‘ . . . a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’ Luke 11:6
Hospitality is at the heart of being Christian.
On a July morning last year, a group of Irish people arrived into the diocesan guest house in Rwanda, I recognised them from a few days previously. They were staying at the most expensive hotel in the capital and visiting projects in the diocese with promises of all the things that the two building developers in their number could do if they were impressed with what they saw. (It would have been churlish to have pointed out that my old shoes probably had greater net worth than the two developers). Valentine, the cook had prepared a meal for the group, eight places were set at the table. “We haven’t time for that”, said the group’s leader, “we’ll just take the drinks and be on our way; we have an itinerary to keep up with”. They grabbed every bottle of soft drinks and left. Valentine stood and watched, a look of shock on his face. To abuse a person’s hospitality was one of the greatest possible insults.
The African host came back in through the door and I apologised for what had happened. “Do not worry”, he said, “I know that Irish people are not like that—and, you know, food in Africa never goes to waste”.
Last April, I returned to the diocese with two members of my Dublin parish. We were to attend the opening of a new church in a poor area of a city. Twenty-five members of that church had put on their Sunday best and had travelled to the airport, nineteen of them in a single minibus, in order to greet us as we arrived: there were handshakes and hugs and a song of welcome. Hospitality, for them, was regarded with far greater respect than by the Irish group last year .
Hospitality is assumed to be at the heart of being a Christian in Jesus’ teaching today. When Jesus is trying to teach his followers about God, he uses examples of generous human hospitality.
When we use the word ‘hospitality’ today, it has lost the strength it had in times past. For us hospitality has come to mean welcoming friends at our own convenience. In Jesus’ time it was altogether more demanding, it meant putting yourself out for others, without hesitation offering a welcome to those who came to the door.
Look at Jesus’ teaching – firstly, there is the person whose friend has arrived at midnight on a journey. People didn’t much go out that late at night, everywhere would have been closed and bolted and in darkness and there would have been dangerous people around. Yet the guest must be fed, so he is prepared to go out into the dark and call at another house to try to get food. The one in the house where the person calls doesn’t want to get out of bed at such an hour of the night – the place is locked up and all his family are in bed, yet, because a person has called for help, he will get up and give the man what he needs.
This is the picture that Jesus uses to illustrate God’s generosity towards us, and, if we are to be God’s people, then this must be the standard of generosity that we show to others.
Being a Christian is about much more than just believing, it’s about following, about showing in our lives what we say we believe with our lips. The weakest part of the life of the church today is discipleship, living out of the Christian faith. What we say we believe on Sundays often doesn’t make much difference to our lives during the rest of the week.
Jesus uses the example of hospitality because it is very simple and easily understood. It’s something that demands direct personal involvement, it asks much more of us than attending worship, or putting money on a plate or giving to charity, it asks that we get involved with people who are strangers, with people who are not like us, with people whom we might not even like. It demands personal sacrifice and making sacrifices is not something we like doing We live lives in a society that tells us that we should be centred on ourselves. What we are told by the media and by the advertisers and the by so-called lifestyle experts is that what matters is what we want and that we shouldn’t do anything that doesn’t make us feel good.
Jesus would have no time for those who would tell us that we should live our lives for ourselves. Jesus would tell us that we had to make a choice and that it is a hard choice. Jesus would tell us that we choose either living life God’s way, including all the practical, everyday sacrifices that demands, or we choose to live life our own way, and that we do not pretend to be Christians.
‘Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him’, says Paul in the Epistle this morning. Continuing to live in Jesus means you and I personally making our own response, in practical ways, each and every day.