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The Call to Entertain
July 16, 1978

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

DEUTERONOMY 10:19; 2 KINGS 4:8-17; MARK 6:7-13

A lady once answered the ringing of her doorbell, and opened the door to find two neighborhood children all dressed up in their parent’s clothes. The little girl was about five, the little boy about two. They were all dressed up with hats and clothes too long. She had a little lipstick on and she said, “We're Mr. And Mrs. Smith, and we've come to call.” The neighbor said, “Well, come on in Mr. Mrs. Smith” and seated them in the living room. She talked to them a little bit and then said, “Would you care for some tea?” The little girl said, “Oh, we'd love to have some tea.” So the neighbor went out to get some milk and cookies, but as she was coming back to the living room, the two kids were on the way out the door. She said, “Oh, the tea is ready.” The little girl said, “We're very sorry, but we have to go. Mr. Smith just wet his pants!” 

The neighbor was practicing one of the biblical injunctions— the call to entertain, to welcome strangers and offer hospitality. This is an ancient custom, especially in the nomadic culture: welcome the stranger, treat the visitor as an honored guest and give to the guest, the stranger, the foreigner, the unknown person, all the status and privileges of an honored person. The stranger in the midst was entitled to protection, entitled to sustenance, to food, to whatever the person needed. Especially was this injunction important to the Hebrew people. They were told to remember when God took pity on you, when you were a stranger in the land of Egypt, God rescued you, God saved you. Deuteronomy 10:18-19 “So therefore be hospitable to the strangers, take care of the widows and the orphans, and the stranger.” It is God who sees justice done for the orphan and the widow who loves the stranger and gives them food and clothing. Love the stranger then, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The law is again stated in Leviticus 19:34. “Treat foreigners as you would a fellow Israelite and love them as you love yourselves.” 

This principle was carried over into the New Testament. Jesus survived on hospitality. As Jesus journeyed from time to time, he took nothing with him but depended on the hospitality of those who would entertain. What an honor and privilege it was to entertain Jesus! We heard in the New Testament lesson the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples when he sent them out on missions, “Take nothing with you except a walking stick—no beggars bag, no food, no money, not even an extra shirt. Wherever you are welcomed, stay in the same house until you leave.” And Jesus gave a warning to those who were not hospitable. To those who would not entertain, those who would not reach out, who would not open their houses, Jesus told the disciples, “Shake the dust off your feet.” Have nothing more to do with them. Shake the dust off, be rid of them. No more opportunities will come to their house. No more invitations will come to that house. No more calls to entertain. Shake the dust off your feet. 

And this principle was carried over into the early church. It was one of the rules given by Paul and by Peter. In 1 Peter 4:9-10 the early Christians were instructed to open your homes to each other without complaining. Open your homes. All of you practice hospitality. Roger and Lorene Kuestart practice hospitality not only for people but for birds. They have 60 birds that come to their house every day and eat the seed they put out. That is welcoming and entertaining. Especially is this a call, a challenge to the Christians, to you and to me. Especially is this a call to welcome and to reach out to those who are unknown. And especially is this a call to reach out to the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged.

Jesus told the story of the man who invited guests and the guests didn't come. Jesus said, “Then go out and get the poor.” Those are the ones to entertain. Those are the ones to welcome. Jesus told us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, meet people's needs, whatever those needs are. Attempt to meet people's needs, especially those needs of people who cannot do anything for you in return— the poor. Isn't it interesting, at least in my experience, that it's often the poor themselves who are the most hospitable. I remember in college when I was pastor of two country churches. I was just a poor college student. At one home in particular, I used to like to stop in—footloose and fancy free. You soon learn in pastoral visitation what time people eat, and at the right time I just happen to pass by. At this particular house, they had several teenagers close to my age. I was a fun house. I ate many meals in that house. Especially could she make biscuits—homemade biscuits with peanut butter on them just as they come out of the oven! It was years later that I finally put together that she had biscuits so often because flour was cheap. They were a large family and sometimes all we had was biscuits. And, dumb, I didn't put that together. Payday was on Friday, and Friday was the day they bought groceries for the week. And when those groceries ran out as the week went by, biscuits were what they ate. That's all they had. But never once did I get the clue that they were down to their last bit of flour. They welcomed. They entertained. They were hospitable. Perhaps the poor make such good hosts and hostesses because they know what it is to be needy. They know what it is to share. 

Our call is to entertain. How do we do as a church? How are we as a church? How hospitable are we? I think we do fairly well reaching out to needs when they come to us, when we're confronted with needs. We respond well with our offerings. We respond well with our food. How do we welcome the strangers that come in our midst? Do you notice where they are sitting during the greeting so you can go up and introduce yourself? Don't let shyness inhibit you from being hospitable. The call is to welcome, to open your arms and say, “What is mine is yours. Welcome to our church.” 

Entertaining has its rewards. Our Old Testament Lesson is a story about Elisha, one of the early prophets. A lot of miracle stories are associated with Elisha. Elisha stopped at one particular place often for the woman fed him and when she realized he had no place to stay, she had her husband build a little room for Elisha with a bed and a chair. Every time he came to town, he had a place to stay. You heard the story. For her efforts, she was blessed with a baby. He pulled off a miracle. She gave birth to a baby. Now don't worry about having a baby if you're hospitable. Don't worry about any big miracle coming out of the sky. But, the point is, when one welcomes and entertains, God is encountered in that relationship. Jesus said, Matthew 10:40, “They who welcome you welcome me.” 

It's a tradition in the monasteries through the years that when a guest comes, Christ comes in the person of that guest. Hebrews 13:2 says, “Remember to welcome strangers in your home. There were some who did that and welcomed angels without knowing it.” They welcomed angels without knowing it. Remember the Abraham and Lot story when the guests turned out to be angels. When you reach out to meet a need, when you reach out with no thought of return, God can be encountered in that reaching out. You may be entertaining an angel who blesses you. God doesn't necessarily bless us when we share, God blesses us so we can share. God has made everyone in this room wealthy. Americans are the wealthiest people in the world. All of us here are rich people. We have things, countless things. We've been blessed with our houses, all our cars and whatever. We’ve been blessed, not so we can gloat, not so we can lord it over other people, not so we can feel superior. God has given us things to share them. 

God has blessed our nation that we may share with the world, not to be selfishly arrogant about what we have. God has blessed our church, not that we can keep things nice just for ourselves, but that we reach out and share. God has made you wealthy, that you may share, entertain, be hospitable and meet the needs especially of the poor. For it is written in 1 Peter 4:10, “Each one as a good manager of Gods different gifts must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God.” God has given you a special gift to use for the others. When much is given, much is expected. God blesses us that we may share. 

But the best reward of all, the most cherished blessing of entertaining and sharing one's goods is that in that act, we are reenacting the gospel itself. We are reenacting the gospel again, for God reaches out to the needy. God reached into Egypt and saved the Israelites. When we reenact that act, we experience the blessing, the joy and the privilege of reenacting that gospel. 

Do you remember when you were needy, when you were depressed, when you were discouraged, when you felt lost, when you didn't know where you belonged, when you didn't know where you fit, and God reached out? We call that salvation. God said, “Come over to my place, come over and eat at my place. Come on over to heaven, to salvation, redemption.” In reaching out, God met our needs. 

We can find in God, in a relationship with Jesus Christ, ourselves, our belonging, our encouragement and when we reach out to others and to be hospitable, we reenact that drama. The motivation to share is gratitude for all we have. Out of gratitude we are given the opportunities to share with others. “They who welcome you welcome me,” said Christ.

© 1978 Douglas I. Norris