Just what is hospitality?
When we think about hospitality and the bible, we generally think about Martha and Mary hosting Jesus. And, we generally believe that Mary got it right. The truth is, neither one of them got it quite right! Why you might ask?
It is helpful to remember the origin and definition of biblical hospitality. In ancient Near East times, nomads practiced hospitality in the desert. A stranger would arrive at their camp, and it was common practice… even expected… that they would take in this stranger overnight, feed them, give them a place to sleep and care for them. In exchange, the stranger would share news with them… things that were going on in the world around them. Both contributions in the relationship were of equal value. The host depended on the stranger to stay informed and up to date on the news. Remember, no cell phones, no internet, no snail mail. This was it. It was a relationship of mutual trust and respect.
So hospitality is both giving and receiving…
There is a reaching out through simple acts of service, but also a drawing in of mutual gifts and surprises. Neither Mary nor Martha got it quite right, but Mary, according to Jesus chose the best part of hospitality.
Martha welcomed Jesus into her home by cooking and cleaning and sheltering Jesus and the others… but Mary, took time to engage and receive the news they had to share. Together, Mary and Martha would have been exemplary hosts to Jesus… but Martha mistakenly thought that it was only about giving and doing rather than receiving. She missed the gift of the stranger… the news Jesus came to share.
In a time where churches everywhere need to grow, the practice of hospitality has never been more important. And we Americans are not so great at it. We tend to be Marthas… doing and giving… but not really good at receiving the gifts or news that the stranger brings.
We can practice hospitality both individually as well as corporately.
In both cases, there is always a mutual exchange. The trouble is, most churches are not ready for a mutual exchange. And yet, the love of God is generative… it changes things… and as we open our church to the stranger bearing new gifts and new expressions of love and worship, we need to ask ourselves if we are ready for whatever shape that may take. There could be potential of deep hurt and injustice if we resist.
“(Hospitality) is a choice. We choose to reject suspicion as the first reaction to a stranger. We choose to minister along side of others rather than to them. We choose to let go of some of our own control when we meet strangers and when we interact with those we’ve known for years. We choose to expect surprises from strangers – good surprises that come from God.”– Michele Hershberger, A Christian View of Hospitality: Expecting Surprises
“Airbnb has proven that hospitality, generosity, and the simple act of trust between strangers can go a long way.” – Joe Gebbia, CEO Airbnb
I believe that churches can and will grow as we practice this kind of hospitality. But, we need to be ready when God brings new people through our doors to receive the gifts they bring. We need to let go of our fears, our suspicions and our need to control and open our hearts to the wonderful surprises that they bring. So how do we work at this? How do we flex our spiritual muscles when it comes to hospitality?
Here are a few things we can try:
As a family:
Invite someone to your home for a simple meal. Try preparing as much as you can ahead of time so that you can spend most of your time listening to their stories and getting to know them better. After they leave, take time as a family to name what you appreciated most about your guest. Do you think that you were enriched some how ? Did you grow in anyway? Did you learn something new?
As an individual:
Make a special effort to welcome a new neighbor or a new colleague at work. Try taking them out for coffee or simply drop off a housewarming gift. Go with the idea of getting to know them and finding something you can appreciate about them. After your time together, offer a simple prayer to God thanking God for the gift in that person.
Jesus once told a tale of sheep and goats. One group was successful in following Jesus the other group, well… it wasn’t. According to Jesus, the only difference between the two groups is what they did and didn’t do. One group was able to practice hospitality and one wasn’t… and that was important. Because Jesus told them, “Whenever you did it (Hospitality) for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.” – Matthew 25:40
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5: 17-18
Last week we talked about how hard praying without ceasing might seem… especially when we are tied to a particular form of prayer. This week, we are looking at gratitude… being grateful in all things. That might be just as hard as praying without ceasing, right? And yet, we know that gratitude is not only good for us spiritually but it also has scientifically proven health benefits. Gratitude helps us sleep better, suffer less from depression and generally improves our overall health… just to name a few.
So why is it so hard?
Gratitude isn’t a character trait we are born with. We have to flex our spiritual muscles and work at it! Here are a few simple things you can try at home:
As an individual:
Try keeping a gratitude journal each day. Simply jot down the little blessings in your or day that might go unnoticed. At the end of the day take time to thank God for each thing on your list… it doesn’t need to be complicated and simple thanks to God will work.
When you are having trouble feeling grateful:
Take some time and remember times in your life that you were keenly aware of God’s presence and provision. Perhaps there were times that you felt special care from other people. Try making a list of all of the God moments and grace filled moments you have experienced in your life. Ponder how much of those things you actually earned? Allow yourself to be filled with gratitude to God. Try thinking of a way to express that gratitude in some measurable way. Notice how that makes you feel and how it strengthens your love and appreciation for God.
As a family:
Try having a thank-you morning around the table. Encourage your kids to find as many things as they can to be thankful for. Let it be fun! When one person shares something they are thankful for, the rest of the family responds with three “thank you’s.” It might go like this: For Saturday cartoons, thank you, thank you, thank you… for sleeping in, thank you, thank you, thank you. For pancakes and chocolate milk, thank you, thank you.
As my children turned 13, we came up with a birthday ritual to mark that special transition into their teenage years. At their special birthday dinner, the family would go around the table and name something they were grateful for about them. What started out to be a little challenging for my children turned out to be a rich time of blessing and affirmation as we each expressed our gratitude for the special person God had created them to be. Try it for any occasion. You may be surprised by the power and depth of meaning that happens when we express gratitude and affirmation for another!
Sunday we talked about the many ways to pray. Often, we are very good at talking, or making requests, but not so good at listening.Here are some ways to practice tuning in to God:
As a family:
Take a walk, a hike or just find a comfortable place to sit outdoors with the idea of tuning in to God. Give your children the task of finding something outside that reminds them of God. At the end of the time, take some time to dialog as a family around the table. Let each person share what they noticed and why. Ponder together what God might have been saying to them as they “tuned in”. Offer a short prayer of thanks for each story and what God taught you during that time.
As an individual:
Try making a routine activity in your day into a time of listening and tuning into God like mowing the grass, folding the laundry, or preparing a meal. Be creative! Make a note of the things that you notice, or thoughts that seemed significant, or things that grabbed your attention that reminded you of God. At the end of your day, spend time thanking God for the little revelations you received. Ask God to show you if there is more God would like to teach you through these things.
Does your mind drift when you try to pray or listen to God? Try this simple way of praying. Find a comfortable place to sit and prayerfully dwell in God’s presence with an open heart. Make sure that you set aside some time where you will not be interrupted. Turn off noise makers. Now pick a word to focus on that symbolizes your desire to tune into God’s presence; like light, love, shepherd, rock, Jesus… just to name a few. As you sit quietly with your eyes closed, focus on that one word… as thoughts, worries or anxiety arises; gently turn your thoughts back to your sacred word. Allow the Spirit of God to draw you into a place of deeper communion.
First Church invites you to join in our Vacation Bible School: Rolling River Rampage! It is sure to be splashingly good fun!
Dates: June 18-21
Times: 6:30pm – 8:00 pm
For: Rising PK – Rising 8th graders
For more information or to inquire about registration, contact the church office at 540-434-8288.
You may now register online at: https://goo.gl/forms/fgNA9JwklD4HYOZ53
“Practicing the Presence” can sometimes seem like an elusive thing. Often, that is because we have certain expectations about the outcome… what the divine will look like in our lives. Other times, it is because there is no real formula for success. It is more about practice than perfection. For some of us that is a challenging thought… especially if we want to measure results.
Practicing the presence is more about desire, inquisitiveness and grace. We practice certain spiritual rituals such as prayer, dwelling in scripture, and contemplation because we believe that God is present and we long to notice and experience the grace of the moment when our longing is unexpectedly filled by God’s love.
As I ponder the very peculiar story of Moses and the burning bush, I am struck with three important practices: Read more
There were six of us folks who participated in the Community Garden Service Project on our church grounds—Julie Foster, Beth Burtner, Brenda Fox, Sharon Helbert, Tish Moore, and George Toscano. We spent the first part of the morning on Saturday, August 13, 2016, putting a 3-foot wide border of cardboard layered with mulch around the garden, giving the garden and the plants a protective barrier. We only got 2/3rds of the way around the garden, but we were proud to get this much accomplished given the heat and humidity that day. The church’s garden group hopes to finish the project in the near future when the summer heat isn’t such a factor.
Our garden is a cooperative effort with the New Community Project (NCP). Currently, we have corn growing. The garden is not meant to be a typical garden laid out in neat rows and weed free. Rather it was created in a U-shape which allows it to take advantage of natural drainage. It also is not meant to be plowed but consist of a series of mounds.
Our community garden is a work in progress. So far we have only grown drought resistant plants. Things we still need to do are to get a water source hooked up, and to educate ourselves in order to implement NCP’s garden philosophy and methods. Additionally, we need individuals who can commit their personal time and some financial resources to expanding and maintaining our garden.
We followed up our work in the garden with a tour of the Vine & Fig, which is the community established by NCP along North Main Street in Harrisonburg. You have probably passed by their “White House” with the painted columns on the left side of the street just Washington Street.
The goals of NCP are to practice peace, justice, and ecology. They transformed a neglected part of the city where there had been two crack houses and instead created living spaces for homeless individuals, individuals who have been in recovery for at least 6 months, immigrant families, and interns. In between the dwellings are gardens and energy conservation experiments. Products from the NCP gardens at this location and in the surrounding area are used in local restaurants as well as to feed the NCP community. In sum, NCP exists so we can learn to live simply in order to protect the earth’s resources, help individuals who have been at the margins of society, and promote peace and justice.
NCP seeks to maximize the output they get from their living spaces and gardens. For example, a greenhouse was dug and built several feet underground in order to take advantage of the earth’s heat. NCP uses the greenhouse to grow food in the winter. They also dug a pond in the greenhouse to use to grow tilapia fish. The pond is under the planting slats, and water from the pond containing rich nutrients from fish excrement is used to fertilize the plants. The plastic covering the greenhouse reflects heat which warms the fig trees grown alongside it that need a warmer temperature. The fig trees, in turn, shade the greenhouse.
NCP works with outside individuals interested in preserving our environment and food resources, and has cooperative arrangements with a number of colleges such as Juniata College and Laverne College. On the day of our tour, a Laverne college intern was spending his last day at NCP and a group from a Brethren church in Pennsylvania was working in the gardens. We also observed a moment of silence when a bell tolled calling us to pause to slow down, enter a time of quiet, and enjoy the natural world around us.
At the end of our Community Garden Service Project, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Little Grill, a worker owned coop and café. The Little Grill supports farm to table practices and uses local ingredients as much as possible.
2016 WEEKEND OF SERVICE SCHEDULE
August 12, 2016 Day of Service Kick-off (participants are to eat at home before coming to the church)
- 8:00 – Family Movie Night – a recently popular film with your favorite zoo animals (popcorn & drinks served beforehand)
- Camp Fire & S’Mores
August 13, 2016 Day of Service
- 8:00 a.m. –Breakfast (Bagels & Coffee)
- 8:30 a.m. – Pray & Commissioning
- Morning Service Projects – 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon
- Lunch (on your own)
- Afternoon Service Projects – 1:00 p.m. to 5: 00 p.m.
- Cook-out Dinner at Church – 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
- Free Swimming – 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
August 14, 2016 Church Service with Day of Service Celebration and Story Telling
Sunday Morning Worship
Wednesday Night Out Meal
5:30 PM to 6:30 PM
First Church of the Brethren
315 South Dogwood Drive
Harrisonburg, VA 22801