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Hospitality: Hebrews 13:2

Do you remember a time when you were a stranger; the new person? Maybe a new school or a new job. You don’t know anyone, you don’t know how things work and you feel awkward. But then on top of this you were left out, treated rudely or made fun of? Well then you have an experiential understanding of the need for hospitality, which is our topic today.

Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” This is an interesting verse. It clearly teaches us to show hospitality to strangers. But it also talks about the possibility of entertaining angels, which we will come back to in a moment.

The meaning of hospitality

The Greek word, translated as “hospitality” in Hebrews 13:2, means literally, “stranger love.” As the phrase suggests, it means that you show love to a stranger. It is a form of the command to love your neighbor as yourself – the neighbor who is new to you and new to your community.

If you look up our English word “hospitality” it means “treating strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” You receive someone you don’t know, who is not apart of your group – as a guest; so that they feel comfortable and at home. This is the exact opposite of ignoring them, treating them rudely or making fun of them.

Now, in the ancient world hospitality also included housing, food and protection. That’s because there were no hotels or motels, like today. So travelers had a lot of needs to take care of. They were away from home and in a strange place, without a place to stay or social networks to rely on. They didn’t know who to trust. And also, because of this, they were vulnerable and easily taken advantage of by the locals.

So the virtue of hospitality, or being kind to and taking care of strangers and travelers was highly prized in society and, as we will see, by God.

In Scripture –

The model of hospitality is Abraham

We find this is the story in Genesis 18:1-8. This passage, by the way, is most certainly one of the incidents referred to by Hebrews 13:2 when it talks of entertaining angels.

“And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him.”

So he has some strangers standing before him.  What will he do?

“When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on— since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.”

Let’s look at all the things he did:

  • He ran to them
  • He was humble before them – he bowed down
  • He invited them to stay
  • He offered them water to wash their feet
  • He offered them rest under the shelter of the tree
  • He brought them food and drink to refresh them
  • He waited on them while they ate

We see in this passage that Abraham made himself the servant of his guests. It was hot out and he was resting. But as soon as he saw them, he worked hard to make his home, their home. And he sacrificed of what he had to do this.

Well, if Abraham is the model of hospitality, then –

The model of inhospitality is Sodom

And this story is found in the next chapter, Genesis 19. I will just mention this briefly since you know the story.

  • Two of the same angels that Abraham had just hosted came to Sodom to see if it needed to be judged.
  • The people of Sodom sought to take advantage of these strangers – by means of a same-sex sexual assault. They sought to degrade and humiliate them.
  • And you know the result. The evil of the city was confirmed by the angels and so Sodom was destroyed.

Ezekiel 16:49-50 tells us that the sin of Sodom was that they “did not aid the poor and needy.” And I do not doubt that this is talking about refusing hospitality and trying to take advantage of and exploit the weak and vulnerable strangers who came to them. And the two angels were just the latest example. This is why Lot told them not to sleep in the town square. There was a pattern here.

This incident shows that such evil inhospitality is a serious thing in God’s eyes. And it is wrong, even if one doesn’t go to the extreme that the people of Sodom did.

So in these two chapters we have contrasting portraits concerning hospitality. And God calls us to imitate Abraham in his love and concern for strangers. Since this is so, let’s look now at –

Putting hospitality into practice in our lives

We are to be hospitable anytime we meet strangers. Hebrews 13:2 is quite broad – “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” No qualifications are stated. But here are some specific examples.

We are to be hospitable to immigrants. Leviticus 19:34 says, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Here stranger love is applied to immigrants, and connected to the command to love your neighbor as you love yourself. Why? Because the Israelites were once strangers as well. And because the Lord commands it.

We are to be hospitable to fellow Christians. 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” The little note at the end points to our human nature. It is not always easy to be a servant to others and so we are to make sure that we don’t complain.

But the specific application I am interested in this morning has to do with welcoming those who come as visitors to our church. And of course, I am mindful while I share this, that we are having our ‘Open House’ next week.

Now, we have all visited churches where we didn’t know anyone. So we know what it feels like. And, I believe, we all know how to make guests feel at home. But let’s remember together. [Open time for suggestions from the congregation.]

Here are some things I thought of:

  • A warm greeting
  • Talk to them. It is easy to just talk to people you know. But go out of your way to talk to visitors and include them.
  • Answer questions about the congregation – where things are, how we do things. Help them feel at home.
  • Help them connect to others in the congregation. For instance if we find that they have common ground with others.
  • Give up your seat so that a new family can sit together.
  • Invite them over/out for a meal

Let us show love and warmth to our guests. Let us be servants. Let us make them feel comfortable and at home. Let us remember Abraham.

You never know, perhaps we will have angels visit our congregation. So be on your toes! This is the message for today.

William Higgins

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