Friday, February 6, 2015

Hospitality and Mission - A Sermon

After a hiatus from this blog of over six months, I'm back!


On January 11, I preached my first sermon in the Netherlands.  Thanks to friend and fellow church member Hans for translating into Dutch.

My theme was hospitality, mission, and how they relate to each other.

The audio can be found at this link (just click on "Download" or "Open speler in een popup venster" [Open player in popup window]).





Below is the text of my sermon if you'd rather read than listen.  Some details of names and places have been removed from the text (but not the audio) to protect privacy. Pastor/seminary friends (and any others), please feel free to give me feedback!

Photo credit: Cor
Over 25 years ago, he and his wife traveled from their homeland to the land where God had called them.  They had left behind everything – their family, their home, and their country – everything that was familiar to them.  Now they lived as foreigners, despite being there for at least a decade.

One warm day, he was sitting outside in the shade and enjoying the cool breeze.  He happened to look up and see three strangers standing nearby.  Our story continues in Genesis chapter 18:1-8.   

Following this segment of text, we hear the well-known story of how the couple will have a son by this time next year.  Today I want to focus on how Abraham responded to his guests – since this example is alluded to in other places of Scripture.  What does Abraham’s hospitality mean for us today?  How do we as the Church of the Nazarene show such hospitality around the world?

In humility and according to the local customs Abraham offered water, food, and rest for these travelers passing through.  These guests got the “best of the best” from Abraham and Sarah.  The bread was made from the best flour – for sure it was organic!  They ate the best veal that Abraham could find in his flock, as well as side dishes of cheese/yogurt/butter and milk.  In those days, fresh meat was not usually found in their daily diet – so this was particularly generous.   

We can see the contrast of Abraham’s hospitality with the condemnation of Sodom in the next chapter.  Ezekiel writes (16:48-49), “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”  Being the people of God means to share our resources and be willing to look at others through Christ’s eyes.  This isn’t always easy for us to do!

We read later in Hebrews 13 “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”  Later in Genesis 18 (as well as in verse 1, as we have read), the guests are also referred to as “Lord.”  This is admittedly unclear – were they angels? Were they simply men? Or was it a representation of the Trinity?  Regardless, Abraham responded to God’s interruption of his day with the best he could offer.

Migration

Around the world today, our days are often “interrupted” by unexpected needs.  Ukraine is seeing an unexpected war in the east, interrupting a generally peaceful life, with thousands unexpectedly uprooted from their homes.  People living in Lebanon have had their lives “interrupted” by Syrian refugees.  In the southern US, thousands of immigrant children are interrupting the status quo. 

How can we see God working in the midst of these “interruptions”?

~*~

According to the UN, there are at least 600,000 “internally displaced persons” within Ukraine.  Many from the east are traveling to other parts of the country, especially Kyiv.  4 from the east, including a pastor, are now living at Kyiv First Church of the Nazarene.  There are many difficulties for these refugees and those supporting them.  They must find new jobs, new homes, and new schools – with very little to support themselves in the meantime!  Those who have not moved are faced with more competition, less space, and conflict in attitudes about Russia and entitlement.

Even though they don’t have much anyway, and the currency value is decreasing, our friends still choose to invite the youth/young adults for a time of relaxing and fun.  They had a young boy who stayed with them throughout part of the week, in order to ease the costs and care for his family.  Over and over, we hear stories of how these “helpers” are trusting God to provide for their needs in this tumultuous time. 

One of our friends, having connections outside of Ukraine, has been passionate about helping provide these food packets and other means of support for those in Kyiv as well as the east.  Thanks to your support, along with the district, many families will have basic food available for them for at least a couple months.

~*~

Jamil (far left) - Photo NCN News
Many of you are also aware of the Zondagschoolproject (Sunday school project), in which the kids have been raising money to send in support of Syrian refugees.  Though it is hard to find stories about  the Church of the Nazarene in Syria itself, a Lebanese church has been very active in supporting these refugees.

Chances are, if you traveled as a family, you would want to find the most stable and safe environment for your kids.  Besides this, you would be concerned about their chances in life and education.

The Sin il Fil Church of the Nazarene in Beirut has a school of about 200 students.  About 50 of them are Syrian refugees!  Besides an education, this church provides food and other household assistance, and hosts a medical clinic in partnership with other organizations.  Other churches have distributed supplies as needed to refugee families. Another church also offers monthly seminars for families in medical, spiritual, and social issues.

Jamil in Beirut teaches math to these refugees – thanks to sponsorship when he was a child as well as in his study.  Sponsoring someone is a great way to pass along the opportunity to show hospitality!

Most importantly, through the hospitality of these churches that were not expecting so many refugee families, these children and families experience God’s love!  Maybe you are going through difficult times – but God is with you and you can still open your heart to others!

~*~

In 2014, at least 68,000 children from Central America, arrived in the United States in order to escape poverty and violence.  About 40,000 of them were trying to join other family members.  These children had no documentation and were the source of many political debates for many months.  This amount is in addition to the average flow of undocumented people arriving in the US. 

Many people in the US, just as here in the Netherlands, have had a negative, politicized view about these undocumented immigrants.  They see it as a government problem, and currently the problem is that the US government cannot process this many people in a reasonable time or provide for them in the meantime.

A Church of the Nazarene in the American southeast has been busy preparing a center for these children and adult immigrants.  The pastor was recently telling me about one 17-year-old boy who works from 3pm to 1am in a restaurant.  This boy is illiterate – not just in English, but in his native Spanish – and comes from an indigenous part of Guatemala.  He’s an ideal target for labor trafficking.

The goal of this center is to provide a safe place as well as help these children, teenagers, and adults navigate life in a new country.  The church and leaders of this center want to connect people with each other, helping meet very real needs like language learning and legal assistance.

Through these personal encounters, people from the church are showing Christ’s love in practical ways to the “least of these” despite the political mess!

Mission

Now, what about us in Dordrecht?

The story in Genesis 18 shows an interruption of what was considered “normal” or possible.  When does God interrupt our lives today?  What does it mean for us as we follow Christ?

Paul writes to the Romans (12:13) to practice hospitality, and the writer of Hebrews also reminds the Church to show hospitality to strangers.  Interestingly, this Hebrews verse comes just after a reminder to care for fellow Christians.

I could stop the sermon here and say that Christians should practice hospitality and leave it at that.  We find something interesting when we look back to the Greek text. 

In Hebrews 13:1, the word “philadelphia” is used.  This Greek word generally meant “brotherly love.”  However, Christians used this word to refer to the relationships between members of God’s people.

The New Testament Greek word “philoxenia” is used for hospitality in the following verse.  This word actually refers to “kindness to strangers” and has linguistic connections both to “philadelphia” (brotherly love) and “xenophobia” (fear of those from other countries). 

This IS a missions service, after all, and we have learned about what’s going on around the world, but how do we participate in God’s mission here in Dordrecht?

Hospitality ] reminds people of how messy their house is or their busy schedules or the effort to cook a nice meal or dessert.  What if we broadened our definition to include “kindness to strangers” or foreigners and not just our family or friends?

“According to Widney (one of the early leaders of the Church of the Nazarene), the most fitting name for a Christian church…was the ‘Church of the Nazarene,’ a name that symbolized ‘the toiling, lowly mission of Christ’ and the mission of Christ’s followers.  Those who sought to truly follow Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus ‘the Nazarene,’ gave themselves to the outcasts and neglected persons of this world and might find themselves similarly scorned and reviled as Nazarenes.” (Our Watchword and Song)

There are many people today that are outcasts and neglected by people in the mainstream culture.  Perhaps they feel left out or not accepted.  Perhaps we consider them to be outside of our community, or even outside God’s grace!  Perhaps we do not quite know how to follow Christ’s example in relating to people who seem stranger than ourselves!

Think for a minute about this past week.  Who are the strangers, outcasts, or “neglected persons” with whom you crossed paths this week?

Teenagers – Who are the outcasts in your class?  Who are the students with whom nobody wants to talk or study?

Think about all the people with whom you spoke directly.  Think about the people at your workplace or wherever you might volunteer.  Think about anyone you saw on public transport or at the store.  Again, what opportunities did you have for interacting with people – strangers, outcasts, or neglected persons? What opportunities did you have for showing “kindness to strangers” and giving yourselves to the outcasts?

In my grandmother’s words, hospitality means “opening my home, my heart, and my plans for the day, to include those in need.”

Hospitality means being vulnerable.  As most of you know, it requires effort, energy, and usually money. 

This certainly “interrupts” our ideas of what’s comfortable.  But following Christ isn’t supposed to be comfortable, though we certainly would like that!

What will you do this week, as a native Dutch person – or a person of a minority – or an immigrant like myself – in order to show Christian hospitality to those around you?  We are living in a land that is a mosaic of many cultures and nations – a perfect stepping stone to “blessing the nations” like Abraham.  How will, for instance Muslims, meet Jesus through you?

Show Christ’s love in a practical way.  Perhaps you decide to help with the Voedselbank or inloop and meet people from the community.  There are multiple “buitenlanders” that come to the Voedselbank, but the “inloop” offers more time for conversation!

Meet someone for coffee and listen to his or her story of their relationship with Christ, or learn about their family, or learn some words in their language!

When you are at work or at school, talk to someone that others usually ignore or dislike. 

What has God been trying to teach you lately about showing Christ’s love to others?  Step out of your comfort zone and follow in obedience.  This is an opportunity for our church to participate in God’s mission in our own surroundings!

Matthew 25:34-40 – Somehow Jesus Christ is present in the “least of these,” and by serving them, we are serving Christ.

Conclusion:

In the midst of your normal everyday life, be willing to step out of what’s familiar, be willing to encounter God in the face of the foreigner or stranger, especially if they’re VERY different from you!

Open your home and your heart to those around you.  Just as with Abraham, show kindness to strangers with enthusiasm and generosity.  Perhaps God is interrupting your day and sending you as a missionary to the people in your own surroundings.