Toorak Uniting Church

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"Hospitality; a God reflector"

Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16     Jeremiah 1: 4 – 10
Rev. Ian Brown
22 August 2004

There’s a very old story about what happened after the great flood. The rains ended and Noah said to all the animals, "now go forth and multiply." So off they all went dutifully, two by two, except for two snakes who stayed in the corner.
Noah looked at them and said, " didn’t you hear me, I said you are to go forth and multiply!"
They looked up timidly and replied, "we can’t,….. we’re adders."

I think often we hear words like those exhortations from Hebrews and we, like the adders think "I can’t do all that."
In fact, going out to populate the world might seem easier than the responsibilities laid on us here for mutual love, for hospitality to strangers, for care of prisoners and those who are ill treated in our society, responsibility for respecting marriage, keeping ourselves free of the love of money and existing in a state of permanent contentment with what we have!!

In fact, the "I can’t do that" response was exactly the same for the young prophet Jeremiah. The Word of God comes to the lad and says, "before I formed you in the womb, I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." This is quite a load to drop on a lad! Quite a responsibility, an honor we might think. But Jeremiah Responds, probably like most of us would if the truth be known; "Ah, Lord God! I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." (only a teacher, only a housewife, only an engineer or even, I’m retired – it doesn’t matter. "I’m only" is the natural response.) I can’t do that, but God does not take no for an answer, God helps and reassures Jeremiah and us. These are things we are called to do!
So, let mutual love continue, let love be genuine, show hospitality to strangers, visit those in prison, honor marriage, be content with what you have and share it too.

It’s a tall order; at least it is for me! - and I’m guessing for most of us too! All these things we are called on to do, but we must remember also, that this list is given to a whole church community, not just to individuals. It is a letter of encouragement, of inspiration for the community of faith to encourage each other and build each other up in these directions. The outcome is for the body of Christ to achieve, not for each individual member of it to do everything themselves.

This book, known as "Hebrews" is a sermon or treatise and it was written to a group of people who have some things very much in common with us.

It is addressed to people who have a great heritage of Hebrew faith behind them and now they were in a new context, in fact they were some number of years into this new body, not yet a generation old, a body of faithful people, very much as we are.

To this group who are having to find their feet in a new situation, the writer makes the sharp and pithy observation that "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever."

He is saying that Christ is the same - the same incarnate acts of caring love that show God’s character and make God’s compassion real in the world. The same in the past, as we read of Christ in the gospels, the same in the past as we celebrate God made known to us by the traditions which have formed and nurtured our faith - the same God incarnate through the present work and witness of our church in dynamic and faithful living out the call of the gospel today by you and me, even if we are "only adders" and can’t do it all by ourselves.

If I’m right and we don’t do it all by ourselves, it is most important that the bit we can do has the right spirit, contributing to a healthy whole. So we come back to the love, the showing of hospitality, caring for the needs of the sick and imprisoned, the honoring of relationships and so on.

It’s worth a pause to reflect for a moment on just why it’s these things that should characterize our behaviour as Christians. Why will they know we are Christians by our love and hospitality?

Very simply, by loving we reflect God’s character, the character of the God who is love.
Hospitality is also a God reflector.
Hospitality is the noticing of need, it is aware, engaged, and responsive.
These are characteristics of God, hospitality is a God reflector.
Hospitality takes the next step, it makes the invitation, takes a risk, reaches out, creates a new possibility.

These are characteristics of God, to love, to be aware, to take risks in making new possibilities, hospitality is a God reflector.
Hospitality gives with gracious generosity not expecting anything in return.
These are characteristics of God, God is a gracious and generous giver, hospitality is a God reflector.

Mother Teresa said this about love,

"Spread your love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting."
These are some of the means of reflecting God’s love to others.

Working on the philosophy that a little of the right stuff can go a long way, I’d like to share another old story.

The minister, standing at the church porch noticed a little girl, two doors down the road, looking very upset. He went to investigate. She was obviously poor, in a torn dress and sobbing. She had been told, "there was ‘no room’ in the Sunday School for her. He guessed at what had happened, took her by the hand and found a place for her in the class of her age group.
She was so touched that she went home thinking about all the children who had no place to learn about God’s love.
A year later a little girl died in a poor tenement and her parents called for the kindhearted minister who had befriended her to make the final arrangements. In her room they found tattered red purse, inside it 57 cents and a note in a childish hand that read, ‘this is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday School.’

For a year she had saved this offering of love, to make the church more hospitable.
Next Sunday the purse, the note and a few tears were shared from the pulpit. He told the story of the girls’ unselfish devotion and sacrifice and challenged his people to take up her cause.
A newspaper heard of the story and published it, a land owner read it and offered a huge central block for 57 cents.
Church members made subscriptions; cheques came from far and wide. In five years the 57cent gift became land and $250,000, which was a lot over one hundred years ago. It became Temple Baptist church, Philadelphia seating over 3,000 and Temple University, the Good Samaritan Hospital and Good Samaritan Sunday School. The desire of one poor girl and her 57 cent gift bore fruit and made it possible for the church to welcome many more people in more ways than she dreamed of. She noticed a need, she did something about it, she gave. A little of the right stuff can go a very long way!

Today, as we celebrate Hospitality Sunday, we might wonder, what actions of ours will shape the future of this church ?

What possibilities will our offering open up?

What needs will we notice, what ways will we respond to those needs, what will we give of our time, our resources, our energy? What actions of love and hospitality are most needed?

Hebrews gives us some guidance but we have to put it into action in the here and now! We have to make the decisions, notice the needs, make the invitations, do the work, give of ourselves, take the risks; because both in the giving and in the receiving we make ourselves vulnerable, just as Jesus did.

And as the body of Christ, the church exists in a culture of change and in an ever changing world that drifts more and more towards loneliness and greed, the exact opposites of love and hospitality.

We need to make the same good news of God’s love understandable by making it real in our actions of mutual love, in our hospitality, our caring for prisoners and the ill treated, by our contentment and respect: - these, by reflecting the very nature of God and by God’s grace receiving as well as giving, Amen.

© Rev. Ian Brown, 2004

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