Welcoming Community, 14th September 2019, Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
Just want to focus upon one saying this morning.
34 ‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world…. I was a stranger and you invited me in,
37 ‘Then the righteous will answer him, 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in…?
41 ‘Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me … 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in…
44 ‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger…
”I was a stranger and you invited me in.”
It is a parable about the final judgement. By the Son of Man. By Jesus. It repeats 4 times 6 situations of need. Yet when we read the NT, we see that Jesus is not saying salvation is based upon good deeds. Salvation is for those who believe and trust in Jesus, as Lord, Saviour, and who turn – repent – away from their previous self centred lives. Instead these responses to need, are fruit, indicators of a Christian, of someone following Jesus.
This heart for the needy – these situations of need, the challenge to respond to them, would surely also come under loving your neighbour, as the Parable of the Good Samaritan points to quite a few of them in the actions. However, in this parable I am assuming the brothers and sisters of mine refer to fellow Christians, whether Jew or Gentile
The word for stranger in this Greek is xenos. From this word we get xenophobia – the fear or hatred of what is perceived to be strange or foreign. Jesus points to his people not be xenophobic, but love for the stranger, the foreigner. And this is part of the character of the Godhead.
Deuteronomy 10. Moses is teaching, as we shared last week, for the last time to the people of God, the last crack at them before they enter the promised land. Last week, we shared how the people of God are to be a generous community. Here. Moses describes who God is. Now, earlier this year we had a teaching day on Exodus 34 which says ”the LORD THE LORD, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” Here Moses shares further who God is : For the LORD your God is God of Gods, and Lord of Lords, the great God, mighty and awesome – words we know well in our songs etc
who shows no partiality, and accepts no brides – pure, holy, unbiased – again well known…
”he defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.”
Part of who God is, Moses says is – he loves the alien – the foreigner, the migrant, the stranger. And he says the Hebrews are to love aliens too – because God does – and because they were… This theme of caring for the widows, the fatherless, the alien / foreigner, is repeated many times in Deuteronomy. A generous and a welcoming community. Love the ones who are stranger or foreign. So when Matthew 25, read by Jewish believers in Jesus – to whom it was first written – this is not a new list, this is what has been expected of the people of God since the days of Moses. It is possible to say that that is the OT for nation, and we are a Body scattered across the nations. Yet the laws are grounded upon God’s character – which never changes. So if Deut 10 is describing who our God is, then as worshippers and followers of God, we need to find ways to express and reflect God’s character in our lifestyle…
”I was a stranger and you invited me in” reflects God’s character.
Now when we read the word ”invited me in”. We can immediately think of that era. How in Matthew 10, Luke 9 and 10, we hear of the disciples going out in pairs and seeking hospitality in the towns. We see it in Acts – Peter stays with Simon the Tanner, Paul and Silas are welcomed into business woman Lidia’s home. And other examples of hospitality are indicated in Paul’s letters.
The word used for invited me in. Is Synago. This Word means gathered together. Draw together. Collected – like fish in a net. To join together, to join into one what was previously separate. If you follow the use of this word in Matthew for example, you see it often used connected to gathering – Herod – gather the teachers when the Messiah will be born. John the Baptist says Jesus will gather the wheat into the barn. Jesus says – when two or three are gathered in his name.
So people gathered together, drawn together, joined together, joined into one. A community is formed, people are drawn into a community. Jesus says – when I was a stranger, you synago – gathered me, joined into one what was separate, drawn together. I think it is, there are different approaches to hospitality. There is my house my castle – and you are passing through, I am not trying to build relationship or community with you. And there is ‘my house is your house’ . You are part of this family as long as you are here. The stranger is welcomed in, and the physical actions, heart actions, head actions all line up. When you invite in a stranger, welcome, do you seek to form community, draw them into your community, or ‘my house, my castle.’
To move on. How can we be a welcoming community? How can a stranger be gathered in, joined into one with us, they were separate and now are drawn in. Well it comes down to our actions isn’t it? Jesus says – I was a stranger, you invited me in.
We need to consider, as strangers come to this congregation – strangers – people who are not yet friends. I love a quote in the home group materials when they looked at this issue:
”The spiritual discipline of hospitality is a continual process of transforming sojourners into kinfolk and strangers into friends.” (Michael E. Williams).
We are an intentional community – a body – brothers and sisters in Christ – and so the stranger, the fellow Christian who comes from whatever town or country or denomination – is a spiritual sibling. And yet to invite them in, to join them together, to gather then into this community, takes our actions and the call to be generous. We shared last week, generosity in the early church was much broader than financial giving. It was also about space, time, energy and simply using what they had to give.
I thought on this. I remember my friend James. James joined uni when I was in my last year. James was a Christian and he was part of the Christian Union. Years later he told me, how Stu – one of my best friends of mine – and I had welcomed him into the networks and groups. He said he was a bit in awe of us, as we were these more mature Christians – he didn’t know us very well! He said, rather than keeping to our friendship circles and you all go out together in a tight group, we invited him in. I was never aware of that. James also did and still does find social settings tricky. It meant a whole lot to him what we did. I don’t remember any conscious decisions. I remember as CU we were committed to all being welcomed – regardless of church background, nationality, Christian spirituality, personality.
At this moment, Benji and Marit are settling into Macclesfield and looking for a church to be part of. They will arrive as strangers in congregations. Ruben goes to Capenwray and is going to share a room with 3 other guys, and study for 6 months with a bunch of people he’s never met. Julia when she goes to Israel, joining a congregation she doesn’t know, interns she will work with she has not met. Ruben, Julia, will be strangers, compared to how they are here. There will be prayers that you their friends and people like me will be praying for them. We will use words in our prayers like settle, like being connected, feeling at home, feeling part of the group etc etc. You are praying, in effect, for people to act, to invite in, to live out the words Jesus says. Let the way you pray for Ruben, Marit, Benji, Julia, be a model for how you act within this community. As you imagine people welcoming them in, may you in the same way welcome the strangers who come here. Not just a pleasant hello, but to help them become joined to this community, drawn into this community of All Saints. You see for some people coming, people will be praying for their friends, brothers and sisters, moving to Amersfoort. Those people will be pray the same things for their friends or family you may well be praying for Marit Ruben, Benji and Julia. That as Jesus says: I was a stranger and you invited me, welcomed me in. There will be people coming and people who are here, for whom God is inviting you to be an answer to prayers of others…
Joined together. Welcome takes many forms. It begins on a Sunday. Welcome on a Sunday morning or at other services – welcome before the service – an important role of our stewards – welcome within the service – someone is lost where we are in a book and you point it out or share you book – welcome afterwards, getting to know them, if convenient introducing them to others in this congregation. That is all good stuff. But we said it is about joined together, drawn. So a person is truly welcomed, and this is part of my heart for All Saints, that each person who comes to All Saints goes on a journey, accompanied and led by you that helps that person become part of the heart of this community, not to feel on the outside, but to arrive at place of having friendships, feel accepted, contributing to the life of this community. That is what a welcoming community looks like.
It builds upon the foundation that we are a community intentional formed by the Lord – we are one Body, we are brothers and sisters in Christ and through Christ; to form and sustain a truly welcoming community takes generosity – time energy, space, and other things. A welcoming community is what the Lord desires of his people –
”I was a stranger and you invited me in…”
Shall we pray this prayer together:
you have welcomed us into your kingdom
and your heart’s desire
is to draw every human being to yourself.
Grant us clear eyes to see people as you see them, sensitive feet to stand in their shoes, and warm smiles to welcome them in your name.
Give us such generous hearts,
that our church becomes a foretaste of heaven
where every soul you send us, finds their loving home
in the community of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen