Good morning, church.  Go with me to the book of 1 Peter, chapter 4.  If you want to use one of our Bibles this morning, you can raise your hand and we’ll get one to you, and if you’ll read it, I want you to keep it.

It was cold this week, so naturally New Orleans descended into chaos.  It’s funny, having lived in Boston for a while, seeing schools close here not for snow, but just because it’s cold.  In Boston, they wouldn’t even cancel for blizzards.  The first year we were there, by the end of February, it had snowed 27 feet, they ran out of places to put plowed snow, and instead of closing anything, they built tunnels in the sidewalks so people could get to school.  I have a picture of myself with icicles on my beard, because one day it snowed six feet, but they didn’t cancel class, so I took the train in, then the train got stuck in the snow and I walked the other three miles to class.  I’m saving this photo for when my kids complain about school being hard.  I actually walked three miles in the snow.  For AJ this week, though, it got cold, and he got out of school for two days.

They’re a little more sensitive, here, and with good cause.  I saw several wrecks on Tuesday of people trying to get to work.  I think the St. Tammany sheriff’s office said it best.  They put out an official statement to news outlets saying, and I quote, “If it snows or sleets, please stay home. When y’all learn to drive in the sun, we’ll discuss driving in the snow.”  Well said, well said.  Kidding aside, though, I hope everyone made it through alright.  Doing church in this context has me thinking about the weather more than ever before, now that I know and love many people who will be out in it, and I’m grateful for Phil and others who went out with blankets on Tuesday night.  Sometimes something that simple can save a life.

We’re continuing a series this morning I’m calling, simply, “gifted,” talking about spiritual gifts within the body of the church.  Gifts are one of the major ways people love each other, like a blanket on a cold night, or a word spoken in love at the right time.  My hope in this series, largely what I’m wanting you to take away, is an understanding of what it looks like to love each other, practically, in Christianity, because I think too often we forget and confuse love for things like agreement or comfort.

We started this series talking about how the Spirit of God filled the craftsmen working on the tabernacle in the days of Moses with the gifts and abilities to do that work.  I started there because I want you to see, throughout the history of the people of God, the Spirit has been empowering us toward a single end: God coming to dwell richly with us.  We are now the tabernacle, the church is the dwelling place of the Spirit.  So often when we talk about spiritual gifts, we’re so focused on what we are able to do in the power of the Spirit, we lose sight of what the Spirit is wanting to do in us.  In our churches, in our cities, in our individual families and lives, God wants to dwell with us, filling us with life, just as in creation the Spirit of God filled the earth with abounding life.

Then for the past couple of weeks, we’ve been getting practical, talking about what each gift looks like in the context of the church.  Paul talks about the incredible value of spiritual gifts, even in comparison to monetary gifts to the people around you, or in other words, the most important things we give each other aren’t things.  I’ve been arguing, spiritual gifts really have more to do with your role in service of your local congregation than they have to do with your personality.  Personalities don’t really change, but the gifts you’re able to give to your congregation are going to change constantly, with your financial capability, your time commitments, and your spiritual maturity.  The spirit doesn’t change, but we change, and the needs of our church change.

Last week, we took a close look at speaking in tongues and prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14, talking about how we should desire those gifts, but in their right place, used the right way, for the glory of God and for the building up of the church.  Today we’re going to focus, again, on a single gift, which Peter holds up as being of highest concern in loving one another: the gift of hospitality.  Let’s read it, 1 Peter 4, vs. 7-11. []  This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God.  Pray with me, briefly.

Hospitality.  Hotels, hostels, and hospitals, all started with the church of Christ about a thousand years ago walking in obedience to the simple command found in our passage today to show hospitality to one another without grumbling; they started with the church welcoming basically anyone who would come and actively participate in the life of the community, and the church became skilled in meeting needs, physical as well as spiritual.  In our day and age, hospitality is a 4.7 trillion-dollar industry.  That number doesn’t include healthcare, though as I mentioned, they began in the same place.  If you go to a hotel or a restaurant in today’s world, and you have enough money, you can find good food, good drink, and a nice place to stay.  In Peter’s day, hospitality was something else entirely.

For starters, people didn’t really travel for fun.  Travel was dangerous, and if you were traveling, you probably didn’t have much money—less Jack Kerouac and more refugee.  In our day, we talk about the dangers of the inner city.  In their day, the cities were the safe-havens.  Cities were often walled and heavily patrolled; in Judea you had elders acting as judges standing at every city gate.  Outlaws largely lived in the mountains and hills in between, away from watchful eyes.  It was common for travelers to be waylaid and robbed.  Probably the most famous example of this is in Jesus’ parable of the good samaritan—a man tries to go from Samaria to Jerusalem, and he’s attacked on the road, left to die.

The most famous inns in the Bible will actually give you a really good picture of the hospitality industry at the time.  Think of Sampson, or the Israeli spies in the Exodus staying the night with Rahab the prostitute who lives in a literal hole in the wall, or think of the inn that turns Mary and Joseph away.  Inns at the time were places of ill repute, or they could be cruel and bounce you out the door for whatever reason they would like (for example, a couple being found pregnant before they were married); inns were not really where you wanted to end up.  Think about the motels you find in the suburbs of New Orleans, in the East, on Tulane Ave, airline.  That’ll give you a good idea.

If you made it all the way to an inn in Peter’s day, it didn’t mean you were headed toward hospitality, it meant that hospitality had already failed you.  What was typical in that day is travelers would stay with friends and relatives.  Without phones or post to let anyone know you’re coming, usually this looked like friends or distant relations just kind of showing up at your home expecting a place to stay.  If you turned them away, they were really in danger of being in dire straits, like, you know, giving birth in a stable, that sort of thing.

You have to understand this in context.  In this book of 1 Peter, Peter is writing to a church in persecution and exile.  This was wartimes.  People were being turned out of their homes, hunted by Rome merely for being Christians.  So maybe we can begin to understand what Peter is telling them.  He assures them this trouble won’t last forever, “the end of all things is at hand,” but in the midst of it, we should keep control of ourselves and stay calm.  Above all else, he says, we should love one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.  Jesus’ love is enough to cover our sins, so that the God, our father, adopts us into his home.  And he says, his love in us should do the same, allow us to look past even a multitude of sins and serve one another.  He writes, a huge part of serving one another is hospitality, welcoming each other into your homes, to your tables, “without grumbling.”

In fact, the early church believed in hospitality so strongly, it shows up in requirements for eldership in Titus.  Hospitality was not a second-tier practice, a cherry on top of the church experience so visitors come back; it was core to the faith.  You couldn’t be an elder in the first-century church unless you were willing to invite people into your home, and more importantly, into your life.  As one author and pastors’ wife puts it, simply, beautifully: “the gospel comes with a house key.”  “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling,” meaning, when someone shows up at your door, or in your church, or in your community, you invite them to your table and into life as you live it.

And wouldn’t it be grand if we could stop there, if life were filled with simple ethical principles that didn’t need to be considered or questioned, they could just be boiled down to a sentence and placed on a yard sign or bumper sticker?  Personally I think we need fewer yard signs, and more books.  Hospitality takes wisdom, like anything else.  You ought not leave your door wide open in New Orleans in 2024, nor would it be wise to let everyone into your home or your church at every time, but I will say you should allow this passage to stretch you.

Despite the American South’s reputation for hospitality, in truth we live in an incredibly inhospitable time and place.  Most of us are not erring on the side of being too open here, we’re erring on the side of isolation and loneliness, of never letting anyone, even those with whom we are closest, into full view of our lives as we actually live them.  We want everyone at arms length so we can show them what we want them to see.  We never want to actually need them, and we never want them to actually need us, which is the opposite of hospitality.

If you’re familiar with the Bible, I want you to remember hospitality was a hard-learned lesson for Peter, the author of what we just read.  At first, in his church, he refused to eat with some people who had been cruel to Peter and his people, done things Peter struggled to forgive.  These folks were wealthier, of a different race and religious background, and had different customs Peter didn’t approve of, and he refused to be around them, refused to eat with them even though they had a genuine desire to join in the life and practice of the church.  He wouldn’t have them over to his house.  Paul confronts him publicly about it.  In front of his own church, apostle to apostle, Paul told Peter if he wasn’t going to be hospitable to the people in his church, he had no business being their pastor.

Like Peter, I began to learn hospitality from a place of deep need and relational brokenness in my own life.  We had our church’s students over to our house this past Monday, as we celebrated the start of the new semester with food and root beer and an unusual amount of standing on our heads.  It was a blast.  I enjoy doing that, especially because when I was that age, I desperately needed to be invited into community.

I hit a moment in college where I didn’t have any friends, and I was kind of adrift in a very large church.  It’s not anyone’s fault but my own—I went to small group  only occasionally, and spent way too much time and energy on a dating relationship that ended up just…ending, and then I was relationally lost.  I really struggled making friends, and the loneliness I felt was crushing.  It was physical.  I couldn’t eat, and I felt disconnected from the people around me.

God used that summer to begin to call me toward ministry, and I went back to school in the spring determined to be intentional in my relationships, and intergenerational, and instead of trying to meet my soul mate or get in with the in crowd, I went back determined to found relationships, not upon similarity, but upon mutual affection of Christ, and need of him.  God began showing me all of the people at my university who really needed people, and every time someone asked me how my summer was, I would tell them about how I was feeling alone, and how I recognized my need in Christ for Christian community and discipleship, and admitting my own need to people was probably one of the best things I’ve done in ministry.

Eventually all of these conversations turned into a kind of small group.  We just called it fam group.  I would have people over to my apartment weekly, and we would eat something, red beans usually, read the Bible, talk about it, and pray for each other.  We didn’t check out from our churches, this was just what we did when we got together as friends.  For many of us, myself very much included, it turned into a relational lifeline drawing some of us out of isolation into living life with other people, drawing some of us out of the stress of degree programs and finding jobs into rest in the sovereignty and nurture of our God.

But that’s how I learned that hospitality is not only hosting people.  It’s not just a clean room and continental breakfast, hospitality is sharing your life with people, which is something you need as much as they do.  Hospitality is inviting them into family, sharing burdens, and as each has received a gift, using it to serve one another.

Hospitality is a bit humiliating.  It’s meant to be, and I love that hospitality is a requirement for elders, because that means before your church can honor you it needs to humiliate you.  You can’t be proud and hospitable at the same time.  Family knows your faults, whether you want them to or not, and not just the faults you’ve decided are endearing, but the ones that make you unacceptable and in need of grace, a real sinner.  It’s utterly humiliating, and may God the Spirit grant us more humility yet, that we would see ourselves for what we are: more broken than we really even know, and yet more loved in Christ and among his people than we’ve dared to think possible.

In our radically independent society, really practicing hospitality will probably seem a bit radical, or at least strange, opening your home and your family like that, dropping the act and letting people know the real you.  Historically speaking, though, the idea of bedroom communities, driving everywhere, and pouring our time and relational energy into online environments is radical and bizarre.  Not living that way is a return to normalcy, only many people won’t see it that way because this is the water we swim in, meaning after a while when you’re immersed in an idea or a value, you stop seeing that thing, and you start seeing through it.

Hospitality is mutuality, and this is important to remember.  The passage urges, keep loving one another.  As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another.  We often talk about this in our ministries, we see a lot of people who develop close-knit groups, but they are transactional relationships and enabling mutual self-destruction.  Mutual sharing toward destructive ends isn’t family, that’s codependency.  Real hospitality is pointed toward thriving, it involves discipleship and Christian fellowship.  Again, this passage isn’t urging you to leave your door unlocked in New Orleans and publish your address on Craigslist.  It’s urging you to not close yourself off to the needs and gifts of your community, and not closing your community out to your own gifts and needs.

Going back to our passage, thinking about what this looked like practically in Peter’s time, he is urging Christians in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, to take other families in as they fled the intense persecution in Jerusalem, much like families and churches took in Londoners all across England during the blitz in WWII.  He’s urging already established families to provide for newcomers as they get settled for a time in a new place.  It did involve living together, sharing your home and your table for a time, but it also involved a continuing openness to helping each other live as Christians exiled all over the empire, living in a place that is not their home.

In our time and place, hospitality comes in many shapes and forms.  Even in our church, you’ve got the Shipp family who intentionally built out a side of their house to be able to host people looking for a place together with them, sharing their family.  We’ve got families who are involved with foster care, welcoming children into their families.  Rachael is opening up her apartment this semester to host a small group.  We’ve got folks on our greeting teams, trying to make people feel welcome.  Everything from a friendly conversation with someone who’s new here and probably a little nervous to—I work with one church, the largest hispanic church in our region, who hosts within their education building a government agency that finds foster homes for migrant children without parents.  They invite their congregants to consider fostering to meet this need, to open their home to kids who are looking to be established in what is to them a strange place.

I love how Peter phrases it: “in order that in everything, God may be glorified.”  God is glorified when we love each other well, when we use whatever it is we’ve been given to build up the body, when we give honor to those parts of the church body that are more hidden.  God is glorified when we center our ideas of love and worship on mutual service rather than likemindedness and agreement.  God is glorified when we allow love to cover over sins and mistakes within the body, when we come together and all prophecy so that anyone who comes in from the outside is convicted and built up, welcomed into a family determined to give good gifts to one another.

We are all gifted.  “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”  Do that, and God will be glorified in your life, in our church, and in the communities in which we live and work.  Do that in remembrance of him.

Print your tickets