With this series we have introduced a hashtag, #whyoubeforeme on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. As you go through the sermons in this series, if something lands with you or challenges you, we want you to share it, and discuss with others! #whyoubeforeme
Greg started out by telling us about a trip he went on earlier this summer called “Sankofa”, with 15 African pastors and 15 white pastors to various sites of the civil rights movement. He didn’t really want to go, being in close quarters with 30 people for that long was not his idea of fun. But he knew he “had” to say yes, so even though he wasn’t feeling particularly open, he went.
To his surprise, even though he was decidedly not feeling open, the experience was profoundly moving. Every day he would find himself being choked up about something that he had not expected feeling so strongly about.
What was it about this trip that affected him so much? The main reason was spending time with African Americans who were and are directly affected by slavery, racism and the continuing echoes of Jim Crow which persist in our culture. They took the time to really share and allow him to see through their eyes. This trip allowed Greg and his white colleagues to get on the inside of an experience they would never otherwise get to be inside of. They reciprocally shared and let each other “under their skin”, and were open to each other’s experiences.
These pastors on this trip were essentially practicing Kingdom Hospitality.
Kingdom Hospitality = Making space in your life to love and welcome a stranger.
They were inviting each other into “the home”, the everyday life, of their experience. This is the essence of kingdom hospitality — it’s letting an outsider get inside of your life and your reality, and in turn reciprocally doing the same, and being open to their reality and on the inside of their experience. It’s less about a particular event or interaction, but an overall state of mind and a posture of heart. It’s contained in the essence of how we interface with the world, with a heart of receptiveness, openness and willingness to share.
Kingdom hospitality is the foundation of what it means to be the people of the kingdom of God.
But tragically, with our western individualistic mindsets, we tend to be closed, settled neatly into our people, our beliefs and our ways. The church likewise tends to follow what we as a culture do, so this message gets overlooked and under-represented by the church as a whole. But because Kingdom Hospitality is so central to God’s heart, but a relatively low priority for the church today, this disconnect demands that we label the this message “URGENT.”
The statistics tell us that loneliness today is at epidemic levels, despite being saturated with sharing on social media. We live in an individualistic culture. We tend to live in a bubble, and don’t want to be inconvenienced by others. Consumerism adds to this problem, because we are all so busy working jobs and driving kids to activities and chasing the American Dream there is no time for anyone outside of our tight community.
And adding to this urgency is the current time in history we live in right now. Nations are closing their borders to desperate people fleeing war torn countries. Right now there are over 70 million displaced people who don’t have a country. The majority live in refugee camps because no-one will take them in. Xenophobia has become the new nationalism.
Of course every country needs borders. There is no single easy solution that will cure this global crisis. But one thing is for sure: xenophobia has no place in the mind of a kingdom person.
Xenophobia means Fear (Phobos) of the other (xenos). This is the way of the world, but it is antithetical to what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Instead we are called to show “Philoxenia” – which means love (philio) of the other (xenos).
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
Over and over literally hundreds of times throughout the Bible you see this recurrent theme of how we should treat foreigners, outsiders and the oppressed. Scholars have a term to describe these groups, called the “Quartet of the Vulnerable:” They are the widow, the orphan, immigrants, and the poor. As you read, you get the unmistakable idea that this is one of God’s top priorities, and that being open, loving and serving these vulnerable people groups is a defining feature of God’s heart.
Why is this so important to him? It’s because this is what God is like. God has hospitality and other-oriented mutual indwelling wired into his very existence. The trinity itself is a community of perfect love. Each of the members pour their complete self into the other, and each is completely open to the other. This concept is called Perichoresis.
Perichoresis: three persons, fully dwelling in the other — a mutual indwelling.
Given that God’s essence is this indwelling mutual love, we see it in everything he touches, starting with creation itself – God could have just stuck with his established triune community — why mess with a good thing? But instead he chose to “open his borders” and invite others in. He made space for The Other by inviting in every living thing to share the Garden (understood as representing God’s temple; his home) with them and with us through Adam and Eve.
God knew that inviting in free agents who made free choices might require him to suffer, but he invited us in anyway — because while hospitality always involves a certain amount of risk, it is God’s way.
And of course as we know, his human house guests did indeed end up being deceived by Satan and abusing and rejecting God’s hospitality — but that did not stop God from being hospitable in other ways. He thus began a long mission to bring humanity back home.
Kingdom Hospitality is part of God’s essence, so he extended his invitation to other nations. The whole Old Testament is about God trying to raise up a “chosen people” — the people of Israel — who were supposed to be a Nation of priests to spread the hospitality of God with the world and invite them to feast at God’s banquet table. But Israel fell victim to the fallen human desire to live in a closed community. So they let their chosen-ness go to their head, they got self-righteous and began to despise the very nations they were to supposed be serving.
But still this did not discourage God. Instead he responded with the perfect demonstration of his other-oriented, indwelling hospitable nature, by pouring himself out and becoming a human.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The Greek word we translate as dwelling is “Skēnoō” which means to tabernacle, to take up residence. It literally means “moving into the neighborhood” and this is what God did by becoming one of us, he was reflecting his perichoretic nature of mutual indwelling.
Unfortunately it was not a safe neighborhood (!) and he was crucified. But even the cross became not just an event, not just a symbol but the ultimate zenith of God’s poured out and open nature – on the cross he took on our sin and estrangement that led to our sin. He entered into and dwelled within the depths of our hell.
God IS this kind of love, this pouring out kind of love.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”
In Christ, everything that separated us from God’s hospitality and from each other has been destroyed. We are one new humanity in which xenophobia, racism, idolatry and hatred have all been destroyed. Our call is to manifest this truth.
We are to be not just “open to” the foreigner and the stranger, not just “willing” but *eagerly desiring* to welcome them in. That is our Kingdom calling. It does not matter if the stranger is from Haiti or Germany or Timbuktu. We are to show love and hospitality regardless of their crimes in the past, regardless of their smell or their language or whether they have a Green Card. If they are an outsider, our call is to love, welcome and serve them.
Paul goes on a few verses later…
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”
In Christ, the whole structure and the whole community becomes a temple, a home, in which God lives. In Christ, Humans are reconciled with God and each other. We are part of his family. We have been adopted, we are home. In Jesus the walls are torn down — Christ is the new Eden, his new temple, his new home. And the borders of this home are wide open to new members!
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
When we do this, we are not just imitating God, we are being his hands and feet and participating in the essence of God which dwells within the corporate body of Christ. We are the body of Christ, and thus the only means by which God can continue to demonstrate his hospitality to others through us. It requires us to get outside of our comfort zone, to stand up and say “God, use me.” God is asking us: will you be hospitable? Can I use you?
We conclude with 3 assignments for you to spend time with this week.
1) Start here, today. When we come together at church, it’s normal to talk to people we know. But make time starting today to talk to a stranger. Find one person and welcome them. Make this a goal. If we are really the people of God, this should be our number one priority.
2) Start cultivating a state of mind that makes space for strangers. Ask God to help you. What does it look like for you to have space in your life for The Other? What does that look like? Picture it.
3) Practice Lectio Divina – This is a practice which has been around for 1500 years, which consists of read passages, asking questions and praying to see what God is showing you. Practice this and participate in the exercises. (Lectio Divina handout will be attached shortly.)
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