1 Peter 4:9
9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Dear Friends in Christ,
As many of you know, the first parish that I served in my ministry is located less than 20 miles north of here. It’s called St. Paul Lutheran Church, Shobonier. And while Marilyn and I have many fond memories from the 4 wonderful years that we spent in this rural setting, one memory that we reflect upon periodically has to do with a custom they had there that we’d never experienced before and have never experienced since. It typically took place when we got together with one or more couples for an evening of pinochle. We would go to one couple’s home, enjoy a nice meal together, and then play pinochle for the next 3 or 4 hours. It was great because Marilyn and I both love to eat and we both love to play pinochle. And usually around 11:00 o’clock we were ready to call it a night and head home to bed. But no, we were not allowed to do that quite yet. Instead, the host couple would pull out a vast array of food again – lunchmeat, chips, dips, relish trays, desserts – and we’d have to eat again before we left. As you can imagine, we weren’t all that hungry because of the big meal we’d had for supper and the snacking we’d done while playing pinochle and we really didn’t relish the idea of going to bed on a full stomach, but we also didn’t want to offend our hosts who were simply practicing the age-old custom of hospitality. So we’d fill our bellies again and go home marveling at how kind and giving people could be.
Well, hospitality is what we’re going to be taking a look at this morning as we continue with the 2nd leg of my “Faith Odyssey” sermon series that currently has us going wider in our understanding of fellowship and how we are to relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. To help us on this particular part of our journey, we are spending time looking at some of the more than 20 “one another” passages in the New Testament where we are encouraged to be devoted to one another, to greet one another, to regard one another as more important than ourselves, to forgive one another as we talked about last week, and so on. Today our focus is on I Peter 4:9 where it says: “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
Now I don’t know about you, but right away this passage raises a question in my mind at least. And that question is, with all the important and heavyweight matters that God deals with in the Bible – things like sin and temptation, forgiveness and salvation, the Law and the Gospel, heaven and hell, prayer and worship – why does he even mention something as seemingly lightweight as hospitality? Or to ask it another way, why does hospitality even matter to God?
Well, I can think of at least 3 reasons, the first of which has to do with the POWER OF HOSPITALITY. You see, when you open the door of your home to someone, you are opening the door of your heart to them as well. Something happens in the environment of a living room or around a kitchen table that does not happen in a formal church setting like this.
Now to be sure, we do have a certain level of fellowship when we come here for worship on Sunday morning as we greet one another before the service and we partake of Communion together and we stand around and visit in the narthex or the gym after the service. And that’s great. But by and large, what we do here on Sunday morning is vertical in nature. It is directed toward God. It is not totally intended or designed to satisfy the need that we all have for human fellowship. That’s something that can only take place outside of this formal worship setting in one another’s homes or in a restaurant or wherever Christians come together.
When I was younger I witnessed a great example of the power of hospitality. My family and I lived in the Lutheran parsonage in Staunton, IL where my dad served as pastor for 20 years. And right next door to our house was what we called the teacherage. That was where the principal of our parochial school lived. And back when I was attending that school the principal and his wife were named Gary and Mary Bishop. They were a young couple who came there straight out of college. Both taught in our school with Mr. Bishop serving as my teacher during my 6th, 7th, and 8th grade years and both became very close to my mom and dad. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Mary looked upon my mom as a surrogate mother during their years in Staunton. They spent a lot of time together in each other’s homes. Which explains what happened one day when I was playing out in our backyard and I heard Mary come running over to our house, crying and screaming as though something was terribly wrong. And indeed, something was terribly wrong. For she’d just received a phone call that her mother had passed away unexpectedly. And as she flew into my mom’s arms and Mom took her into our kitchen and sat her down and listened to her and sympathized with her, I saw the power of hospitality in action.
And that takes us to a 2nd reason why hospitality matters to God and that is the NEED FOR HOSPITALITY. Did you know that hospitality was an essential and necessary part of the early Christian church? And for good reason. Back then they didn’t have hotels and motels like we have today. Now granted they did have inns, but most of them were dangerous and dirty. And so the New Testament church set up a kind of bed and breakfast network where traveling Christians could find a safe and secure place to sleep and eat.
The Book of Acts informs us that those early Christians were not only good at meeting together in public settings, but in one another’s homes as well. In Acts 2:46 we’re told: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” And in Acts 20:20 Paul says to the elders at Ephesus: “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.” You see, they didn’t have big ornate church buildings back then like we have today. They didn’t have gyms and fellowship halls. And so out of necessity they opened their homes to one another and enjoyed an intimacy with each other that unfortunately seems to be lacking in far too many churches today.
Which brings up a good question. Is hospitality even needed in the church today? After all, we don’t have the problems today that they had back then that sparked the need for hospitality. We have motels that are safe. We have church buildings in which to meet. So do we even need to concern ourselves with hospitality today?
I think we can answer that question with a few other questions, like … Do we have any lonely people in the church today? Do we have any disconnected people? Do we have anyone who maybe passes an entire day without a meaningful conversation with another human being? Do we have anyone who needs a circle of friends who will commit to pray for them and hold their needs before the Lord regularly? Do we have families who have recently moved to Salem but not made any friends yet? Do we have new members who haven’t plugged in yet with any of our people or groups in our church? If we can answer yes to any of those questions – and you know that we can – then yes, we have a need for hospitality. Like I mentioned before, there is something that happens in a home that cannot happen in a formal church setting like this.
Well, let’s wrap things up by examining one reason why hospitality matters to God. We’ve looked at the power of hospitality and the need for hospitality. Lastly, let’s consider theBLESSING OF HOSPITALITY. The Bible makes it pretty clear that special blessings await those who open their doors and hearts to others. Abraham could certainly tell you about that. He graciously received 3 strangers who showed up at his tent one day and who just happened to be angels, though Abraham was not aware of it, and he ended up receiving a promise from one of those visitors that when he returned the following year, old Abraham and his wife would be the proud parents of a bouncing baby boy. By the way, Hebrews 13:2 specifically refers to that encounter when it says: “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Then a little later after that incident when Abraham’s nephew Lot showed hospitality to 2 of those angel-strangers who showed up at his home in Sodom he and his family were shown mercy by them and rescued from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. When Rahab the Jericho prostitute received the 2 Israelite spies into her home and offered them protection, she was not only blessed with protection herself, but she had the privilege of becoming part of the messianic line that ultimately brought Jesus into this world.
In the New Testament, Mary and Martha opened their home to Jesus on more than one occasion and what did Jesus do? He opened the grave of their deceased brother Lazarus, raised him from the dead, and returned him to the grieving sisters. Or how about Zaccheus? This tree-climbing tax collector welcomed Jesus into his home one day, fed him a meal, and experienced a life-changing event as Jesus fed him with truths that matter for eternity. Indeed, the Bible is filled with examples that illustrate the blessing of hospitality.
But without a doubt the greatest example of hospitality can be found in none other than Jesus himself who has opened the door of his home in heaven to anyone who will acknowledge their sinfulness and receive him as their Savior. In fact, the hospitality of Jesus actually led him to leave his home in heaven behind temporarily so that he could visit our planet and do all that was necessary to make his home our home. But until that time comes, you know what he wants more than anything else? He wants you to make your heart his home. He wants to enjoy intimate fellowship with you. Imagine that! Out of all the people in the world, Jesus wants to spend time with you. How do I know that? Because that’s what he tells us in Rev. 3:20. Listen carefully. He says: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
So how about it, my friends? Have you done that? We’ve talked a lot about hospitality today, of being kind, caring, and giving toward others. And as important as that is, it is even more important that we welcome into our hearts and homes the One who died and rose again to save us from our sins. For when we do that through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will find ourselves more than eager and willing to do it for others. May I challenge you to do that this week? May I challenge you to be a Mr. Rogers to someone? Remember him? I’m not sure his program is even on TV anymore, but when it was, what was the one question he asked on every show? “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Would you do that this week? Would you make a special and intentional effort to be a neighbor to someone who could use some good old-fashioned hospitality in their lives? If you do, I might want to warn you that you’ll probably want to do it again and again and again because in the process you’ll discover the wondrous truth Jesus taught, namely, that it really is more blessed to give than to receive.