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Main Street Community Church, Frodsham

Loving God
Loving Frodsham

Hospitality

Romans 12:9–21

This talk was given by Paul Wintle on . It is the first in a series on hospitality.

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Transcript

We’re starting a new series on hospitality and it made me wonder about hospitality. Now and again, I watch a dreadful program on TV called Four In A Bed. I don’t know if you’ve watched it. It’s where bed and breakfast owners visit other bed and breakfast owners. They judge them on things like cleanliness, how was the breakfast, how did the customers sleep, things like that. At times, the visitors are scathing, “We found a crumb on the carpet,” but at other times they give full marks, often for the welcome that they received.

I’m delighted to say that over the recent months, some new faces have appeared on a Sunday morning here. Some have just come once, others have come here a bit longer, and a few have decided to make it their spiritual home; their community of worship. I wonder what it was that made them come. I guess that’s the work of God’s Spirit; prompting people into action, but perhaps almost as important is the question what made them stay? Over the next few Sundays, we’re going to be looking at the topic of hospitality.

In the Tuesday evening Bible studies, we’re presently looking at the book of Luke. It’s remarkable how many times Jesus is at table eating and enjoying somebody’s hospitality. Over the last year or this time last year, we were looking at the importance of sharing and community. So I thought this autumn in the run up to Advent, we could look at perhaps something else that links to that care and that community; hospitality. Today, we’ll be starting with a bit of a starter for ten in Romans 12, but we’ll also be looking at hospitality where it’s surprising, miraculous, ignored, as well as how, as Leviticus puts it, how we deal with aliens, ending with what eternal hospitality might look like.

Romans 12:9 onwards: in the NIV it’s entitled love.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay any one evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge, I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary,

 ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him,
  if he is thirsty give him something to drink.
 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”

(NIVUK)

Interesting menagerie of words there from Paul. The context of Romans 12, as Gill mentioned earlier, is living sacrifice; how the believers are holy and pleasing to God. Paul mentions a short list of spiritual gifts in verses six to eight and in verse nine, he speaks about love, and how this might be worked out as service to God. This section begins and ends with sincere love, looking out for one another’s best interests.

Paul writes to give examples of love in action, what it could look like. Firstly, to one another, to the believers, and I think that’s why even in verse 10 he instructs his followers to be devoted to one another in brotherly love. He encourages them to keep faith with one another and with God. Next comes an instruction to share with God’s people who are in need. Then Paul goes on to be less specific, he just states, “Practice hospitality.” He doesn’t say to whom that hospitality needs to be practised, he doesn’t mention any particular people group, which we could assume that he means hospitality needs to be extended to everyone, perhaps.

Then we get more of a challenge, it’s no longer only about practising hospitality, because next, Paul goes on to talk about blessing the persecuted; those who persecute. Then it becomes about rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn. It’s not about status or position, or about hating, or about revenge, it’s about living at peace with everyone. Is contrary to what the world says and does, and that’s Paul’s point.

I wonder what it means to practise hospitality. You know by now how I like to look at the meaning of words and how they came about. For example, in the word hospitality we have the word hospital; a place people might go to receive care, or attention, or supports, or medical care. We might think of hospitality as offering food to somebody or perhaps even accommodation. Of course, there’s a Greek word that Paul mentions here in Romans 12, Philoxenia, a word used here in Romans 12 and it literally means lover of hospitality or fond of guests.

You might love to have someone around to enjoy a convivial evening of food conversation or a glass of wine. Well, while the guests are being offered hospitality, the hosts give of their best. They might prepare the dining table with the best bone China, crystal glass, and the silverware. The food has been lovingly cooked all day and it’s going to be served up course by course in such wonderful serving dishes. Can you imagine it? Not at my house probably, I’m not a great cook. The music in the background will add an extra touch of class to the ambiance of the evening.

As the guests gather, the warm tones of aperitifs are consumed and scintillating conversation is heard. For hospitality to occur, there needs to be a host and a guest. Hosts love what they do. I wonder if, as I have, you’ve been somewhere where the host is quite un-hostly. Perhaps you’ve been to a restaurant where as a guest the food was awful, or where you were just ignored and had to wait for ages and ages and ages. An unloving host is not a host at all. Hospitality always gives of its best. Hospitality goes the extra mile in ensuring the guest is comfortable and welcomed and cared for. So they experience hospitality.

A great example I think is Thursday morning here at the church, whilst everyone comes in for a cuppa, most get a cheery good morning from somebody perhaps on the bookstore as they welcome, as they enter. Quite a few, whether they like it or not, get a conversation from me, or somebody else. The fact that this place has been a place of prayer and worship for 146 years, I think, means that the presence of Gods has had time to seep into parts of this building. Even those who do not know Jesus can sense something of his presence here.

It’s a delight when people tell me that they love coming here because of the welcome. They know it’s a safe space. It’s a sacred space used in many different ways. Even if they don’t know God, they sense, often through his people, that God is here. It reminds me of the surprising shock that Jacob in the Old Testament, in Genesis 28, had when he woke from a dream, announcing, “Surely God is in this place and I wasn’t aware of it.” Hospitality is about loving guests. Here’s the thing; it’s not only about entertaining those we know. Philoxenia also speaks about entertaining strangers.

We have various strangers coming into our building perhaps once, perhaps occasionally. I wonder what their experience of our welcome and hospitality has been. I’m not just talking about the wonderful fair trade coffee that we have and the fact that we’ve replaced all the batteries in the toys for Friday break. I mean the stuff that we regulars take for granted. What I mean is that we know what to expect when we come here, when we arrive. We are aware of the way that we do things around here, but have you stopped to think about the new person; the stranger?

I’ve got a couple of recent examples. Two weeks ago at our harvest service we had at least eight people that don’t normally come. One group was a new vicar and her family, new to the area, about to be installed in their new church in Runcorn the next day. I was delighted to receive an e-mail from them, “Lovely to see you this morning. Thanks for such a lovely warm welcome. What a lovely church family you have, genuinely we felt very welcomed.” Thank you for that.

Another couple lived in Frodsham, perhaps in their 30s. I was pleased to see that a few people chatted with them over croissants and cake. Yes, croissants and coffee, that’s what I meant to say. Although I’ve not seen them since, I hope and pray that they left with a positive experience of our faith community here. My parents were here this weekend. Thank you for welcoming them, and I know that Mum found it especially hard when I moved but remains comforted by the fact that everybody looks after me in so many different ways. My parents really do trust you to care for me, so thank you.

What about the people we don’t notice? The ones who we don’t speak to? Maybe the ones that you’ve never spoken to for years because you sit on the other side of the church, maybe you don’t know their names. Perhaps you don’t feel that it’s your job to say hello to somebody new because that’s the role of the steward. Actually, just like safeguarding and child protection is, hospitality is all of our jobs it’s all of our responsibility. We can perform that in so many different ways. Perhaps we’re not even aware if we don’t welcome. Is that us?

Let me give you another example. I went recently to the induction of this vicar lady who came to us a few weeks ago. I was warmed heartily by a member of the churchwarden team. A nice firm handshake on the door, “Hello, it’s nice to see.” The next door in had four ladies standing all in a line by the font, and they were smiling so I smiled back and said, “Good evening?” They said, “Good evening.” And I thought, “How am I going to negotiate getting through this line of four old ladies?” Perhaps they were going to give me an order of service.

They were talking amongst each other. It wasn’t unfriendly, but there was this line of people I had to run through to get to my seat. I stood and smiled and said, “Good evening?” Expecting them to perhaps part like the Red Sea and let me through, perhaps giving me that order of service. Polite as they were, they didn’t see that they were a physical barrier of me actually getting into the building and they got in with their nattering.

Somehow I managed to squeeze myself through this sea of old ladies, if you like, and appropriated myself at the end of an empty pew, as one does. These ladies were welcoming enough, but they didn’t make it easy for me to actually get in for the service because they’d seen that they were there for one another’s company. Because most of us have been here for a little while, we do the things the way that we’ve been accustomed to and that’s not a bad thing. We do those things with the people that we’re comfortable with, and within that there’s that element of hospitality because we’re comfortable with that and that’s great.

But let’s [not] forget that there are a few people who don’t know the way we do things around here. Please forgive me if I don’t do it the way that we used to. There may be newer people who need to sit next to somebody. Welcome them and for us to ask their name. Let’s renew our commitment to hospitality to philoxenia which welcomes both those that we know and those that we don’t. In the context of Romans 12, hospitality is a spiritual gift.

Susanne always amazes me for magic-ing up plate after plate of sandwiches with a garnish in a nanosecond, she just garnishes things with tomatoes and stuff as well. Although she probably doesn’t see it as a spiritual gift, it’s just training, it’s all fine. It’s as much a spiritual gift of hospitality as any. As it is with those who make the coffee, do the washing up and so much more behind the scenes stuff. Hospitality isn’t only a spiritual gift of putting out the table and offering lifts, it’s not only a spiritual gift for some people. In the context of Romans 12 here, Paul talks about it in the context of love. The active love of God’s people for each other, God’s people for God and even their enemies. Nobody is to be left out.

This loving hospitality is expected by all who love Jesus. This loving hospitality is not a spiritual gift as those Paul list in earlier verses. This hospitality is universal. As we begin to look at hospitality, let’s continue to practise universal hospitality here with one another, welcoming the stranger, the regular and the familiar. The practising of hospitality might also suggest that we have chance and time to perfect it even more. Each time we offer hospitality at church or at home, wherever we do it, let’s get better and better on every occasion. Should we pray?

Closing prayer

Lord God, we thank you that Jesus was welcomed into so many places to talk, to discuss, to debate, to eat and to befriend. Thank you for the welcome of this place. Thank you that there are so many people who are at home here. We pray for that to be extended somehow. That as we walk in our everyday life we would be aware of the hospitality that comes from Jesus living through us. Help us to extend that hospitality that Jesus would extend to us to others. We pray for those who are lonely. We pray that this would be a refuge and a hospital for those that need it. Would you fill us with your spirit that we can work and witness to your praise and glory. Amen.

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After the talk, Gill Morgan read Romans 12 verses 1 and 2.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2, NIVUK)

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Scripture quotations marked NIVUK are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.