“Hospitality: A Dangerous Act with Strangers and Angels”
We have spent a lot of time talking about hospitality. In many ways it is like singing to the choir because we have some real hospitality skills. There is much we could teach others about hospitality. I suspect that when people join us here, they find themselves feeling welcomed. And yet, we cannot get away from the fact that the bible just keeps talking about hospitality. It will not do to read the bible as if we are to master some skill then we can pass on the passages that address that topic.
The fact is, hospitality is part of what identifies us, not only in our congregation, but in the church as a whole. This is true because it is a characteristic of God. God establishes what hospitality looks like and God has welcomed us into the family with open arms and seated us at the royal table.
Today we are in Hebrews. An interesting book, I suspect it is actually a sermon. Sometimes it seems to raise its voice and even pound on the pulpit to keep our attention. One of the messages found in Hebrews is certainly to stay awake, stay alert. And the reason for this is the people are living in a state of urgency.
The people who first heard the Hebrews sermon were in danger of dying and that causes some to lose faith. So we get a whole chapter about people who did die but kept the faith. Read chapter eleven, there is a long list of people mentioned as people who kept the faith even as they lost their life. We are reminded there is a dangerous history for those who have walked in faith.
But today we find ourselves in chapter 13, it begins clearly, “love your sisters and brothers…” This sounds ok, we’ve heard it before, it sounds like something Jesus might say. The text goes on to imply that we ought to ”love strangers.” This is a reminder that when we are practicing hospitality we do not pick and choose who the recipient is. This seems to go against societal advice. “Show hospitality to strangers.” While we do not hear that often, we do hear advice like “don’t talk to strangers” and phrases like “stranger danger.” These sayings are not without cause. Many, including children, have been harmed during interaction with strangers. Laws have been made in response to some of these encounters. Do not accept candy from someone you do not know. Do not get too close to an unfamiliar van. We are well aware of the dangers in situations like these.
Yet, here we have it, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers.” It almost sounds polite. As if the writer of Hebrews says “love your sisters and brothers” and oh, by the way, “don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers.” And then, the text tells us that any stranger out there could be an angel. This is interesting, “some of you have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
Quite frankly, if we are entertaining angels, it is probably best we don’t know about it. Every time one shows up in the bible, someone falls to the ground, someone hides their face, someone becomes afraid. We have to wonder if angels are hideous or intimidating. Yet, Hebrews tells says that some have shown hospitality to them without knowing it. At the very least, this sounds dangerous.
Hebrews then mentions prisoners. Are prisoners an example of strangers that are worthy of our hospitality? Aren’t these the bad guys? I don’t have to remind you of the recent shooting here in PA. Twelve were shot in a bar with no clear motive. This is another reminder that someone needs to be demonstrating a different way. The bible makes clear that someone is the church. A people who will show hospitality in unlikely places and to unlikely people. Hebrews suggests “hospitality to strangers.” I can’t help but think how dangerous that sounds.
I am reminded of my oldest daughter. When five years old, playing with two others (also five) in a yard near the alley. One of the mothers was watching from the window when a pick-up truck pulled up. A gentleman began speaking to the children. The mother made her way outside and as she approached, the truck pulled away. When she asked the children who they were talking to, they replied they didn’t know who it was. And then, appropriately, this mother gave the speech about the danger of talking with strangers. I am told my daughter replied “we weren’t worried, we knew that God would protect us.” That did not impress the mother. I am not exactly sure of what I think about it. But it did remind me that Jesus told us that in order to enter the kingdom one must become as a child.
Hebrews says clearly “do not forget to show hospitality to strangers.” What are we to do with this? And it is not as if the Hebrews were safe. In fact, they were in danger of losing their lives. It is one of the reasons the writer reminds us to keep on assembling together. We can’t survive such dangerous territory on our own.
One day in the early pages of the bible, Abraham and Sarah were camping when they were approached by three travelers. They did not hide the valuables. They did not put out the fire and shut the door on the tent. They did not strategize a plan to pretend they weren’t home. Instead, they invited them to stay and eat. They entertained them and it is only later we learn that among the travelers were angels. We cannot help but think about Hebrews “do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, you might be showing hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
It might seem so contradictory to use our hospitality skills on a stranger. We might be reminded that one day Jesus was asked about a neighbor. He replied with a surprising story about a Samaritan’s hospitality. And those in the crowd would have been shocked. They would have thought it was impossible and contradictory for a neighbor and a Samaritan to be the same person. It is more likely they would have considered him to be a stranger.
Hospitality might seem so easy. But the fact is, it is a challenge. While showing hospitality, we can never be sure what we’re getting into. Hospitality is risky business. Why venture into something where you can be taken advantage of? Why risk people thinking that you are a pushover? Why enter such dangerous situations at all? All we know is that Hebrews says “do not forget to show hospitality to strangers” and we are reminded that hospitality is downright dangerous.