Series: Creating a Culture of Generosity
3. Stewardship as Radical Hospitality: The Invitation Matters
Pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
So, in a little less than a month, Abbie turns 5. And for at least a month now, she has been planning the party to celebrate this big event in her life. This week we looked at party decorations: table cloths, centerpieces, plates, cups, napkins, plastic ware, streamers, balloons, and a piñata…oh yes, she is planning a party. While it is not her whole focus, I found it interesting that the table was important to her. She wants the tables to be set well. There is something very inviting about that, to have a well-set table. It considers that the hostess will take good care of her guests. It is the beginning of the responsibility of being hospitable.
The Bible has a lot to say on the subject of hospitality. In fact, the Biblical standard for hospitality is a radical shift from what we think of as proper etiquette. The Professor of Hebrew Bible at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Dr. Rick Lowery, describes the Biblical model for hospitality as a dance between the host and the stranger, the other, where by each part is taking a serious risk to share at table together. You see, in Biblical times a stranger could be a very dangerous person, and it was a risk to invite them to your table because they could do you and your family harm. On the other hand, when a stranger accepted an invitation they would be like one of the family with the responsibilities of a family member to share in the work that is required by having a meal. Thus the Biblical model of hospitality is that we invite the stranger to our table, and care for them, and they become one of our family until they move on.
One example of this Biblical model of hospitality is Genesis chapter 18 where three men approached Abraham’s tent. When Abraham saw them he ran to them and bowed down to the ground and humbly invited them to stay and have their feet washed and eat before they moved on. They agreed. Abraham had Sarah make cakes with the choices flour, he killed a tender and good calf, and brought curds and milk and set it before them and then he stood under a tree while they ate. Then the men informed Abraham that Sarah would become pregnant. This is the story where she laughed. Abraham had hosted the Lord at his table that day, but this was an example of the beautiful dance that is Biblical hospitality.
This example of hospitality point to another misconception we tend to have about sacrifice in the first testament. The Hebrew people are supposed to bring a sacrifice to the temple, or to the synagogue. This sacrifice could be for ritual cleansing, as in response to sinfulness. Dr. Lowery describes it this way, “a bloody appeasement for an angry and wrathful God, and we want to avoid human sacrifice so we offer an animal sacrifice to appease God and he will get off our back.” Sometimes this is what sacrifice is about. However, more often, God is the radically other, the stranger we meet, and it is our responsibility as God’s people to prepare the best table we can, for the stranger, who is God. And in doing so, we seek to become friends with God.
So how are we doing at being radically hospitable? Do we bring our best table to share with the stranger? Do we run out to meet them and humbly invite them in?
Our text this morning is a favorite of mine. Asking us what does the Lord require of us, but to do justice, to love kindness (some versions translate it mercy), and to walk humbly with our God. It sounds lovely and simple, but before we get too comfortable let’s put that phrase back in context. Israel asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?” In other words, what shall my offering to God be, what shall I bring to sacrifice? Then Israel makes a list of the finest things it could bring to the alter, “burnt offerings of a year old calf, thousands of rams, tens of thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Do you see now? Do you see the context of this request for us to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God? In the context of Biblical hospitality, where God is the radically other, the stranger and we are to set a feast before God as a way of becoming closer to God, and in the context of sacrifice to God being about bringing our best to the table, rather than appeasing an angry and wrathful God, Micah tells us that our burnt offerings, our stuff, even our children are not what God wants. God wants us…
God wants us to give of ourselves. God wants us to see the opportunity of meeting a stranger as an opportunity to meet God. God wants us to do justice as a sacrifice. This is not a simple lovely thing to sing happy songs about; this is a call to action, to live justly, to do justice to and for others. We cannot do that if we are afraid of conflict. We are to love kindness and mercy. That doesn’t mean we simply think about being kind when we can remember to do random acts of kindness, it means we live in kindness as a way of living for God as a sacrifice to God. Now let me define kindness as being different than being polite. While being polite is often kind, God does not expect us to sacrifice ourselves as doormats on the alter of kindness. We are to be overly kind to strangers in an effort to get closer to God. And we are to walk humbly with God. We are to bow down. We are to welcome God in mercy and grace. We are to offer our best service to the stranger who is God. We are to run out and meet God and invite God in to join us.
In this Lenten sermon series so far we have discussed stewardship as keeping Sabbath, and as self-care. Remember the idea we can work six days and rest and God will provide enough, rather than trying to shove eight days of work into seven days of the week? As we consider taking care of ourselves as a form of good stewardship, maybe we should consider how that affects our worship and our relationship with God. If we are so busy that when we come to worship we come merely to receive from God the rejuvenation to get through another week, but then we keep that goodness to ourselves, where is our hospitality? How are we being the body of Christ?
Because God has first loved us, let us also love the stranger with our very best.