Tag Archives: Hospitality

God’s People, part 249: Agabus

Read Acts 11:27-30

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”  (John 13:34, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 249: Agabus. There’s not much to be said about Agabus, as there are only several verses in the entire New Testament, all with in Acts, that are in reference to him. In today’s Scripture, we learn that prophets from Jerusalem were coming to the city of Antioch in Syria and prophesying to the people there. Before we talk about Agabus himself, we must first understand a little bit about Antioch.

Though there were other cities named Antioch in the ancient world, the one described in Acts 11 is the city was located in what is now the modern city of Antakya, Turkey. Syrian Antioch, as it is known by historians and scholars, was the seat of the governor of the Roman Province of Syria. This city was a major center of early Chrisitanity and it was traditionally first evangelized by Peter and, later, by Barnabas and Paul. It was a beneficial to be located because it existed along the silk road, the spice trade, and the Royal Road, making it a major travel hub.

Christianity utilized such routes and major hubs to spread from city to city throughout the Roman empire; thus, it is not shocking that the first major center of Christianity outside of Jerusalem would be Syrian Antioch. It also makes sense why Jewish prophets from Jerusalem would travel to Antioch, which was the region’s example of Hellenistic culture and Roman rule. Again, we don’t know much about these prophets, but every indication is that they were Jewish Christians.

Agabus was one of these prophets and he came to the city of Syrian Antioch in order to warn the citizens there that a great famine would be falling upon the entire Roman Empire. While, I am sure that many in Antioch laughed at Agabus and his prophecy, and Luke shares that it wasn’t fulfilled until sometime during the reign of Claudius (41-54 AD), the Christians in Antioch from taking him and his prophecy seriously.

The early Christians had plenty in Antioch and, out of concern for their mother church, they sent supplies to Jerusalem to ensure that they had enough to survive the famine. What an amazing act of faith and self-sacrifice. They didn’t horde what they had in order to make sure they were safe and sound; rather, they shared their resources with those they knew were less fortunate than them.

First, what a blessing that Agabus answered his call to warn people of the coming famine. Second, how amazing is it that the earliest Christians heeded that warning, even if others didn’t, and shared their resources with their sisters and brothers in Jerusalem. We should be challenged by this. We who are the church, we who are followers of Christ, should be willing to share what we have with other Christians who are in need. If we are to take care of those who do not currently belong to our divine family, we must first be willing to take care of fellow family members.

What a witness to the world we would be if we, as Christians, made such hospitality and mutual love a part of our identity. Such a church would attract people like a magnet, just like the church in Antioch attracted many to it. Imagine a world where we care for each other and, together, we care for the least of these regardless of who they are or what creed they do or don’t follow. Such a church would certainly begin to usher in the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Let us be such Christians who make up such a church.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
LOVE is the order of the day, every day, for all days.

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and create in me a loving, generous and hospitable heart. Amen.

God’s People, part 180: Mary of Bethany

Read Luke 10:38-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.’”  (John 11:32, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

MaryAointingJesusPart 180: Mary of Bethany. I belong to a group of clergy who meet to preach and discuss preaching before each other. It is a small covenant group that was established to help us all better hone our preaching skills. Like any group of professionals, clergy are always seeking ways to grow in their effectiveness as preachers, teachers and communicators.

Today, as I sit down and write this devotion on Mary of Bethany, I must confess that I was blessed to hear a sermon from a good friend and colleague, Rev. Amanda Rohrs-Dodge, on Martha and Mary of Bethany. The sermon was around the subject of hospitality and that there are really many different forms that hospitality comes in.

As was discussed in the last devotion, Martha and Mary had Jesus over as their guest. In that culture, one that was built on honor, it was a sacred duty to show radical hospitality to one’s guests. Such hospitality included making them feel at home, tending to their every need, preparing a feast, and ensuring that the guest had a safe place to rest and be. That is why, in the Old Testament, people like Lot went to troubling extremes to defend his guests from the towns people who were wanting to have their way with them.

As such, Martha was busy busy being the host, tending to Jesus’ every need and making sure everything was in order, dishes prepared, food cooked, etc. What’s more, when she saw Mary sitting and listening to Jesus rather than helping her with what needed to be done, she complained to Jesus about how unfair it was that Mary wasn’t helping out. She did this to scold her sister and she asked Jesus to send her sister away to help her.

This is where Rev. Amanda’s sermon comes in, because she shed light on an important point that I had never even considered before. While Martha was showing Jesus hospitality through taking on the role of the host, Mary was also showing Jesus hospitality by simply sitting and listening to him. She was showing radical hospitality through being present for Jesus. In fact, the account does not tell us that any one else was doing that. I just mentions that Mary was there listening to him.

Whether there were others or not is beyond the point. We so often look for God to be present with us, we look for Jesus to be present in our lives, but do we ever stop to consider being present for God? After all, what more does God want that a relationship with us? What’s more, how can we have a relationship with God if we are not present for God to have said relationship? Healthy relationships are always a two-way street.

Mary was not perfect at this, by any means. In her moment of grief and despair at the death of her brother, she was angry at Jesus because he wasn’t present for her brother when he was gravely ill. In not being present for her brother, she felt he had abandoned her as well. She wouldn’t have had to grieve and experience the pain death and loss if Jesus had just showed up.

With that said, in her grief she also failed initially to realize that Jesus, too, was grieving the loss of Lazarus. Knowing there is a grander plan in place does not make the death of a loved one any easier. Who was present for Jesus in his pain and in his grief? Yet, relationships are a give and take and Jesus understood why Mary was upset and it grieved him all the more.

Still, when not consumed by grief and despair, Mary was a person who chose to be present for Jesus. She didn’t look for him to serve her, she served him and looked to learn from the One she loved so dearly. That is why, while all the other disciples were missing the point, Mary was the one who anointed Jesus’ feet, an act that symbolically prepared his body and spirit for the brutal death he was about to face. That is why Jesus said that whenever people talk about his death and suffering, they will remember the kindness, compassion, and presence of Mary.

Indeed, this ought to challenge each of us to grow in our hospitality. We ought to be hospitable to others, and we ought to play the part of the host, attending to the physical needs of others. But we also need to balance the inner-Martha with Mary as well. We ought not merely be busy, but take time to actually be present with those we are serving. What’s more, we ought to reflect on how we can show hospitality to ourselves and to God. Let this be our challenge, that we grow from distracted, busy hosts to radically hospitable people.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
It is important that we not only show hospitality to other people, but that we show it to the One who first showed it to us. All that requires is our sincere presence.

PRAYER
Lord, You are always present for me, to the point I need not even ask for that. Now, Lord, I want to be present for you as well. Thank you for being in relationship with me and create in me a more hospitable and present spirit. Amen.

Strawberry in a Cup

Read 2 Kings 4:8-17

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

strawberry-03This past Thursday through Saturday, my family and I went down to Wildwood, NJ in order to attend the Greater NJ Annual Conference in the United Methodist Church. This is an annual meeting of clergy and lay delegates from each of the churches in the conference get together in order to vote on church legislation, worship, join in the commissioning and ordaining of new ministers, and fellowship. So, every year, my family and I make the three and a half hour trek to Wildwood in order to take part in the conference.

As most know by now, I abstain from eating any meats, dairy and eggs. Eating out can be pretty rough no matter where I go, because most restaurants have not given much thought to alternative lifestyles. Often times, I will end up getting a salad and I usually have to tell them to hold about 3-5 ingredients in order to make the salad vegan.

As you can imagine, Wildwood is not the most vegan-friendly place. It is a shore town and that equates to all the foods I used to love but no longer eat. Things like seafood and board walk food is common place at Wildwood, but vegan fare is not. So it takes my family and I a while to find restaurants that we all can eat in…restaurants that offer options for us all.

On Thursday evening, we ended up going to a restaurant called Tavern on the Bay that advertised brick oven pizzas, two for $25 dinner specials, and other great sounding things. When we got there I ordered a grilled veggie pizza and some seltzer water and was content to be eating something other than a salad. It was delicious.

When it came time for dessert, I knew I was out of luck. There was just no way they were going to be able to accommodate me, because the desserts they offered were laden with cream, eggs, and other non-vegan ingredients. Actually, I was quite okay with that because I don’t tend to eat to many sweet things anyway. After all of the desserts were delivered, however, our waitress came out with one more…a plump and succulent strawberry in a tiny serving cup.

When I saw it, I was taken back. I couldn’t believe she did this on her own. I hadn’t asked for a dessert, nor even hinted at wanting one. With that said, this waitress had compassion on me. She saw that I was going without a dessert while everyone else was eating one, and she took it upon herself to get me a strawberry in a cup.

While that isn’t a whole lot and most people dismiss the though of ordering a single strawberry in a cup, that didn’t matter to me. I was so thankful for that single strawberry that my reaction to it was as if I had received a whole bushel of strawberries. The truth is that acts of hospitality, no matter how small, make a world of a difference in people’s lives. This woman, through the strawberry in a cup, showed me radical hospitality.

Jesus also calls us to be bearers of radical hospitality. We are called to show that hospitality to people, no matter how small of a showing it might be. Remember that the tiniest of seeds turns into the largest of trees. So it is with hospitality. Even the smallest of acts will blossom within the hearts of those who receive it. So, be hospitable. Be compassionate and find your strawberry in a cup, whatever it actually might be, and give it to someone in need of some love!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

The word ‘hospitality’ in the New Testament comes from two Greek words. The first word means ‘love’ and the second word means ‘strangers.’ It’s a word that means love of strangers.

PRAYER

Lord, present me with ample opportunities to show hospitality and continually remind me of my need to rise up to every occasion! Amen.