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Transcript: Recovering Christian Hospitality – Part 1

Transcript: Recovering Christian Hospitality – Part 1
Recovering Christian Hospitality – Part 1 (Introduction)
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John: How are you guys doing, good?  Yeah?  We’re starting a new series tonight.  We’re going to be talking about hospitality.  So here’s the disclaimer on this series right up front:  There are some subjects that we cover that are really intellectual.  There are some subjects that we cover that maybe we’re talking about the roles of Christians in culture, or maybe looking at the origin of our scriptures. This is not one of those series.  This series is actually one that goes more to the heart.

This is a very pastoral series. It’s a very personal series. And I’m gauging it for us, personally. I think what I want this series to be is something that is going to help us to work on the condition of our hearts. Now, to work on the condition of our hearts, we still need some information, Because we know that even transformation comes from the renewing of our minds, so that there is still a part that our minds have to play in the way that we are transformed. So, that is going to be in this series.

I just want us to understand that we’re going to be wrestling not so much with our minds. We’re going to be wrestling with our hearts.  You know, this is kind of like a series on money. The concepts are not that hard to understand. What is difficult is to see them through.  What’s difficult is to recognize that our heart is going to wrestle with some of these concepts. So what I would say to you right now is: Would you check your heart?

Many of the things we are going to struggle with intellectually are not really that hard to understand, they are hard to implement.  They’re hard to really do with our whole heart. And so we have to be careful in a series like this, to actually look and say, “What is it that I am struggling with?  Is it really the concept or is it really my heart?” Most of the time when we struggle with our heart, it’s disguised as rationalization or something that is of your mind.  But just check that for a moment.

So that’s kind of where we are starting, with that.  And if you don’t mind, let me pray to get us started:

God, I want this series to be honoring of the time that we are going to put into it, and I want this series also to penetrate deep. And both those things are things that You assist us with when we put this in front of You. Lord, thank you for what You have given us, just in this place to meet and this place to wrestle. And I pray that what’s produced here, the fruit that’s produced – is something that will really change our hearts – it’s not just something that we will understand, it will actually start to lay bare the places that we need work on the condition of our own heart. We pray this in your name, Amen.

Why Do a Series on Hospitality?

John: So I thought we would actually start by justifying why even study the subject of hospitality.  Why are we doing this series?  I feel like we haven’t done this in a while where we actually spend some time just justifying the reason for it and tonight is more of an introduction of the topic. I’m going to throw out some concepts and I’d like to hear back how you respond to some of them. So feel free like always, jump in at any time.

Why study the subject of hospitality? The first reason is that, by and large, I think Americans do not really understand hospitality. Even as I say the word “hospitality,” I think many of us are probably thinking more about the idea of entertaining, maybe about being generous with friends of some kind. But it isn’t really the same thing. And we’re going to define it a little bit more in the coming weeks. But I at least want you to feel that, my proposition is, I don’t think Americans understand it. You’ll see a little bit more of it as I go along why I feel that way.

Second of all: As a church, not just as Americans, but specifically as a church, we’ve lost the practice of hospitality.  Hospitality used to be central to the church. Hospitality came as natural to Christians as prayer. It should be as native to us as any other practice, but it’s one that we have lost along the way.

Part of the reason for that is this point: Because we substituted programs and institutions for true hospitality. Let me give you an example of what that means, so I am not saying anything abstract:

You know the word hospitality, the same root word gives us words like “hospital” and “hospice.” If you think of the hospital right now, you don’t think of that taking place in someone’s home.  And yet it began there. That’s where hospitals began, in the community where people cared for their own. Today we’ve institutionalised hospitality.  If you need care; if you need hospice care, you’re going to go to some place where there’s a professional who does that. And we’ve reduced, we’ve flattened, that relationship to a giver of care and a receiver of care, and that’s all that’s going on. The same is true with all the expressions of hospitality.  You’ll start to see that we have kind of lost many of them from what they used to be.

So those are three reasons I think we need to do this.  So as we see that we don’t get it, the church has kind of lost it, we’ve substituted and changed what it means – you rub that against this: I still think it’s central, that’s why we need to study it and, if you look back at the early church for the first three or four centuries, hospitality was central to the gospel itself.  It’s how it was communicated.

If you ever think like, how did the gospel spread from this little place? — I don’t mean like just why was it so compelling — I mean, what medium, how physically, did the Gospel spread?  It was spread because people took it from home to home as they travelled around and received and gave hospitality.  That’s how it spread.

Even the missionary journeys that we read about, from Paul’s missionary journeys and others – people had to receive those people in hospitality — and we skim over sometimes in the book of Acts, the number of acts of hospitality that led to the Gospel spreading.  Those are just reasons I think would be important for us in general to understand.


Morgan:  Yeah, we are substituting programs and institutions – I don’t think you are saying that it’s bad that we have hospitals, right?  Are you just simply saying that those sorts of things have caused us to now not be hospitable as well as, hey, you know; now we have institutional hospitals.  I’m trying to follow your argument, or are you actually saying, “We shouldn’t have hospitals?”

John: I’m not saying we shouldn’t have hospitals, but I would say that we lost something when we had hospitals. We also gained some very good things, like having professionals who do those things, right? But, there is some loss, and the loss may be the way people treat one another, the way you are treated when you go to a hospital. I’m not saying you’re treated badly, but there is a loss there of the kind of relationship that used to exist around the care of others.  Think about it more clearly in hospice care: like the way that we treat even the elderly, even those who are infirm for long periods of time, how that used to have been done — which we will talk about – and how it’s kind of become more institutionalized.

The other thing about programming is: We have that problem in the church.  Like it used to be that hospitality was a natural outflow of the community, and now we program it.  We have to create programs to make it happen and that changes the nature of it.

Is there a question over here?

Jason:  Are you talking specifically about the American church or the American Protestant church?  Or are you more generalizing it worldwide, or throughout different denominations?

John: Worldwide the church lost the sense of hospitality, over the centuries, okay? And I’ll explain that later. But hospitality used to reside right in people’s homes within the church.  Over time it started to move away. It started to become an official function of the church and it was withdrawn. I mean if you look — and there is a long history going from the fourth, fifth century all the way into the Reformation period where, for example, hospitality was the province of the Bishop of the Church, right? And the Bishop became wealthier and wealthier on the basis that they would provide hospitality.  But the people withdrew, and the church stopped doing it, right? So, yes worldwide it has been lost in its original form, but even more punctuated in the latter parts of the last number of centuries, and even more punctuated in American churches.  So it’s all of those, but I’m actually going to focus more on the American church in general.

Now, of course there are exceptions.  And there are actually practitioners of hospitality now that try to reclaim this.  So, I can’t just say it’s gone.  But I am trying to put up some really broad strokes as to why this is kind of important to do.

Why is Exodus Specifically in Need of this Series?

John: Alright, let’s not get too theoretical.  Why should Exodus study hospitality?  Let’s bring it a little closer to home.

I have three reasons for this:  One, I think modelling hospitality has not been enough for us as a group.  At the beginning of this year, when we gave a preview of the things we were going to talk about this year, one of the things that I was saying was that this year, we really need to focus more on becoming hospitable and learning hospitality, and Morgan called it outright, he said: “Maybe we need to teach on it, rather than just exhort people and model it.”  Modelling hospitality in this group has consisted of a couple of things, but I’ll talk about one tonight: it’s personal to us.  You know that for the last three years we’ve opened up our home, every Wednesday night, except those periods when we take breaks, so that we can cook dinner for everyone in the group and have people over to spend time, intimately in our home, sharing food and then spending time in small groups in prayer and all the things that we are doing – to grow together.  That’s been an effort to specifically model hospitality, although I will tell you: that is not the sum total of what hospitality is, that is just an expression of it – hoping that somehow in our group this would catch on.  And I feel like one of the reasons to do this, and I’m speaking about this pastorally, personally, is because I feel like, not matter how much of a model we’ve done, we need to teach on it as well, to help spur you on and encourage you.

A second thing I’ve noticed in Exodus, is we’ve been trying to build what we call community, without actually practicing hospitality. You get to a place where you can’t build anymore. You kind of stop at a certain point if you’re trying to build community without practicing hospitality. In fact, community without hospitality, I would almost argue: equals a program.  Because it only can go so far before you get to the next level of breaking it down and saying, “We need to now live in a way, with one another.”  And that’s what community normally means, but you can’t do that without some measure of hospitality.

Here’s the third reason: As I said when we started, I think the condition of our heart is totally laid bare when we deal with hospitality. As we discuss hospitality, I expect that you will struggle with possession. You will struggle with the boundaries. You will struggle with limits. You will struggle with the things that tug at our hearts that seem to make sense, like safety. You will struggle even with your desire to remain private. Those are the kind of things that I expect that could come out of talking about hospitality. Again, it’s the same thing like talking about money: the concepts are not that difficult sometimes to understand when we talk about giving, but it’s the struggle that we end up dealing with, the struggle to hold on, and the struggle to clench, rather than to open our hand to one another. And those are the personal reasons I think that it’ll make some sense.

Theory:  Americans Are Not Very Hospitable in General

John: Alright, so let me just back us up now that I’ve kind of given you some reasons.  I kind of have a theory. You tell me if you buy this theory.  My theory is, that you can establish that Americans are not that hospitable, and the way you can do that, is because of the way, wherever we travel, wherever we go, whoever we meet, we always come back with amazing stories about how hospitable everyone is. So not matter what country you end up with, you’ve seem to think: “Wow! Those people are so hospitable.” I’ve talked to people who have gone to a lot of different countries and a lot of different continents, and this chorus is the same: “Those people are so amazing.  They gave us everything they had. They let us sleep in their beds while they slept on the floors. They had nothing to eat, yet they shared with us everything they had.” Have you ever heard those stories? I bet you, if I asked you where you heard those stories from or what countries, they’ll be all different countries.

And so my theory seems to be, that if that’s true, if all of us have gone to different places and come back and we report the same thing, then it’s very possible that maybe the reason that is, is because the rest of the world is so much more hospitable than we are, or we just don’t really understand how to practice hospitality as of people. And that’s the reason that those stories are so common. Could it be that everyone is just that much more hospitable than we are?

What is the Opposite of Hospitality?

John: Alright, here’s a quiz to ask you, just to get your take: What’s the opposite of hospitality? Let’s talk about what it isn’t. What would you say the opposite of hospitality would be… a word that comes to mind?

Jill:  Hostility.

Others: Hoarding. Selfishness. Isolation. Greediness. Private. Distancing.

John: The first one that came to my mind was selfishness, right? You’re contrasting hospitality with selfishness. And I don’t mean that any of those answers that you gave …  I think they’re all right on. I think the one that struck me the most though when I thought about it this was private. I think there is something about privacy that drives out hospitality. I don’t think it’s the exact opposite, it’s just one of those words that we don’t often think about when you think of “What’s the opposite of hospitality?” You might think, “Hospitality is about being generous…” it is. And selfishness would defeat it. And so would all those other things you mentioned. But for some reason, withdrawing into privacy — and maybe that’s the reason that Americans have such a hard time with hospitality — because it requires giving up so much of that privacy. Whether it’s private ownership or just the privacy you have in your place, those things matter. Yeah?

Morgan: I like … I guess one of those stories, if you will, that kind of will totally agree with your definition of privacy is, when I was in the Dominican [Republic], there were the few friends that I had, and brought them to my home stay, with their parents, and my house mom, if you will, she was basically, almost in her lingerie, when we brought them there, and she’s like, “Oh come in, come in…” and made them sit down and drink juice and all this stuff, like things that you would never in your wildest dreams imagine happening in America, with someone basically in her night-gown, inviting people in saying, “Oh no, you can’t leave, you must come in” and made them sit down and drink juice… and you know, that sort of thing, so… I actually really like that. Being private, is really hard because, that’s invading privacy.

John: Contrast that with the way we live now. I don’t know how you live, but I live in a community where people go into their homes through the garage and they never come out. They don’t even want to see anybody, they don’t want to talk to anybody, we don’t want to know anybody.  It’s not because we’re all bad people.  It’s because everyone doesn’t want to deal with anyone else.

Again, I haven’t yet defined hospitality and it’s more than just being friendly to neighbors, but it at least includes that. Alright?

What Qualifies Me to Speak to You About Hospitality?

How do I know anything about hospitality myself, where did I get any of my notions of hospitality?

I grew up with it in my house. You know, the hospitality of the Greeks, Turks, the Arabs, and the North Africans, is infamous as the Mediterranean hospitality. I grew up in the midst of that kind of culture. I grew up in a place where hospitality, there were rules; you understood them, you practiced them. It was almost as important as anything else.

You know, when I was growing up, people would come over to our house unannounced. Now, I know that a lot of us think, if someone comes over to your house unannounced, it’s like it’s rude for them to do that, like “How could you just come over unannounced?” Growing up, someone coming over, unannounced, was to be expected. People didn’t have to call, they just showed up. And what was rude, was not that they showed up, what was rude was not that they expected to eat when they showed up, what was rude was that we weren’t expecting them and that we didn’t have enough food in the house to feed anybody who would show up. My mom would be so embarrassed that somebody had showed up, unexpectedly without us being ready for them, that she would grab money from her purse, she would shove it in my hand, I’m like 8 or 9 at this point, and she would say: “Run to the store and grab these things…”  But, “run to the store” had a special meaning in our house: it meant I had to go out the back door and over the fence [Laughter], which I was never allowed to do except in the hospitality circumstance. I had to go over the back fence, through the back ally, run down the street to the grocery store, then grab all the things she gave me, then come running back over, throw them over the fence, climb over the fence myself and get back in the house and here was the key: without anyone knowing that I had done this. Because the highest form of shame or embarrassment was to let the guests know that we had not been ready for them and that we had to go buy things to feed them. You would never let your guests feel that way and you would never admit to it. So I became like a stealth CIA agent, on the way to the grocery store whenever this happened.

I grew up in a house where every summer, I expected to be thrown out of my room. Every summer I knew that I would not be sleeping in my room, and if we had enough guests coming, my sisters would lose their room as well and we’ll be all camped out in the family room.  And again, people that we didn’t know, who were somehow connected to someone we might have known somewhere in the world, who were coming to LA, just were showing up. And we didn’t know them. We just knew that it was our responsibility to go get them from the airport, bring them to our house, put them up in my room (of course, always) and I would be camped out in the den.  And I would lay there at night, listening through the sliding glass door, to the sounds of people telling stories from all over the world. Hearing things and hearing stories and hearing about places I’d only dream to visit, as my parents entertained them late into the night.  And this became the summer tradition growing up,  was you always knew it was going to happen.  And sure sometimes it happened in winter and there were times when I was in school and I was taken out of my room for these things, because that was just what was traditional. That was the kind of hospitality that I grew up in.

There was one time where I was walking through an Arab town in the Middle East and I was just walking down the street.  I’d happened to pass a man that was just sitting on his little porch balcony, and he was just sitting there, and old man.  And he stood up as soon as I walked by and he said, in Arabic, mayel, which means, come by, come over, stay. And I said, “I’m on my way to meet somebody,” and he insisted the second time, “You must come in.”  And he started asking his wife to prepare food. And I said, “No, no, no, I’m on my way somewhere.” And he said, “You must come in, I insist on it.” And I said, “I really can’t come by, maybe another time.”  Can you imagine that kind of level of insistence and desire for somebody? I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me.

Contrast That With Our Own Experiences Within the Church

John: So let’s contrast that with other experiences I had.  Some of you may have heard this story.  I remember when I was working downtown, one of the elders at my previous church wanted to have a meeting with me and he said, “I want you to come by for this meeting, and do you think you could come by to my house at 7 o’clock?” And I said, “Sure, absolutely.”  So I drove from downtown LA, drove all the way down the freeway in traffic, and drove all the way as far as possible down the 210 to where this guy lived. It’s almost like where the 210 used to end.  And I showed up at his house. I walked in and he sat down. I can tell you this day that I don’t remember what the meeting was about because what happened next just erased my memory completely. We sat in his kitchen, and he started talking, and his wife came in after a few minutes and said, “Are you ready? Are you ready for the food?” And he said, “Yes, absolutely, bring it in.” And she walked in with a single plate and put it in front of him.  And he started to eat. And I was sitting there thinking, “This is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like this.”  Like this has got to be, I’m on candid camera somehow.  Like somebody is going to come out in a minute and start laughing at me. And he kept talking. And he kept eating. And I was waiting, like well maybe my plate was in the microwave or something’s coming next.  But nothing came. And I just sat there, stunned, trying to understand how this system worked, where it didn’t even occur to him that, that would be something that he would share, or that he wouldn’t do in front of someone else who had come in at dinner time at the same place.

Maybe you’ve hung out with other people and watched other people at a restaurant pull out calculators to decide who ordered a drink and who didn’t. Who is going to pay for a meal and who hasn’t?  How many of you have been servers and decided you’ll never serve Christians again, you know… after that was done? How many of you have been to Red Robin and paid $25 for a hamburger? You know, by the time the bill got divided no one seemed to know how to do the math.

A Very Personal Reason for this Series

John: There are so many examples that you can go on and on and on about, about how little we understand it. But here is the part that tugs at our hearts even more:  Personally, in this group, not theoretically, many of you have been in our house so many times I can’t count. I have not been to your homes. I have not really been invited to your house. We don’t have that kind of sharing relationship. Does that feel heavy? I want to tell you that it feels very heavy to say.  It’s very hard to even say those words. But I feel like we will not understand hospitality unless we bring it home and make it personal.

How many times have you invited people into your home to offer them food, shelter, comfort, a retreat from the hassle of the world? Do you do that with only friends or people who might do that to you? Do you do it at all? How do we serve others, even in our own grouping, even on Wednesday nights? Ask yourself: how often is it that you contribute to the gathering that we have. Maybe it’s something simple like doing the dishes, or maybe it’s something simple like bringing dessert for others, or maybe if you think of the number of times that has been done for you.  How many times have you done it in return?

And I want to be very clear about something right now: Hospitality is not limited to reciprocity, but it does include it in some way. I’m going keep saying what it’s not limited to, but it includes these things.

Another way to say it, as one writer said: If we cannot be hospitable with our friends and the people that we like, how are we going to be hospitable with the stranger, which is really what we’re scratching at – to be hospitable in the way that Christ intended for us in the first place – requires a love for stranger.  And that is hard enough. But I can tell you, it would be even harder if we cannot show hospitality with those that we like, those that we sit next to, those that we spend time with, those that we dine with together.  If it can’t be shown there, we’re going to have an even harder time to show it with a stranger.

Hospitality in Scripture: Just a Few Verses to Start Us Off

John: Here are just some verses in the scriptures, by the way, that just kind of give us an intro to hospitality:

Romans 12:13 says, Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” Notice, he’s talking about outside, the people in need, whoever they might be. Hospitality is not limited to what we do with our friends and entertaining. In fact, that’s probably the least part of it.

Hebrews 13:2, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”  — a reference to the hospitality shown by Abraham to the men that visited him.

1 Peter 4:9, “ Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Just some of the few verses that touch on this subject.

Past Failures in Hospitality 

John: You know it’s easy for me to make this personal by bringing home hard questions like, “How often have we reciprocated hospitality among each other even sitting in this room?” But before you think that I am coming here to wag my finger, let me tell you about the failings that I have seen in my own life in hospitality (even somebody understanding this).

Hospitality is not easy because we wish for it to be nice and clean, and it is never either of those things. We had somebody in this group who was living in their car. Lina and I had a hard discussion about whether we can offer shelter to that person in our house. We struggled with that decision. We struggled with that decision for so many reasons. None of them, I think, were good reasons.

We still struggled.  How long would they stay? What would they do when we weren’t there? What if they took something from us? What if we lost our privacy? What if we couldn’t be the way we are at home, because somebody was there now? That’s a struggle with hospitality.

And I’m not proud of that struggle. But those are the real issues that I say will rub up against when I say our heart is laid bare. Because what does it say about us when we struggle with that? That we do value privacy, maybe, over and above the discipline it takes to be obedient. That we do value our possessions and we hold onto them much harder than we should. That we do value things like having a predefined boundary of knowing how long someone’s going to stay — like you pick them up from the airport and you go, “How long are you staying?” They say, “Until next Wednesday.” You think: good, I can live that long, alright? Then as soon as they’re done, you’re like, hey, if they stayed until Friday you’d be freaking out. Like, “Hey it’s like two days after Wednesday, what’s going on? Did you miss the flight?”  That lays bare our own struggle.

A number of years ago we had somebody in our group who had been locked up in prison. And I had to struggle again with myself, because as an attorney it sounded silly that I had never visited a prison, ever. We know that Christ commands us to visit those who are incarcerated and I thought: How strange it is that I have never been to visit anyone in prison, and you’d think that I’d at least know somebody who’d been locked up sometime.

When I was in law school, I actually took a class called Juvenile Justice, and our professor was a guy that went to all of the youth authority camps, he went to juvenile detention centers, and he found people who he thought were really … had promised if they could just get out of the prison system in some way. And he advocated for their release, and when they were released he didn’t stop there.  He brought them home. He brought hardened gang youth, he brought people who had done a lot of crazy things, into his own house. I remember hearing about it from his son. His son was my roommate.  And he would tell me about what it was like growing up not knowing who was going to be in the room next door from month to month. And the struggles that he had growing up in a house where his dad seemed to care so much more about bringing people in from the prison camps, so that he could give them a second chance and find a place to enrol them in school.  And here I was, taking this Juvenile Justice class with his dad, and one of the assignments was: you had to visit prison.  And I figured out a way to get out of it.  I wrote a paper instead, because I thought it would be easier than actually going in there.  So a number of years ago when one of our own was there, I was challenged and as a commitment to just even learning the small part of hospitality, I went.

The Principle of Reciprocity . . . and Jesus’ Higher Standard

John: One more verse.  In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus said these words.  He’s at a banquet, Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Look at this part right here:  What Jesus was saying is, you invite close friends and relatives and rich neighbors, they will reciprocate, and you get your payment. You get your reward because they have reciprocated. But I’m telling you, “Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and the stranger to you. Invite those people.”

What Jesus is basically saying is, “I don’t want you to reciprocate or expect reciprocity. I want you to do without expecting anything, and secondly, do to those who actually cannot repay you.”  And so when we come to start to define what hospitality is, hospitality really is a love for those who cannot give back, a love for the stranger in your midst.

Actually, the roots of the word hospitality comes closest to “the love of stranger.” That is actually what it means. I want you just to take a quick vision for a second of a world that didn’t have hotels, didn’t have restaurants, didn’t have any of the travel lodges, didn’t have inns – a world where basically if you left the comfort of your village to go anywhere else, you were at the mercy of the people that were going to receive you. So if you travel just from one town to the next, you could knock on the door of anyone’s home, and the expectation was that they would invite you in – unannounced. Maybe their kid was scurrying out the back to go back to the back fields or something to go grab some food, but unannounced. If you were travelling just through the town, that you could just knock and ask for food and water – because how else were you going to get it? Where else were you going to find it?

And here Jesus is even talking about the practice of among the people in your community, when you open your home, when you open up a banquet and you invite people, the expectation was, if you invited them – what were they going to do? They were going to invite you. In fact, in many cultures you’d think twice before deciding who to invite because they’re going to invite you back.  You actually sit down and decide: “Do we want to be friend with that family?” Because as soon as I invite them, they’ve got to invite me and then we’ve got to invite them and then it just goes on and on and on. So you think, “Do I want to even kick off the invitation?” Because then we’re bounded together and there just isn’t a way to get out of this.

Here Jesus is saying, “I know your practice. Your practice is to invite people of influence, so they’ll invite you, because they have to, and then you’re in amongst influential people.” He’s saying, “Don’t do that.”

My comment would be this: Many times we think the response to hospitality is gratitude.  And I want to tell you that most traditionally, the response to hospitality is reciprocity.

So I’ve put these words up here, just to look at them.  A lot of times we think that when someone is hospitable to you, you say thank you. But actually the correct response has always been, when someone is hospitable to you, you return the favor back. Now notice, Jesus is saying, “Don’t do that.” So why would I even advocate reciprocity when He’s saying, “Don’t reciprocate or expect reciprocity – just do it and do it for the people who cannot reply you.” Why am I even talking about it?  Because it’s one of those things where unless we understand what we’re not supposed to do, we don’t really understand what He is saying. And hear what I’m saying, because it’s hard to get us to say, you should learn how to give up reciprocity and move to a hospitality that it really embraces everyone, even those who can’t pay you back — when we’re speaking to people that don’t quite understand reciprocity.

And so one of the tasks that we have to do is, first, just describe it, as we have done tonight. Like, how is hospitality normally practiced? And then add the tweak which is: And Christ says to us, “As my followers, don’t even expect that. Do it for those who cannot do it in return.”  Yeah?

Jill: I just have kind of a question. I’m really envious of your upbringing with having this just kind of ingrained into you, to be hospitable to strangers, to anybody. But for those of us who haven’t grown up with that, how would you learn about that?  How would you dip your toe in the water and start experience that?

John: I’m hoping that that’s the question we’re going to answer together, and the reason I say that is because there’s no easy first step. Every step you take is going to be hard. For example, letting people into your home can be dangerous, right?  You can let somebody into your home and it’s not just a matter of them walking away with something.  Like they could hurt you, right?  And so, even practitioners of hospitality, who live in communities intentionally focused on being hospitable to people, have ways that they structure that, so they can at least meet people in a more neutral space –learn more about them — before they can just bring them right in.

So that’s one of the things, I don’t want to just cop out of the question and say, “It’s these two things or I don’t have an answer,” it’s more like, we have to figure out the steps together.  Because what works for us here is going to be a little different. I mean, we do live in private homes – if you called out for help, maybe nobody would even come, right? Those kinds of things are practical concerns. The other practical concerns are like resources.  Where do I get the ability to do this? And what about people who overstay and abuse their welcome? All of these things  — most of the people who deal with this every day say, “There are some things to mitigate those things, and so you should at least know about those things, before you just dive right in and say, ‘Okay, now I’m going to do it.” Because you have to at least consider that there are problems with it, right? And it’s never easy.  And all the people who do it say, “It’s just never easy.”

I hope that at least answers how we might create a framework for it. But I think the hardest part is starting even with ourselves, right?. So I wouldn’t expect you to be able to go immediately and offer all this hospitality to a stranger, until you’re able to do it probably with the people around you and then slowly learn to let that go. And that really is, like if I saw that, that would really thrill my heart.

That even in this group we could start to see that and go, “Okay, hopefully now that it’s not only modelled, but taught, like that will continue.  And then you’ll go on and do it with people that are outside the community. But I think it begins by modelling it within.  Yes?

Andrew:  Even with an upbringing like your own, coming from a similar – not as strict or as religious or traditional as that is – it’s hard for me to look at it and go, as a product of that, “That’s just natural, that’s just normal.” I fight with that all the time. Do I invite them in, do I give them something to drink? I know that is what I should do, but do I? I think that’s even — there’s a right and wrong [way] to do it. That’s my struggle. I know it’s right to do, yet still fail at it.

John:  And I would say, knowing your family, by the way, as long as I have — like your family are among some of the most hospitable people I know, right?  But  yet, it’s still a struggle to be able to determine, where is the line and do I do that or not, just like you’re describing. So I would say that even when it’s been shown to you, or even when you grew up with that kind of understanding, you still struggle. And the struggle is clear:  it’s because we want our stuff, and we want our safety, and we want our privacy, and we want a lot of those things.  Yes?

Philip:  I know the defining of hospitality will go on as we continue with this, but would you say that as we add the definition of that, or collect the definition of that, that it will be the same for everybody? I mean obviously it’s different from time to time, because you’ve already talked that each of us are different and like, I just feel like, I don’t know, that some people — I feel like most of the definition of hospitality is opening up your home and giving them food and shelter.  And yeah, it could be other things as well, like — but some people don’t have a home to offer them, and not necessarily because they’re homeless, but like, if they are staying with their parents and it’s not their choice to do.  Or like they don’t have extra food to do this.  And not just from that perspective, but also thinking like, what would be best — what would someone be better at doing.  I’m not really sure, is hospitality a specific thing, where this is what hospitality is, and we all need to be doing it, or is it somehow different for persons?  Does that make sense?

John: It does.  Do you want to respond?

Karissa: Sure, maybe.  I wonder if hospitality could be seen as sharing, like what you have with another person. Again with the idea of private and what I have is mine and not yours – that clear boundary that we sometimes have between me and another person — but instead hospitality could mean, “Hey, what I have is yours.”  And so if you don’t have a house or a car or food, then maybe you have something that you could have to offer.

John: Okay, let me go further a little bit, too. One of the things that we’re going to see is that one of the ironies of hospitality in practice is that people who have the least, give the most.

Practitioners of hospitality always report the same thing. So do people who travel to other countries. They go to places where you can’t imagine the condition, coming from America, yet you find more people willing to give everything they have, even though it’s so little. So that’s one thing.  But in the practice of it, of course, if you don’t have a house you can’t really invite people into somebody else’s house, right? So there are limits.

Does Hospitality Look Different Depending on the Person Exercising Hospitality?

John: And I think that it’s not going to look identical in practice; it’s going to be fairly, though, standard in definition. A lot of hospitality does involve meals. For some reason it has always been part of that tradition. And there’s important reasons why sharing meals is important, not just for hunger, but literally for equating people together in doing things.

But I’ll give you a quick clue to where we are going next week, but I’m not going to go there.

Matthew 25 gives the best definition of hospitality.  And when Jesus was describing hospitality from Matthew 25’s perspective, He was talking about: “I was hungry; you gave me something to eat… I was thirsty; you gave me something to drink… I was a stranger; you invited me in. I needed clothes; you clothed me… I was sick and you looked after me… I was in prison… ”  That is the definition. That is the best definition we have.  And then he adds on top of it, “And whatever you did for them, you did for me.”  And this image, when we miss it sometimes — because literally this is exactly what a traveler would do, he would knock on the door, and then you would let him in. You would feed him, you would clothe him… you would do all those things. So we’re going there next week, but that’s just the way that … it is a little bit more of a standard definition because we’re given such a strong example of what it means.

Hospitality is Not Dependent on Being Gifted in Hospitality

John: And before you ask the next question, let me just add one more thing that I want to say: It’s very tempting for us to believe in our churches that there is such a thing as the gift of hospitality – it’s one of the spiritual gifts.  And if you take a spiritual gifts inventory — I was actually going to do this before tonight, but I couldn’t get there in time… —  I want to go back and look at the questions one more time. Because I’m willing to bet — and I’ll say this now and maybe next week I’ll revise it if I’m wrong  — I’m willing to bet, that the questions that lead us to hospitality are, “Do you like to have people over? Do you like to feed?” Right?  It those things.  It’s literally like the Betty Crocker hospitality. [Laughter] And so even the definition of it has lead people to think: “I don’t have the gift of hospitality, so I’ll leave that for the people that do.”

I think that based on what I was just talking about, stepping forward, here in Luke 14 – and next week we’ll talk about Matthew 25 – hospitality is defined and given to the church and there isn’t like, “Well, it’s not really my spiritual gifting.”  It’s like, well that may be!  Just like some people might have the spiritual gift of prayer or giving, but it doesn’t excuse Christians from praying or giving, right? So that’s kind of why I think there is a more standard definition to it.

Hospitality Requires Resources, And We Should Work to Have Resources to be Hospitable

John: And lastly, I’ll add: We will struggle in a series with resources. Hospitality takes resources. The true answer among a lot of what I’m finding — and I’ve always kind of felt this way — is if we’re going to practice hospitality, we need to take seriously the ability that God gives us to have resource to give it. We can’t, as a cop out, just like we say, “I don’t have the gift of hospitality,” also say, “Well, I don’t really have much.” Because people that have very little, give, and we’re to be industrious with what God has given us so that we can take care of others and practice hospitality. That doesn’t mean you have to go buy a house.  Karissa?

Karissa:  As you were talking I was also thinking about: “Okay, why don’t we … why aren’t we more hospitable?”  And I think there’s probably several reasons, but I think one of them I wonder is: In our culture, the value of time, and just this feeling, I know I have sometimes of, just like going from one thing to the next.  And I think throughout the Bible we see that the value of relationships is a lot higher. So when I think about trying to be more hospitable, it’s like, maybe it’s about putting relationships higher than that value of time and, even saying that, it’s really hard to live out.  But I just wonder if maybe that’s a reason why, or an area where we could get better at, reducing that value of time that our culture really presses in on us, and instead like, “Okay, relationships are more important than maybe what I can create with the time that I have.”

John: And the response is usually what we call margin.  If you have no time, because you’ve lived at the margin, you shoe-horn your life, just to barely fit it in, then I can’t come to you with a breakdown or with a problem or with a need of anything – because you can’t fit me in. I’m actually going to be a nuisance to you.  I can be a serious annoyance or something really that you don’t want to deal with.

I think if you had a lot more time on your hands, you could maybe fit me in, and you could do some of those things.  Some of it is endemic in our culture, but we cop out there as well. Like, we let it happen. We let our resources be taken to the margin, to where we’re living at the edge — no margin at all — and our time.   And then we say there simply is no room.  So, actually one of the books that I’m reading about this subject is called: Making Room.  And I don’t think it means just making room like having a room made up.  It means, making room, like in your life, in your resource, in your time, in every way , so that we can allow this to take place.

Megan:  I liked what you had to say.  It’s interesting because we were at church this morning, and they were talking about idolatry, and how kind of all sinful road started with idolatry.  And what I think about is, I feel like, the biggest thing to me that keeps me from being hospitality has been my life and my desires and my goals, and all that trump anyone else.  And I hate that, but at the same time like I kind of consciously choose to do that.  And so, I think that to your point about time, I think that’s something where there is a lot of room for us to learn how to die to ourselves, and to like welcome the stranger who is taking us away from whatever our life was at that point.  That’s like reorienting your life.

John: Well, I said it would be easy to get, very hard to actually implement, right? Last comment, Ray?

Rachel:  I was going to say in terms of my instinct, I’m a college student and I don’t really have any resources. I don’t have extra money.  But I happen to live with someone who is extremely good at hospitality and she has shown me how — she always feeds people, it’s never really a question.  And just watching her has shown me that, it’s an excuse. Really, it’s an excuse to say that you don’t have it.  And that’s really convicting for me about how I’m watching these things and haven’t implemented them, but I’ve seen, I’ve seen how it’s practically possible, and I know how it’s done, because I’ve seen it done almost every day in my apartment.

Hospitality Should Never Be a Program

John: Let me close with one practical thing from today. There’s going to be many more, but just one and I want to touch on it and leave: Don’t make Exodus a program. And the way that you can do that is by understand and beginning to reciprocate hospitality with one another.

For three years we’ve invited people into our home, and I’ve intentionally decided that I need to be the one who prepares the food, to also model that kind of servanthood.  Some of you I think believe that it’s a program.  And it’s okay, because we need to learn how to break those things by first identifying them. I’ve actually sometimes wondered, Do people think they’re doing us a favor by showing up, like “Hey they’re having a thing.”  Or Lina has said to me, “Maybe they think that we just do this because we are the leaders.  Leaders are supposed to do this.  They’re supposed to open up their home. They’re supposed to cook.  They’re supposed to do stuff like this.  And people just show up because they’re supposed to.”

I want you to understand that for us to really integrate together, as a community of people who love one another and care for one another and are hospitable towards one another, we have to start to let that go.  We have to start to understand that it’s not a program. It’s not something that you have to go to.  You’re not really, if I could even say if I can be so bold, you’re not doing us a favor by showing up to the program to make us feel good that like one more person is there.  We want you there because we love you. And we want you, in return, to share that love with one another. And we want that to begin to spread.  Because that’s when community actually goes all the way, when it’s not just a program, when it’s not just what you do, “Oh it’s Wednesday, we got to this thing.”  It’s when we love to be in each other’s presence , when we can’t get enough of each other, when we are giving out of our whole heart to one another in such a way that it isn’t mine or yours or theirs – it’s all been shared together.

When we look at that picture of the early church sharing like that, we’re always talking about it in the context of giving and generosity, but it’s hospitality. It’s that way where really, there isn’t a “it’s mine or yours” – it’s ours! And we’re trying to do that very hard.  It’s a struggle, I know… for all of us. But that’s one practical thing that I would say: Begin to consider, not just gratitude, but reciprocity with one another. Begin to love one another, the way that you’ve been loved in the same way.  And that will begin to be contagious.  And then over time we can start to bring in people we don’t even know. But it has to start with people you do know, because if you can’t do that with the people you know, it’s going to be impossible to do it genuinely with people you don’t.  If you don’t love the people and do it with people here, when you start to do it to strangers, it’ll just be that act of service , where you just making yourself feel good by just doing things for other people to just assuage your own sense of obligation.  It won’t be genuine hospitality.

Let’s leave it there and close up in prayer.  I know it’s a little heavy for a starter. But let’s let God get us going to the next place and next week we pick it up from there:

God I come to you in humility because I know that nothing, nothing, nothing that we have to offer is ours in the first place.  That all the hospitality that anyone could muster all comes from you in the first place.  You love us before we even have the chance to love you in return or love anyone else.  And Lord you know how imperfectly we love you, how imperfectly we love others, how we try so hard to not love ourselves and yet that seems to be the thing we do the best. Lord, help us in this place. You showed us a method of hospitality that looked far beyond us, but Lord we might just begin here to understand it. Continue to wrestle with our hearts this week.  Let these words ring in our hearts not just our minds. Bring us back to a place where we are hungry to change because you have planted it in us from the inside. We pray this in your name, Amen.