A Community of Prophets & Priests: Hospitality as Central to Our Story, Part 2

We continue on in our week long series. If you’re new to the conversation, you can catch Part 1 here.

During the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius in AD 165 an epidemic of what many believe to be have been small pox killed almost 1/3 of the population, including Marcus Aurelius himself. Less than a century later another epidemic overcame the western world: a great plague. At the height of this plague it is recorded that up to 5,000 people were dying daily in the city of Rome alone.¹

No one knew what to do. Leaders, politician, philosophers and teachers were at a loss. Greek historian named Thucydides wrote this about how society in Athens Greece, where 75,000 to 100,000 people died, responded to the plague:

“They died with no one to look after them. Indeed there were many houses in which all the inhabitants perished through lack of any intention of care. The bodies of the dying were heaped up, one on top of the other…. No fear of god or law had a restraining influence.”²

What was happening in Athens was happening in Rome:

“At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from the dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.”³

But there was a community of people who remembered they followed a Man who claiming to be God in the flesh and Creator of all, healed the sick, embraced the forgotten and touched lepers. They remembered how He told His disciples to do the same. They remembered His teaching when he said, “Whatever you have done for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you’ve done to me.” Dionysius, 3rd century bishop in the Church of Alexandria wrote this about Christians:

“Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ. And with them departed this life serenely happy, for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors, and cheerfully accepting their pains.”4

As Christians began to serve the hungry, poor and sick, outsiders began to take notice and the Christian gospel spread like a wild fire.

As 2nd century church father Tertullian said:

“It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of our opponents.”5

This was true. By the late 4th century, an opponent of Christianity, Emperor Julian the Apostate, verbally disciplined his pagan priests for not keeping up with the Christians:

“I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the priests, the impious Galileans observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence…. The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”6

Later, a 4th century Church father named Basil had an idea. What if christians build a place to love and care for the poor, sick, widows, orphans, strangers, and even lepers? Since they don’t have money or a way to pay for it, why don’t we raise the money?7

Basil’s good friend Gregory of Nyzianzus (also a Church father) then preached one of the most famous sermons of the 4th century, pointing to Christ’s teaching in Matthew 25. It reads:

“Lepers have been made in the image of God. In the same way you and I have, and perhaps preserve that image better than we, let us take care of Christ while there is still time. Let us minister to Christ’s needs. Let us give Christ nourishment. Let us clothe Christ. Let us gather Christ in. Let us show Christ honor.”8

This was the beginning of what would become known as hospitals.

A pivotal council of Christian leaders called the Council of Nicaea (the council named for the famous ancient Christian Statement of Faith called the Nicene Creed) declared in 325 AD that wherever a Church building existed, there must be a hospice, a place of caring for the poor, sick, widows, orphans and “strangers.” Eventually the government of Rome offered funding and hospitals developed throughout the world.

When by the Spirit the church extends God’s welcome to others with relational embrace, especially the least, last, left out and lonely of society, it has the power to change civilization. Hospitality–a love for strangers–is central to the Christian story.

~ Fred


¹ Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 73-94.

² Ibid. For a different english translation of Thucydides’ account, go to http://www.livius.org/sources/content/thucydides/the-plague/

³ Ibid.

4 George Herring, An Introduction to the History of Christianity: From the Early Church to the Enlightenment (New York: Continuum Publishing Group, 2006), 320.

5 Tertullian, Apologeticum 39.7

Julian the Apostate, Letter to Arsacius

Andrew T. Crislip, From Monastery to Hospital: Christian Monasticism and the Transformation of Health Care in Late Antiquity (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2005),108-10.

Andrew Hofer,Christ in the Life and Teachings of Gregory of Nazianzus, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 224.

A Community of Prophets & Priests: Hospitality as Central to Our Story, Part 1

Yesterday day was a first for WCC. We set aside the fifth Sunday of the month to give our entire offering to 3e Restoration Inc., an organization that is the Hoy Spirit-birthed result of our desire to be a people of gracious hospitality. You can hear some of the beautiful stories of what God is doing here. We celebrated God’s work through this movement and revisited how hospitality is not only central to 3e’s inception and current work, but how it is central to our story as Christ-followers.

Due to so many of you wanting to think this through in a more self-reflective way I want to offer a daily post that captures the core of what we discussed yesterday. Today I begin with a sketch of hospitality in the Hebrew Scriptures and how it frames hospitality in the Christian Scriptures.

In ancient Israel, hospitality was more than a demonstration of good manners, warm milk and pleasant conversation. Hospitality was a moral institution upon which all pillars of social order rested and grew out of the harsh desert and nomadic existence led by the people of Israel. The biblical customs of welcoming the weary traveler and of receiving the stranger (ger) stands at the center of hospitality in the Jewish tradition, so much so that the law of Moses consecrated it as a way of life. They were to care for the stranger by tending to their whole person–physically, socially, emotionally–because they were once mistreated strangers in a strange land and should do for others what should have been done for them (see Lev. 19:34 and Ex. 12:49).

Hospitality as a sociopolitical/religious policy (the law of Moses was their system of governance) was to influence all social relationships. Foreign travelers and immigrants, although not receiving full benefit of the law of Moses (see Deut. 15:3), could count on the Jewish custom of hospitality for provision and refuge. Fugitive slaves escaping from masters were to be treated cared for and protected (see Deut. 23:15-16). The elders of the so-called “cities of refuge” were required to support and protect the person who kills another unintentionally seeking refuge in their cities until the death of the high priest (see Num. 35:9–34). The most vulnerable of their society—the poor, the fatherless, the widow and the immigrant—was frequently and explicitly specified by the law as to receive hospitality.

Almost every prophet in the Hebrew tradition had to remind God’s people to “administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another” and to “not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor” (Zech. 7:9-10). Prophets like Isaiah reminds God’s people that hospitality must be tangible expressions of holy love when he states that one of the duties of the faithful is to “share your bread with the hungry,” and to “bring the poor and homeless into your house” (see Isa. 58:7). The Hebrew Scriptures are packed with teaching and examples of hospitality and is the backdrop upon which Christians ought to view our practice of hospitality.

Jesus of Nazareth, a faithful follower of the Hebrew tradition, offers his own script for hospitality. In one of his more famous teachings he connects giving water to thirsty, food to the hungry, clothes to unclothed, care for the sick, relational presence for the imprisoned, and a home for homeless strangers and foreigners as extending hospitality toward him (see Matt. 25:35-36). This should not surprise us since Jesus preached that the gospel would be good news for the most vulnerable when he said he had come to preach that God’s kingdom would receive the poor, bring peace to the oppressed, and set the captive free. (see Luke 4:18-19).

Paul, a well trained pharisee turned christian church planter and leader, commanded that christians “pursue hospitality” (Rom. 12:13)—the word “pursue” in the greek means “to hunt or aggressively chase.” He also said that christians should “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). Even the writer of Hebrews gets in on the conversation as he/she calls back to Abraham’s encounter with the Lord in Genesis 18 when the hearers are reminded not to neglect hospitality just in case they end up neglecting an angel of God (see Hebrews 13:2).

In keeping with the Hebrew tradition of hospitality the christian command to pursue hospitality and extend God’s welcome to others involves caring for another’s emotional, social, and physical well-being, rather than neglecting them because, after all, “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom. 13:10). Hospitality is central to the gospel and should become an essential posture for the Church. It is a dominate theme in the story of our faith.

~ Fred

3e only wood.png
 

WCC Connections!

Hello all,

We are excited to get this new ministry moving forward. Intentionally creating a way to welcome others is becoming increasingly important in a society of fragmentation that builds systems of exclusivism and exclusion.  We have proximity with others but no neighborliness. WCC Connections is our way of intentionally embracing the colleges students within our proximity, those living and worshipping among us. It is a way of “adopting” a college student into your life and family, to welcome them as Christ has welcomed us into the family of God. They are, in turn, doing the same to you.

WCC Connections promotes gracious hospitality among families through embracing, supporting, and encouraging college students. Here is how it will work:

Interested students at WCC will be connected with a family as a pathway to community with the church. Families will strive to make weekly connections with their student(s) in a variety of ways. These points of connection can be big or small. Examples included:

  • Inviting students to their home for family dinners
  • Praying regularly with and for the student
  • Inviting students to sit with the family at church gatherings
  • Sending encouraging cards or texts
  • Meeting & treating for coffee, dessert, or a meal
  • Assisting with transportation
  • Making laundry facilities available

As ministry leaders commissioned by the Shepherds of WCC, Adam and Danielle Barger, will help facilitate these connections through connecting families to students, offering support, and communicating connection ideas and reminders to families on a regular basis. We are grateful for their leadership!

If you are a interested, please go here and fill out the appropriate questionnaire:

Student:
Family:

If you have any further questions, email Adam (fonz87001@yahoo.com) or Danielle (dcbarger87001@yahoo.com).

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Prophetic & Priestly Words from Dr. King

mlk6The following is a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, a prophet in his time. It  was delivered on Christmas 1957 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. King wrote it while in jail for committing nonviolent civil disobedience during the Montgomery bus boycott. I share it in light of our conversation series, A Prophetic & Priestly People. I hope you will read it and be stirred knowing the outcome of this man’s message and the movement of justice he perpetuated.

 

 

Loving Your Enemies by Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Let us be practical and ask the question. How do we love our enemies?

First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression. The wrongdoer may request forgiveness. He may come to himself, and, like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.

Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the canceling of a debt. The words “I will forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you’ve done” never explain the real nature of forgiveness. Certainly one can never forget, if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. Likewise, we can never say, “I will forgive you, but I won’t have anything further to do with you.” Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again.
Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.

Second, we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. Each of us has something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against ourselves. A persistent civil war rages within all of our lives. Something within us causes us to lament with Ovid, the Latin poet, “I see and approve the better things, but follow worse,” or to agree with Plato that human personality is like a charioteer having two headstrong horses, each wanting to go in a different direction, or to repeat with the Apostle Paul, “The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.”

This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath. the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding, but in spite of this, we know God’s image is ineffably etched in being. Then we love our enemies by realizing that they are not totally bad and that they are not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love.

Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding. At times we are able to humiliate our worst enemy. Inevitably, his weak moments come and we are able to thrust in his side the spear of defeat. But this we must not do. Every word and deed must contribute to an understanding with the enemy and release those vast reservoirs of goodwill which have been blocked by impenetrable walls of hate.

Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multi# plies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

So when Jesus says “Love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies-or else? The chain reaction of evil-hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars-must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

Another reason why we must love our enemies is that hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. Mindful that hate is an evil and dangerous force, we too often think of what it does to the person hated. This is understandable, for hate brings irreparable damage to its victims. We have seen its ugly consequences in the ignominious deaths brought to six million Jews by hate-obsessed madman named Hitler, in the unspeakable violence inflicted upon Negroes by bloodthirsty mobs, in the dark horrors of war, and in the terrible indignities and injustices perpetrated against millions of God’s children by unconscionable oppressors.

But there is another side which we must never overlook. Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

A third reason why we should love our enemies is that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.

The relevance of what I have said to the crisis in race relations should be readily apparent. There will be no permanent solution to the, race problem until oppressed men develop the capacity to love their enemies. The darkness of racial injustice will be dispelled only by the light of forgiving love. For more than three centuries American Negroes have been battered by the iron rod of oppression, frustrated by day and bewildered by night by unbearable injustice and burdened with the ugly weight of discrimination. Forced to live with these shameful conditions, we are tempted to become bitter and to retaliate with a corresponding hate. But if this happens, the new order we seek will be little more than a duplicate of the old order. We must in strength and humility meet hate with love.

My friends, we have followed the so-called practical way for too long a time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos. Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way.

While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist. This is the only way to create the beloved community.
To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”

 

Worship Gatherings Are Cancelled

Just to cover all forms of communication:

All worship gatherings are CANCELLED for tomorrow. As the snow continues to accumulate and temperatures are expected to drop, the roads will be precarious at best. Please be wise and careful today and tomorrow. Enjoy some play and and take in some rest. In the words of Job:

“He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’
    and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’
So that everyone he has made may know his work,
    he stops all people from their labor.” (Job 37:6-7)

 

Learning By Looking Back

WCC family,

It is the turn of a new year and another Christmas week with the winter shelter has happened. Thirty-four different adults including one infant found rest in the church building the Lord provided us. That is right, it is his building, not ours. I am thankful we embrace this truth because without it we would mistake stewardship for ownership, especially when it comes to the things God provides (time, resources, etc) and eliminate the possibility of growing as a community of hospitality and self-giving love.

I could take this entire post to offer you data from this week. I could tell you how over 75% of our church family served during the week. I could also tell you how our missional communities (just over 50% of our congregation) provided dinner, lunches and breakfasts (I will thank some specific folks later). I could go on to tell you how our Christmas Eve dinner was beautiful as we enjoyed the company of over 150 people while providing a good Christmas Eve meal for a total of 179, including the shelter guests. But I think I’d rather offer you three stories.

The First Story

Joey and I encountered a man living through homelessness. I’ll call him JT. He looked heavy hearted and was reeling from a very bad day. I asked if he wanted to talk about it. He began to tell us what happened. Once he told us it was no wonder why he was feeling down. To top it all off, he was called a terrible name by person who was supposed to help him. He was tired, hurting and hopeless. He told me how he wanted to go ahead and end it all. “I just can’t catch a break,” he said. We sat with him and listened as he told us more. 

After a little while I asked him what a “break” looks like. His very first example was simple, something God’s people could do very easily. So we committed to helping him catch that “break.” He looked stunned.

I knew JT’s story. Some of my friends who used to be homeless have told me about him. He’s all alone and due to conditions beyond his control, very vulnerable.

Finally, I asked him to look at me. As our eyes met I said, “Can I share a couple of things with you?”

He nodded yes.

I said, “I imagine you feel all alone, but I need you to know you’re not alone. Not one bit. You’re not lost on God–He is how we met–and you’re not lost on us. I can only imagine how lonely you must feel, but I also need you to know that even in your loneliness you’re not alone. So, can we be your friends?”

He fell into my arms and wept. We all cried together.

After a few moments I lifted his head and said, “I am so sorry you had such a bad day. I am sorry you lost what was important to you. I am also very sorry you were called such a horrible name. I need you to know something. You are not your behavior. You’re not a _________. What’s your name?”

“JT.”

“Thats right. You’re not a __________. You’re not a ‘homeless man’ either. You’re JT. You’re known by God, loved by God and you’re our friend. Right?”

“Right.”

“So who are you?”

“I am JT.”

“And?”

“I’m loved by God and I’m your friend and his friend.”

“Exactly,” I said. “Wanna get coffee next week?”

“Yes!”

All he needed, all he really wanted was to catch a break and have a friend. Well, now he has both. JT is no different from any of us.

The Second Story

As I was cleaning up the kitchen after the Christmas Eve dinner and gathering, a man living through homelessness showed up to our building. Throughout the week he came to the shelter each night for dinner, though he only stayed a couple of nights. Knowing he was invited to the dinner Christmas Eve, he came but he was late. I offered to make him a big plate to take with him. He was grateful.

As I was preparing his plate he said, “Pastor, I’ve gotta tell ya. I’ve been in the shelter the past couple of years. I haven’t seen a church do food like your church. I mean, man, it was like you all were putting on a king’s banquet!”

A king’s banquet. He literally used those words. I was immediately reminded me of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14:

12 “Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.'”

All I could think to say in response was, “I guess you could say that is exactly what we were doing.”

The Third Story

This happened apart from the shelter. As you know Randy Otis is a police officer for James City County. But he isn’t just a police officer, he is a christian, a missionary. On Christmas Eve he received a call that a woman, apparently homeless, was cold, without a place to stay and hungry. Randy immediately responded, picked her up and called me in the middle of the Christmas eve dinner. He asked if he could bring her by for dinner and if we knew where she could stay for the evening. Of course Randy knew the answer was obvious. So we, WCC, offered her a place to stay in a local inn and Randy filled two large plates of food, one for the evening and one for Christmas day.

She was deeply grateful.

On Christmas morning as we preparing for our worship gathering we received a call on the office phone. It was the lady. She wanted to join us for our worship gathering but needed a ride. I called Erin Otis and she picked her up. It was a joy to see her sitting with the Otis family as together we celebrated the Lord.

Later I found out the Otis’ took her home for Christmas lunch.

Keeping Christ in Christmas

It has been said that if Christians want to keep Christ in Christmas we ought to give food to the hungry, house the homeless, welcome the stranger and care for the lonely. I think these three short stories demonstrate what keeping Christ in Christmas can look like. More so, these three short stories serve as signs of God’s in-breaking kingdom among us as the Christ-child has come and is coming again.

I used to believe that our willingness to take on Christmas week, the most busy time of every year, as our week to host the COFM shelter is a gift we can our community give in Jesus’ name. However, I’ve come to realize that being offered to host Christmas week is really a gift God gives us. We are formed but it as Advent invites us into it. We get to see God at work in a time in our country when poverty, hunger and loneliness becomes the megaphone through which the brokenness of our world speaks. And we, in God’s grace, get to hear God’s voice whisper, “No one is lost on me. Tell them. Show them. For I am with you.”

My hope is that we will not be content with keeping Christ in Christmas. My hope is that we will press on as God’s beloved community committed to extending God’s welcome to all as we join him in his pursuit of restoring lives. We have 51 more weeks each year. Let’s remain faithful.

I have never served with a more gracious and giving community of faith than Williamsburg Christian Church. How a church family our size does so much for so many is only possible because God’s Spirit is at work in, among and through you. WCC family, you humble me as God’s work in you encourages me and my family beyond measure. Thank you to all who served and made this week one of hope, peace, joy and love for our neighbors living through homelessness!

I especially want to thank Joey Allen for leading us in coordinating our shelter week. I want to thank Jon and Sherry Sprankle (and the rest of their missional community) for making sure meals were provided and delivered on Christmas Eve. I want to thank TYGES International, a local company in town where some of our WCC family work, who provided incredible backpacks filled with practical items for our neighbors living through homelessness. Finally, I want to thank Community of Faith Mission (C.O.F.M.) for all they do to make this happen. Without their love and hard work there would be no winter shelter.

Oh, and you can read an article reported by the good folks at WY Daily concerning Christmas week here.