Thursday, July 20, 2017

Brotherly-love and Hospitality

This week in “From Fr. Tom” I want to focus on two words that are crucial for the life of a Christian: “hospitality” and “brotherly-love.” Without these two things active and lively in a church, a church is a shell of what God intends it to be.

The Greek word for hospitality is literally “the love of the stranger,” it is loving the people we encounter, but we don’t know. Brotherly-love is a concept that comes from one of the Greek words for love: “philadelphia.” This kind of love stems from the love of deep friendship, love we show towards people we know well, with whom we have deep ties, loyalty, and affection.

Christians are called to love BOTH the stranger AND the familiar friend. Note what Paul says to the Galatian Church: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, AND especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal 6:10)  Yes, emphasis is laid on the Church here, but BOTH those inside and out are mentioned. We are called to a “both/and” love by the author of Hebrews as well: “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Heb 13:1–2)

This is a both/and scenario: We cannot merely love “new people” all the time and ignore our deeper friendships and associations. Nor can we “hole up” with our close friends and become cliquish Christians. Usually, because of temperament and circumstance, we have a bent towards one or the other. 

Which are you more inclined to do? 

In a social setting, which are you more likely to do: talk to someone new? or talk to someone you already know?  My guess is that most in our church would rather talk to somebody we already know. This has huge implications for us as if we are to obey God’s commands to welcome the stranger. Like many areas of the Christian life, it means we must ask for God’s grace to live differently than our natural inclinations.

Certainly this love of the stranger is something we need to consider for our daily lives. How open are you to new people? Do you acknowledge that the people you run into day-in and day-out at the grocery store or at work or at school are not just faces in the crowd: they are made in God’s image, and loved dearly by him. Do we remember that we are constantly ambassadors for Christ, daily called to be a friendly and faithful witness… no matter who is around? I confess that the busyness of my life over the last two years has led me to be more closed off than I’ve ever been. I need to repent and pray for the help of God’s Holy Spirit.

This love of the stranger also relates to our life together as a Church. Let me share two stories:
  • Recently a woman came to join us in worship on a Sunday. She wandered past the greeters, past a crowd of Good Shepherd members and regulars in the main hall, and stood just past the elevators, not sure where to go. She looked lost. Finally someone noticed her, asking her if she was here for church, and if so, did she know where to go. 

  • I talked with a family earlier this year who shared with me that even though they had attended for months, they did not feel like they really knew anyone. They knew some people’s names, and many knew their names, but they confessed to me that the church was mostly full of strangers to them.

While I’m thankful that these two stories are the exception and not the rule, I’d like to ask us two questions in light of the Bible’s teaching on this:

1. Are we strangers to each other? When they command us to love the stranger, the writers of the New Testament assume that the people in our church with us will NOT be strangers to us. But is that the case? One marker of deep community is that we “know others and are known by others.” Does anyone at church know your struggles?  Joys?  Hopes? While I’m encouraged by the depth of relationships at Good Shepherd, I think we may still be “strange” to one another. How do we bridge that strangeness gap? We can start by saying “Hi” on a Sunday. Sitting with someone at Church on a Sunday. Confessing that we don’t know their name, and reintroducing ourselves (again)…. maybe grabbing a coffee or lunch. This summer we will be having some dinners together that I pray will make us less “strange” to one another. (Though, we might find out how “strange/weird” we all really are!)

2. How can we love new people who visit on Sundays?  I am so thankful that our church is a welcoming church. I’ve been told many times by people who have visited (and then who later stayed with us) that our church was welcoming, but not overbearing. What a great thing! However, like most gifts, if we don’t keep living into them, we will lose them.

Here a few practical ways we can continue to live into being a church who “let[s] brotherly love continue... [and does] not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…"
  • Pray for a loving heart. Let’s be honest, sometimes we don’t give a rip. Sometimes our hearts are cold, small, dark… Let’s pray for “enlarged hearts”!
  • Wear a name tag.  If only the visitors are wearing name tags they feel branded. And if you’re not wearing a name tag, it makes it harder for others to remember your name. How many times have you forgotten someone’s name that you’ve met before? Save everyone else that embarrassment, and wear a name tag each week. 
  • Act like a host.  One of the best bits of advice I’ve ever heard about how to meet new people is to act like the host at every party you go to. If you’re the host, you care if a guest is alone, or not having a good time. Even if you’re not a “greeter” on Sunday, greet one person each Sunday. Look for someone who may be alone or that may be new. 
  • Sit near those who are alone. No one should have to sit alone in church. Nobody. Whether you know someone or not, if you see them sitting by themselves, sit near by. 

Remember, my brothers and sisters in Christ, we are God’s hands and face. Sometimes people show up to Church hurting, lonely, and tired. Sometimes the sermon doesn’t speak to us, the songs are unfamiliar, and the prayers don’t touch us. But in addition to the Word, prayers, and Sacrament, God may use YOU to love on someone… whether a friend or stranger. Your kindness may be the only message the person sitting next to you can hear. “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Rom 15:7)

Remember who loved on you, remember who included you.  Go and do likewise… and who knows if someone’s eternal destiny (or even just their week!) may be changed?