh McDowell, who had an opportunity to do youth rallies all over the country. The idea was [to] grab popular rock bands, fill up stadiums with youth, and then Josh would come at the end and give a gospel presentation. He was in his 60s, I think, at the time. He said yes to this, and then he said later he panicked, because he thought, “Okay, here’s the rock band, the hyped-up youth crowd, and then the music stops and here comes the 60-year-old guy.” He knew had about 15 seconds to get their attention and he didn’t know what to do.

So he started to pray about this, and he said he just followed his instinct, and the first night, the rock music stopped, he walked out on the stage, and he walked right off of it, and he began to walk down the aisle and he began to look at these young people in the audience, and he just started to say, “I wish you were my daughter. I wish you were my son.”

And then he said, “I want to talk to you for a few minutes, as an old man, as a father.” He said he was not prepared for the emotional reaction that he started to get. Kids all over the auditorium [were] visibly breaking down and weeping. He said one kid, after the first session, with tattoos and all the piercings, ran forward and grabbed hold of him and just wept and said, “I wish you were my father,” because he had tapped into this unbelievable emotional undercurrent of people everywhere who wanted to be known and loved.

So these words, more than ever, speak so powerfully to us, because in the wisdom of Jesus we are being given a way to fundamentally change the world - now, listen to me - change the world, not through a stage, not through a program, but through something that we all have as a resource to share, which is our living rooms and our dinner tables.

Now, the Scripture here talks about doing this as a practice, a normative practice that’s all over the Scriptures, and I want you to notice that it talks about doing this cheerfully. Now, I don’t know if the first thing that you think of when you think about having someone over to your home or your dinner table is a big smile! It might be more like panic because you know what your living room looks like, or whatever.

I want to talk to you practically for a minute about how to put the joy into hospitality, how to maintain cheerfulness in the labor of love that is opening our dinner tables and homes. I know many of you do this extremely well, so consider me your spokesperson this morning.

I want to talk about killing the hospitality killers for a second, okay? Let’s be real. Let’s be real, right? If we don’t kill the hospitality killers, what will they kill? Either our hospitality or us, right? So, let’s talk about them. I think there are at least four. I’m sure I missed some, but this maybe will give the majority.

(1) Number one. Yes. Anybody busy in here? I always joke at work, I say, “I recognize no authority but my Gmail, my calendar.” Practically speaking, that’s about true, right? In a mastery-oriented society, we live our calendars, and we have so many things to do [that] this kind of thing can seem like one more thing to do on the to-do list that’s already jammed.

Now, here’s the thing: you’re going to eat this week. We’re going to eat. If we have a household, it would probably be a good idea to do that occasionally as a household. So, we already have this concept sort of on our calendar, right? Meals are a part of the rhythm of our lives. So, one of the practical things that I think that we can do to begin experimenting with this is to pick a “hospitality night.” So, in other words, we are a time-based culture, so if we don’t get it on our - what? Our calendar - it doesn’t what? Exist! It doesn’t even exist! It is a concept, it’s not a plan.

So, one of the things that can help you to begin practicing hospitality is just to start by saying, “Hey, Thursday night,” or whatever it is, “is going to be hospitality night. We don’t know yet who’s going to be there, but we have this slot right on our calendar that says, ‘Pick somebody.’” That can become the rhythm, sort of, of your life and therefore, in a time-based culture, actually begin to happen. So that’s an idea to kill the hospitality killer of busyness.

(2) Secondly. Yes. How many of you are just overflowing with money? Yes, some of us; come talk to me after, if you are - no. I mean, let’s be practical; it actually costs money to do this sometimes, to make a meal, to put an extra plate there, and it’s also a lot of work.

So, I want to say to you that everybody, pretty much, likes ice cream, and one of the ways that you can actually reduce the complexity of doing this (and the cost) is not always to think in terms of dinner; think in terms of coffee and dessert. Again, in the practice of this, people love it! You know, actually, you don’t lose too many points on the hospitality card to just begin doing something simpler than more complex as you’re getting your rhythm in hospitality. So, try the money-saving tip of dessert.

(3) Thirdly, yes; so, you’re thinking to yourself, “Del, you obviously haven’t been to my house. You don’t know my family dynamic, you don’t know the fact that we’re not always good Christians. I’m afraid when people actually get to know us it may be counterproductive to what you’re thinking,” right? “And maybe it would just be a little safer to keep people on the outside of my house, thank you very much.”

Now, I want to really move into this space for a minute. Everybody has issues. My family has issues. There are moments during the week when I definitely wouldn’t want you to see that, okay? We have arguments; Debra and I squabble, my kids squabble, we fail each other, we have financial problems that we have to figure out how to solve, we have logistic problems that have to figure out how to solve. We forget to pick up our kids at places. This is life, right? Everybody’s life is - what? It’s a mess, okay?

Now, you can think of this in two ways. You can think of this as, “I have to get my life unmessed before I’m qualified to minister to people,” or you can think more like a Christian, which is actually like, “You know, the gospel is not, ‘I got my life together so God could love me,’” right? “The gospel actually is the exact opposite. My life is a mess, therefore I need something beyond myself; I need the wisdom and love and power of Jesus Christ, and I’m in the process of being healed and transformed as I learn from him how to be like him, right in the middle of my mess.”

Your mess actually makes you relevant. I’m serious! Because the people who are coming to your house for coffee, guess what their lives are like? Yes, it’s a mess! Except they’re doing their mess without Jesus. So, when you bring people over, what is the fundamental need of those folks? They need to know what to do in a mess.

So, Christians don’t pretend that they don’t have mess. What they do is they bring God into the scenario in the middle of the mess and show what living in the family of God actually looks like. This is what it looks like: “God, my marriage hurts. Will you help?” “God, we don’t have enough money this month. Will you do a miracle? Will you help?” “God, my kids are - one of them’s failing the sixth grade!” (I don’t have a sixth grader, okay.) This is what we do. We bring God into the mess. It makes us relevant, and it is ministry. Do you see what I’m saying? This is fundamentally what the world needs, the intersection between mess and Jesus, beginning in our own lives. Okay? So, hopefully that killed that hospitality killer for you, right?

(4) Fourth one. Yes. Sometimes it’s just hard to know what to talk to people about, right? Have you ever felt this way? Yes. That’s usually the face my wife’s making after I say something awkward when we’re trying to do hospitality. It’s just that from time to time you’re going to be in situations where you feel a little awkward. So, “What do we talk about with new people? How do I know - I don’t think we’re very interesting. I’m just not very good at that!” You know, “Let the extroverts do this!” or whatever it is.

Now, here’s a little tip: everybody in the world has one favorite subject, okay? Anybody want to guess what it is? Yes, it’s themselves! So, you actually don’t have to be a great conversationalist, as in you know how to talk for 20 minutes straight to a wall, in order to be a great host or hostess. You just have to learn to ask questions that draw people out about their favorite subject, themselves. The better that we get at asking questions and being interested and curious, the more our guests will feel loved and the less awkward you will feel, because you’re not struggling to keep the conversation going. You’ve discovered the secret in every situation, which is another question.

Now, I’m going to wrap this up here, but I want to say one more thing. As you get into the practice of this, I want to suggest two further things to actually make this more explicitly about Jesus. If you can begin a rhythm in your own home, your own household, of bringing Scripture into your family or household gatherings… Don’t think 20-minute devotionals. What I’m thinking is the regular rhythm of basically saying, “Jesus is important to us, and he’s the wisest and smartest being in the universe, and we just basically want, while we’re together, to hear something from him.”

There are actually really neat stuff on the Internet you can find, like “100 Essential Jesus Readings,” that take short passages (I’m talking three, four, five verses), from the Old Testament all the way through the New, that are the key building blocks of the revelation of Jesus Christ to us through the Scriptures. Just begin to bring that into your household rhythms. When you bring guests over, then it’s not inauthentic to say, “You know what? When our household gets together - we follow Jesus, the smartest person who ever lived. We just want to hear a few words of what he had to say. Would you mind us just taking a second to do that?” Begin to bring that in.

Secondly, don’t be afraid of prayer when you’re together. I know people are uncomfortable praying out loud sometimes, but if it’s true that Jesus is always with us (he’s with us right now, he’s part of the conversation), then actually invoking, just bringing him into it, is not weird. It would actually be kind of weird to ignore him, right?

So, when we’re together - let me just give you a little model. I got this out of a kids’ book that we use, our family loves this model of prayer. We say, “We’re just going to take a minute to tell Jesus that he’s important to us,” and then we ask Jesus questions, knowing that he’s there. So, “Jesus, thanks that we got to spend this great evening together. Is there anything this week that we can just say thank you for?” You just let people go around and popcorn pray, like, “Thank you that we had food, that we have shelter, that you took care of us this week.”

You just kind of let that energy go as long as it does, and then you can ask another question. “Jesus, is there anybody that just needs your help this week? Who should we pray for?” Pray a blessing and a help to people that are on your mind.

You can keep this going as long as it feels right to you. “Jesus, what promises do you want us to claim over our lives this week? What promises have you mind that we could draw strength from?” If you’re really brave, “Jesus, is there anything that we just need to say we’re sorry for this week? Stuff that we want a reset on, that we want to do over?”

In this way even children and everyone can jump into the conversation without feeling like they have to be a professional prayer to join the conversation, because we’re just talking to the Jesus who is right there with us. So don’t be afraid to bring Jesus into it as you’re doing your gatherings, okay?

Closing quote, for those of you who are still feeling like you have to do this right or not at all, this is from Edith Schaeffer. She and her husband actually established a home in Switzerland that was open to hospitality, became a world-reaching ministry, literally from their dinner table and home. Thousands of young people over the last 30, 40 years have gone through one of the L’Abri homes. I actually went in college, checked it out for myself, in Switzerland, and it was amazing, because you know what you did there? You did housework, you made meals together, you read some books, and worked in their garden, and talked about it at dinner time. That literally was a ministry that changed the world with those five ingredients: food preparation, household chores, gardening, and dinner. I’m serious, that was it!

This is what Edith Schaeffer said: “For some young people, L’Abri homes are the first really happy home they’ve ever seen. You can’t imagine what the opportunity of eating, doing dishes, helping peel potatoes, being part of a conversation in family prayers does which any amount of lecturing and talking about home life could never do.”

Do you get what I’m saying here? Cheerfully share your home and a meal with those who need a place to stay! From your living room, change the world. Let’s pray.

Lord, I want to pray, Father, that you would release right now the incredible resource that will never come to this world from a professional Christian, a pastor, a great conference speaker, an author, a musician. God, those things are glorious in their own way, but Lord, we live in a society that is breaking apart at the seams, and what people need is love. What you came to do was fundamentally about this love. So Lord, I pray that you would help, right now, every single person in this room to reimagine what being a Christian is and what ministry actually is. I pray that you would change Niles, South Bend, Granger, and Mishawaka one relationship at a time through the cheerful hospitality of this group of people. I ask this in Jesus’s name, Amen.

We’re going to take a few minutes here to have communion together. Now, this is amazing (I think this is the way I want to do this this morning): God is the ultimate host, who has opened his arms wide by sending his Son to bring as many as would back to the family dinner table to be part of his family forever. He is the host, we are the guests who become part of the hosting family, and on and on it goes. Do you follow this? That is what my message was.

But this table - this is why Jesus said, “Remember me with - ” what? A table, a meal, because fundamental to his message was this giving and receiving that goes beyond, again, a platform or a program to the heart of our humanity, taking in, being nourished, so that we can give out and be sent.

Jesus himself in the midst of this every time we gather, but he is in the midst of it in a special way when the church gathers for the table, because we come as family members to receive, symbolically, him, right? The Holy Spirit adds to that nourishment to our souls and fills us, and the eucharist, the “common union” (we call it communion), “eucharist” means thanksgiving, “mass” means sent. The whole purpose of it is to be filled in a family way with Jesus himself, so that we can be sent to love in the same way that he’s loved us. That’s what this is about.

Now, if you’re a baptized believer, you’re welcome to partake. If you’re still examining the claims of Christ and deciding whether to be a part of this family, this is an observance where you to get see grace reenacted. It’s actually a visible portrayal of the gospel, and we want you to be blessed by that. So, I’m going to pray here in a minute, and then we’ll read the words of institution and take the table together, okay?

Lord, thank you for the opportunity to reflect, to remember, to identify you, right now, in the midst of us, as the Bread of life, the one who nourishes and gives strength, ultimately, to our spirits, makes us alive to the constant and never-ending communion with yourself and part of your family, now part of what you’re doing in the world. So we come repenting of all the things that have sidetracked us, gotten our focus off, the things that we have not lived for that right now we’re remembering why we want to so desperately. We side with everything that is good and right and beautiful in your Son, now present in us by the Holy Spirit. We take these elements with thanksgiving and we worship. In Jesus’s name, Amen.