Hospitality: The Midnight Neighbor--The Subtle Behaviors of a Disciple Part 2
Hospitality has an incredible power to change the course of a person's life.
The Subtle Behaviors of a Disciple Part 2
Hospitality: The Midnight Neighbor
There was a time in the good ole US of A when the coffee pot was on. My stepmom Pat would always have a pot of coffee ready and waiting for that unexpected guest. In the course of a day two sometimes three folks would just stop in unannounced, yes just show up without an appointment. Scandalous I know. But Pat would welcome them in, have that coffee ready and often something delicious to eat. What Pat was practicing was something called hospitality.
In years gone by the Pastor would come calling. Can you imagine, Saturday morning, a knock on the door and it’s the Pastor wanting to connect with you. One of my colleagues did exactly that visiting one of the senior adults of his congregation. He was invited in, sat on the couch, she sat in her comfy chair and a conversation pursed. He noticed a large bowl of peanuts on the coffee table. "Mind if I have a few?" he asked. "No, not at all!" the woman replied. They chat for an hour and, as the preacher stands to leave, he realizes that instead of eating just a few peanuts, he emptied most of the bowl. "I'm terribly sorry for eating all your peanuts. I really just meant to eat a few." "Oh, that's all right," the woman said. "With these new dentures, all I can do is suck the chocolate off them."
One of the Subtle Behaviors of a disciple is his or her practice of hospitality. I hope hospitality is not a lost art, but I fear the coffee pot is off. The reason why the followers of Jesus are to practice hospitality is because of how much hospitality God has shown them. Hospitality is what lovers do.
The parable of the persistent midnight neighbor is right in the middle of Jesus teaching about prayer. Keep that in mind as we read the parable.
Luke 11:5-8 (MSG)
Then [Jesus] said, "Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. 6 An old friend traveling through just showed up, and I don't have a thing on hand.'
7 "The friend answers from his bed, 'Don't bother me. The door's locked; my children are all down for the night; I can't get up to give you anything.'
8 "But let me tell you, even if he won't get up because he's a friend, if you stand your ground, knocking and waking all the neighbors, he'll finally get up and get you whatever you need.
Can you imagine? The audience to whom Jesus was speaking couldn’t. They would have been amazed that the in bed neighbor was snarky at first. Hospitality was and still is ingrained in Middle Eastern Culture. By Middle Eastern, I am not talking about Virginia, Maryland Delaware or New Jersey. Think more Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria and you will have a better idea of where the Middle East is. Hospitality remains a bedrock upon which the cultures of those countries rests. As now as in Jesus day, the grandest expression of hospitality was through food. “If today you were invited to dinner even by a very poor family, they will spend all their money and all their time to prepare a labor-intensive meal for you. Making you feel welcome makes them feel proud.” (YASSIN TEROU). Hospitality extended through a lavish meal is an expression of generosity and selflessness, a gift that the guest will be obliged to reciprocate. (Louisa Shafia)
I did learn this. A family of Lebanese origins was over at my house. The father was late at work and wanted us to start without him. We had finished the meal and were enjoying the desert when dad finally arrived. I offered the dad of the family a cup of coffee. It seemed to me the hospitable thing to do. He had a startled look on his face and then accepted. Later I learned that a host serves coffee to his guests at the end of the meal as a way of saying, “Thanks for the visit. It’s time to go now.”
Jesus audience knew that to be inhospitable to anyone, but especially a traveler was a serious breach of the expected protocol. Denying hospitality to the weary traveler was inconceivable. “Hospitality was sacred.” (Dan Seagren)
There are two aspects of this parable I want to explore with you. The first concerns God and prayer, the second is your hospitality.
Jesus is teaching His disciples about prayer. Right before the parable of the persistent midnight neighbor, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray like he prayers. Jesus gives them an outline that we call the Lord’s Prayer.
Luke 11:2-4 (KJV)
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Then comes the parable. I have listened to teachers of the scripture expound upon these verses and their take-home is that you have to be persistent in prayer. You have to knock and ask and pound on the throne room door of heaven to get what you need. “Don’t allow a “no” answer to deter you, keep praying, keep asking, never stop until you get what you want.” Personally, I don’t think that is what we are supposed to understand from this parable.
Jesus goes on to explain his parable.
Luke 11:9-13 (MSG)
"Here's what I'm saying:
Ask and you'll get; Seek and you'll find; Knock and the door will open. "Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing—you're at least decent to your own children. And don't you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?"
Jesus uses this parable to tell us something about the hospitality of God and how we don’t have to be like the persistent midnight neighbor. God is hospitable, not like the snarky neighbor. The Father is cordial, generous, full of goodwill towards those who seek to find their need met in Him. Just like the people to whom Jesus told this parable could not imagine that the neighbor would not get up and give leftovers to the one who asked, Jesus, is saying the Father will give to all who ask without pretense. You don’t need to bargain. “Father God, if you do this for me I will do that for you.” You don’t need to play hide and seek with you being the seeker and God hiding from you, ignoring you, dismissing you. No, Jesus says be direct. The Father loves you and will give you what you need. The first thing we learn from this parable is that the Father is gracious and hospitable.
What God expects in return for His hospitality is for you to be hospitable to others.
The subtle behavior of a disciple is hospitality; “a response of love and gratitude to others for God's love and welcome to us.” (Christine Pohl). Middle Eastern hospitality comes with an expectation, an obligation, to extend the hospitality you have received with others, especially reciprocation. The reciprocation that God desires, is your extending what you have received from Him to others.
How do you practice hospitality?
Memphis Calvary Church of the Nazarene was the first congregation in our faith community that I ever visited. I was greeted at the door by Charles Cork. Yes, after 380 years I still remember the greeter at the door of that congregation. Charles could tell right away that this young couple coming through the door was military. He extended a warm welcome and asked if there was anything we needed till our things arrived, he extended the use of linens, pots, and pans, whatever we needed. That was my first taste of Southern Hospitality. We enjoyed the service and this was back in the day when there was a Sunday Evening service. Can you imagine? Sunday School at 9:30, Worship Service at 11 and Evening Service at 6. Somebody was serious about helping you keep the Sabbath. And the meetings were full of attendees, such fanatics then. After the evening service, we were invited to “come on over and visit.” I don’t remember whose home we were invited to, but I remember Charles playing the piano, Edna and Gwen and Charles singing songs, all of us laughing, and enjoying a piece of pie. That’s why I came to become a member of the Nazarene faith community.
Now I am not saying we need to start a Sunday evening gathering so you can invite folks to your home. That story is about Memphis is to illustrate the incredible power of hospitality. That little touch of hospitality changed the entire course of my life. “Hospitality is the key to new ideas, new friends, new possibilities” (Joan D. Chittister)
How do you practice hospitality?
In Jesus parable, a traveler arrives late at night. Have you ever arrived at your destination late at night, road weary, maybe cold, hungry? This world is full of travelers, some are wanderers, they have no guiding light, they are lost in the darkness, caught in the rat race, most often abused by what passes off as life. Those who have yet to find their way in Christ are the tired travelers. If you offered hospitality to such a person, it might open the door of salvation for them. A simple invitation could change the entire course of their lives. Because you were hospitable to them, they experienced God’s love through you and came to acknowledge that they did not have this love in their lives and come to believe that Jesus could transform them from lost to found, and committed themselves to be a disciple and then went around offering hospitality to others. Your act of hospitality could change the world.
How do you practice hospitality?
Hospitality has the power to heal. The broken-hearted, the emotionally weary, the one dealing with loneliness, the fearful can all find a remedy in your gift of hospitality. Hospitality is a “cure for weariness, fear and sadness.” (J.R.R. Tolkien) It is a way to minister God’s love. “Hospitality is simply love on the loose.” (Joan D. Chittister)
You can extend hospitality by listening to someone. “The beauty of listening is that those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends…” (Henri J.M. Nouwen). You know the way to win a listen. Remember, it starts with a smile. A smile at a stranger, and then a “How are you doing?” to which most often here in America they will say “fine.” To which you reply, “Great, now tell me how you are really doing?” You may just have won a listen.
How do you practice hospitality?
Recall, hospitality is best served over a meal. By inviting someone for a meal, if not in your home, you can buy them a meal at some restaurant, is to share hospitality. Hospitality is leaving a tip with a note that asks God to bless your server. Hospitality is calling someone on the phone to see how they are doing. Hospitality is inviting someone to an event with you. You are actually inviting them into your life. You are creating space for them. (Joan D. Chittister)
Through your hospitality, you create space in your life for the other. You actually create free space in which the other can become a friend instead of a stranger or worse a suspected enemy. You create a space where change can happen in their lives and in yours. (Henri J.M. Nouwen)
Maybe this is why we read in scripture
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
The subtle behavior of a disciple is hospitality. Once you were a stranger to God, but God welcomed you in. As you practice hospitality you point the recipients of your love to the ultimate welcome God extends towards everyone in Christ. (Holly Sprink).
Practice hospitality. Turn the coffee pot back on.