Saturday, January 31, 2009

And his joy will be manifest to you

Is your house open to let strangers enter there,
Give to the least of them, show them someone cares,
And you may be entertaining Angels unaware,
And His joy may be manifest to you,
And the lost may be found as He works through you ...
-Keith Green, "Go to the Hungry Ones"

Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
- Hebrews 13:2

The bible talks a lot about showing hospitality to strangers - both in the Old Testament and the New. Abraham famously took in three travelers, fed them and sheltered them and received their blessing and the news that Sarah would bear a child. He had been entertaining angels unaware. There is example after example in the bible of how important it was to house and feed travelers. Tim Keller mentions in his sermon on the topic that I listened to yesterday that showing hospitality to strangers was a hallmark of the ancient world. Few people traveled long distances and those who did had to rely on the kindnesses of others because there were no inns or hotels like we have today.

What I didn't know is that there was a specific custom to this offer and acceptance of hospitality. Travelers requiring a place to stay would arrive at a village and stand out by the gates of the town and wait for someone to come out and invite them in. Once invited into a home there would be a short screening of the travelers (just to be sure they hadn't secretly come for ill purpose) and once it was deemed that they were genuine, the host would prepare them a large meal and let them stay at their house for a short time (customarily two days).

There is a beauty and a simplicity in that. How sad it is that we have lost those customs in modern life. There is a website I found whose mission is in that lofty tradition - couchsurfing.com - but overall today I would say that such radical acts of hospitality are few and far between when it comes to strangers. We are still a very hospitable culture when it comes to friends and family. For instance, two of my friends are very graciously putting me up at different times during my California trip. But when it comes to those we don't know, we are taught to be cold and wary. I prefer to live in a world like the one Keith Green sings about with his trademark passion.

The ancient world help hospitality up as a sacred virtue. (Lest we forget, it was the violation of the sacred responsibility of hospitality to strangers that doomed the people of Sodom and Gomorrah rather than their sexual appetites.) Then the God of the Hebrews called for an ever more radical hospitality in his covenant with that people - broadening the umbrella of kindness to include the poor, the sick, the widow, the immigrant and the prisoner. True to course, THOSE are the people Jesus ministered to the most. That, to me, has always been the beauty of the Gospel. Nothing more, nothing less.

I wonder what kind of reception I will get when I wander into a church in a small town in the afternoon and go to the office. Will the pastor invite me in as those in the ancient world would invite a weary traveler into their town? If I tell him my story and ask if any in his congregation have the gift of hospitality, will I be sheltered for the night? Looks like I'm gonna find out.

And His joy may be manifest to you,
And the lost may be found as He works through you ...

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