In my previous congregation, we had a kitchen installed shortly after I came. It was a beautiful kitchen, with new countertops, a high-speed dishwasher that cleaned the coffee cups in five minutes, and an amazing industrial coffee maker that never needed to be filled with water. But when it was installed, there was great resistance to one concept: putting labels on the cabinets. They were so beautiful, everyone said. Can’t we put the labels on the inside of the cabinets? But we all recognized that would not really work. Because a church kitchen can never stay that pretty.
That’s the thing with churches; they’re communal places. When you put something down somewhere, it’s liable to be gone when you go to look for it again. Especially if it’s edible. Churches are places where things tend to move; where things tend to get broken; churches are places where nothing stays nice.
Or at least, they should be.
Because God calls us to show hospitality to others; to create places of community that serve those in need. The church is not really our home, it’s God’s home. And what God wants is to share His home with others.
NLT Hebrews 13:1-2: Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!
The preacher of Hebrews calls us to love one another as brothers and sisters. That means that the church is an extended family, and our church building is to be a place of love for all. Have you ever asked what God wants to do with your home? Your personal, family home?
When we decorate, design our kitchens, update our bathrooms, we don’t necessarily think about what God wants. We think about what we want, what’s comfortable, what’s trendy—as though we were all going to be featured in Better Homes and Gardens. We don’t tend to think about what’s most hospitable to others, or what’s most helpful to the community, or what best honors God.
Yet Hebrews 13:2 says to show hospitality not to members of our church, not to members of our family, not to friends of the family or even acquaintances, but to strangers.
This is a very challenging proposition. But you may say to me, this is from a different time, when people had to travel long distances by foot or by camel, and they had to stop and rest. They depended on hospitality. It was a different world; there was less crime.
This is also the Bible, God’s Word, the sharp sword that cuts into our hearts; show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels unawares.
The preacher of Hebrews is recalling Genesis 18, when Abraham and Sarah entertained the three angels at the Oaks of Mamre, who brought them good news of the coming of Isaac. This preacher is saying that when we allow strangers into our homes, we could be entertaining God in disguise.
That also means that when we refuse to make room for the stranger, we could be refusing a place for God in our lives.
After all, when the innkeepers of Bethlehem turned away a young couple on a busy night, they had no idea that they were denying hospitality to the Holy One himself.
As for the notion that there was less crime in the ancient world, I think those of us who have read through Judges can recognize that the ancient world was not always a friendly place for travelers. For the early Christian audience of Hebrews, it was a particularly scary thing to welcome a stranger, for as Christians they were practicing an illegal religion, and you never know who could report you to the Roman authorities.
Another way in which we open our homes to Christ is through the way we treat families.
Hebrews 13:4 Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.
Have you ever heard someone describe marriage as just a piece of paper? The Word of God calls us as Christians, whether we are married or not, to honor marriage rather than to dismiss it. Marriage has become counter-cultural these days, and fidelity to one person for life has become an outdated concept in the eyes of the world. However, God’s design of marriage is a beautiful one, in which people give themselves entirely to one another for life in every way. It’s the opposite of the appeasing of selfish lusts in sexuality, it’s the giving over of oneself entirely to another person. And it’s not easy. If you are married, part of giving your home to God’s design is working on your marriage. And if you aren’t married, it’s honoring marriage and supporting others who are married, and it’s also treating the members of your household and family with love and respect.
Hebrews 13:5-6 Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said,“I will never fail you.
I will never abandon you. So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper,
so I will have no fear.
What can mere people do to me?”
When we think about our homes, if you are like me, you are thinking about money. About the plumbing that needs to be fixed, the bathroom you’d like to redo, the wallpaper or floors that “need” updating. Recently I went to a dinner at the home of one of Diana’s classmates who was very excited to show off her renovations. Their home was very modern and beautiful, the kind of thing you can only do when your kids are old enough that they won’t destroy it. We got home and our house felt kind of shabby and old-fashioned, the bathroom with its 1940s peach tile, the furnishings cobbled together from family donations and garage sales. “Be satisfied with what you have,” the Bible says. When we think of our space as God’s space, the beauty is important only insofar as our space is inviting to others. Have you Keeping up with the Joneses in terms of our homes is really based in the love of money. And God doesn’t want us to get caught up in money, loving it or worrying about it. So we don’t need to get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses or trying to get on HGTV. We don’t have to worry about impressing anyone. What can mere mortals do to us anyway?
Summing up all these commands, what we are called to do as Christians is quite simply to treat others the way you would want to be treated. That’s what making space for God in our homes looks like. This is the great calling to you and to me: to open our hearts and doors and lives to others, to show kindness and mercy to others the way God has shown kindness and mercy to us.
And I think it is a stronger call at this time of year. Recently, a homeless couple came by the church. The gentleman, I think you would recognize, because he’s been in church several times. They were here because, like many persons without a home, we allow them to use this church’s address to receive mail, and he was looking for a state ID. As they were leaving, the woman began to look at the mitten tree where we are collecting warm clothes for those in need, and I allowed her to take a hat—she said she didn’t have one. I believe the hat she took was knitted by Rebecca.
You know, among all the things I did that day, perhaps the most important was just being at the church so that someone in need could get a hat.
I’d like to gently remind you all that we are now taking names to volunteer at the warming shelter.
When we open our homes to others, when we open our hearts to others, it feels right. It feels like the best thing we can do with our time, our money, our homes. Especially at Christmastime. And why is that? Perhaps it’s because God opened Himself to us.
When God came down from heaven, and was born in a stable, making his bed in a feeding trough, He made Himself accessible to us. It was an act of divine hospitality. He made his home among mortals, and in so doing, he made earth just a little bit like heaven.
The divine became man at Christmas, and so perhaps at Christmas, every man becomes just a little more divine.
Open yourself to the divine. Open your home. Open the doors of your life this Christmas.
May there always be room in the inn of your home, and the inn of your heart.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.