"Room at the Table"#88-04
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 27, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Jason Broge, Guest Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: 1 Peter 4
Has anyone ever opened their house to you, invited you in, made you feel welcome? When I first moved to Chicago, I had a job that didn't let me travel during the holidays. My family was back in Ohio, and my roommates usually went home, leaving me in an apartment all alone. I still remember the Thanksgiving when a friend from college found out I was going to be alone for the holiday. She called me up, invited me to spend Thanksgiving with her and her family. She told me there was room at the table for me. The expression of hospitality was like a breath of fresh air. I'd never met her family before, but they immediately made me feel welcome, accepted, safe. I had a wonderful time. And I remember thinking, this is what my grandparents' house always felt like growing up. It's what I want my house to feel like someday. It's what church should feel like.
We live in a time when researchers are telling us there's an epidemic of loneliness and not just because so many of us are still in quarantine. No, that is certainly not helping. But research tells us the loneliness and isolation have been growing for quite some time—well before COVID-19 was even a word in our vocabulary. In the midst of this isolation, in the midst of this loneliness, Peter has a reminder for all of us. We as Christian households have been uniquely placed by God into our culture to be a welcoming invitation of hospitality, to reach out to those who have no place to go, and let them know there is room at the table for them. In our text today, Peter's writing to Christians who are confused, discouraged, and enduring persecution because of their faith. In the midst of this persecution, Peter brings words of encouragement to stand strong and not only persevere, but make room at their tables.
He writes, "The end of all things is at hand, therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 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: whoever speaks as one who speaks oracles of God, whoever serves as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything, God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."
Passages like this are not uncommon in the New Testament. Paul, James, John, and Peter in their letters all have similar invitations to live out faith, as we wait for the return of our Lord. And it's not uncommon to find nestled in the midst of these lists of virtues something that I find many Christians seem to gloss right over this: a call to hospitality. Paul tells the Romans to contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. He tells Titus an overseer must be, amongst other things, hospitable. The author of Hebrews warns the reader, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." And Peter? Peter implores us to show hospitality to one another without grumbling, show hospitality to one another without grumbling. It's a fascinating phrase from an apostle who received so much hospitality throughout his ministry. Even a cursory read through the Gospels and throughout the book of Acts reveals that hospitality was an integral and seemingly natural part of the early Christian church. There is just something special about hospitality. It is a blessing to the neighbor you invite in, and it is a blessing to the household who welcomes them.
Over the past few weeks, we've been talking about households of faith. A study Lutheran Hour Ministries did in partnership with the Barna Group. The Barna Group is a Christian research organization who specializes in studying faith in America today. In that study, Barna found that spiritually vibrant households, that is to say households where faith is being nurtured, had three common characteristics. Interestingly enough, these common characteristics were not the makeup of their households or their economic status or any other static feature. No, spiritually vibrant households were households that engaged in various spiritual disciplines together such as praying and reading the Bible. They participated in spiritual conversations together, and they practiced hospitality together. I've had the privilege of sharing our findings at various pastoral conventions and congregations. And it's not uncommon when I'm done for someone to come up to me and ask—often, somewhat defensively—why did you decide to focus on hospitality? And the truth is, we didn't. It came as somewhat of a surprise, even to us, one might expect to find prayer and Bible reading as key practices that nurture faith development within a household, but hospitality wasn't even on the radar.
But when the data came back from the study, it naturally bubbled to the surface. The researchers found that there is a correlation between hospitality and what they call "spiritual vibrancy." They write, "Faith formation is connected to and increases with hospitality. Households that regularly host non-family guests are more likely to talk about faith, pray, or read the Bible together." You see there really is just something special about hospitality. There's something that happens when a Christian household opens its doors to non-family members and says, "There's room at the table for you." The people being invited in are blessed. They are being invited to experience, sometimes for the first time, a glimpse of God's hospitality through this household.
But it turns out the inviting household itself is blessed, too. A friend of mine tells the story of suddenly having seven extra guests in his household. They weren't expecting it, but they opened their doors and made room at the table for them. And before they knew it, these guests, who were not people who regularly attended church, were deeply involved in the rhythms of their life for a week. They did the family devotions. They were there for the family prayers. And on the last night, the seven-year-old girl said, "I'm going to miss this. Are we going to do prayers tonight?" And my friend's daughter who was eleven, went over to the seven-year-old girl and said, "Even if your mom doesn't pray with you, when you go home, you've learned how to pray. You can keep doing it on your own." And my friend marveled at what the hospitality had done for the spiritual growth of his daughter.
There was something that had happened here in this interaction. There was an experience that happened here that he could never have planned, that he could never have created on its own. And in the conversations he had with his daughter, he realized that hospitality had enriched their lives, not just the lives of their guests. This correlation between hospitality and faith formation, well, it really shouldn't surprise us. The call from God, to His people, to extend hospitality, to open their doors, both to fellow believers and to strangers can be found throughout both the Old and New Testaments. But wait, you say we're living in the time of COVID. Are you telling me that I am somehow less of a Christian if I don't throw open my doors to every passerby on the streets?
No, just listen to how Peter begins his letter. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice though, now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls."
The sole cause of our salvation is Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection are the gift we are united to in our Baptism. As Peter puts it, the Father "has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading." Imperishable inheritances are not so easily destroyed. A lack of hospitality cannot put your salvation in Christ in jeopardy because it is undefiled, unfading, and kept in heaven for you. No, too often, we get it reversed. We fall into the trap that the good works encouraged in the New Testament are somehow necessary to become children of God. When the apostles are making it clear time and again that this is the gift of God. It is precisely because of this truth. It is precisely because of who we are in Christ already that we open our doors and make room at the table, not to earn God's love, but to share it. Perhaps it was said best by God Himself in the Old Testament. Throughout the Old Testament in Isaiah, in Job, and Deuteronomy, we see the people of God called to a life of hospitality. And in Leviticus, He goes so far as to tell us why. In Leviticus 19 we read, "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 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."
When the Israelites were still in Egypt, God rescued them from slavery, made room for them in His household. He made them His children. When we were yet sinners, God rescued us from the slavery of sin and made us members of his household. He made us His children. Why do we open our doors and make room at the table for the outsider? Because God first opened His doors and made room at the table for us. And now He invites us to extend that invitation to others, to break through the isolation and loneliness so pervasive in our culture today, and make room at the table for the sojourners in our midst—and to do so with joyful hearts, not grumbling. What that looks like will depend on you.
There is no one way to extend hospitality. We know that now in the midst of COVID better than ever. There actually are times when we can't open our doors, but we can pick up the phone. We can write a letter; we can stand outside the door. We can pray and find the way God is inviting us to extend hospitality, to give people a peek into the household of God, to let them know there's room at the table for them.
Don Everts, author of The Spiritually Vibrant Household, puts it this way. "If extending hospitality as a household seems like a daunting new endeavor. Remember that this household habit is really quite old and is how God intended households to function from the very beginning. Your household is made for this. Not only is your household made for an open door: remember that Jesus came to help us open our doors in blessing to the world around us."
As we take practical steps to open our doors, it can be encouraging to remember that Jesus worked and works to help us with this task. So, as you look around your house, ask yourself this: "Is there room at your table?" Amen.
Reflections for September 27, 2020
Title: Room at the Table
Mike Zeigler: Thank you so much, Mark. I'm now visiting with the preacher you just heard from, Rev. Dr. Jason Broge. He's also the director for design and development for Lutheran Hour Ministries. Jason, thank you for bringing God's Word to us today.
Jason Broge: Thanks for inviting me. It was a real privilege.
Mike Zeigler: And we also have Don Everts, the author of this book we've been discussing, The Spiritually Vibrant Home, works for Lutheran Hour Ministries helping us develop content that can uplift, bring Christ to the nations and the nations to the church. Thanks for being here, Don.
Don Everts: Good to be with both of you.
Mike Zeigler: We've been using this term "household," throughout this four-part series. This is now the fourth part in the series. Jason, very briefly, how would you want to define household for people?
Jason Broge: We have a pretty broad definition on purpose. We didn't make it families of faith; it is households of faith. So if you're living under a roof, whether you're by yourself, with a roommate, with a spouse and kids, or with multiple generations, or some other combination, you're in a household. And also the extended household—the friends like family, the people who we're living life with, even though they're not under the roof, and are seeing on such a regular basis that they have an impact in our routines. So when we talk about households, we're talking about all of that stuff.
Mike Zeigler: Don, we've talked about your book. It's called The Spiritually Vibrant Home, or household. We've discussed characteristics that go with spiritual vibrancy. We've talked about devotional practices and spiritual conversations. I like how you call them "messy prayers and loud tables." And today, we're talking about open doors or hospitality. The first two kind of make sense, intuitively, talk together about the Bible, pray together, have devotions together. But this last one, hospitality, that's not so obvious. Was that surprising to you?
Don Everts: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And it's the same, it's not a shocker. Although it is helpful to be reminded by research that if you're talking about your faith, your faith is going to grow. And if you're applying spiritual disciplines, your faith is going to grow. We were surprised by this, that the presence of hospitality and having people in and out of your life, and under your roof, corresponds with a more vibrant faith, and your faith growing. This was something that just came out in the data: that hospitality actually promotes spiritual growth for Christians.
Mike Zeigler: Now, Jason, you just spoke about this in your sermon, this tight relationship between hospitality and spiritual vibrancy. And last week, I remember you asked us to read through some Bible passages and see how often, say, the apostle Peter mentions hospitality in his letters, or the letter to the Hebrews, or the book of Acts, which we talked about today. How do we make sense of this through a biblical lens, of this tight relationship between hospitality and spiritual vibrancy?
Jason Broge: As far as what's going on there, there's two different ways of looking at it. The one that's really grabbed me is from the Old Testament, actually. God continuously tells the Israelites that they should welcome in the outsider, the stranger, they should welcome them in and show them full hospitality. Because they're told to remember that they were that outsider at one point in time, and that God Himself rescued them and brought them into His household. And so, that idea has become really powerful for me, as we've been looking at the research, and I've been going through Scripture. This idea that, you know what, God invited me into His household. And now, He actually does utilize our households to connect with other Christian households, to strengthen the brothers, but also to be an invitation to those outside, to welcome them into our household. It's an opportunity to allow other people to get a glimpse, to experience the household of God as it's lived out through my household.
Don Everts: I find it interesting. It's enough that God calls us to it, right? And like you say, it's all throughout the Scripture, we're called to have open doors, to be hospitable. What was interesting in the research is that it turns out it's really good for you. It's good for you, even if you're the one, you're inviting someone in, let's say, because you want to care for them, or because they're lonely, or they're new to town. Obviously, it's good for them, they're being blessed. But what the research revealed is that this call from God to live a life of hospitality is an abundant life. It actually grows your faith, and the corollary is pretty interesting, which is that insularity and isolation are risk factors for growing your faith. Maybe it shouldn't surprise us that what God calls us to is good for us, but the research confirms it.
Jason Broge: And the research isn't saying, "You better have someone over your house for lunch and dinner every day, or you're just not doing it right." That's not what the research is saying, and it's not what we're saying. But we are looking at what Scripture says, we are looking at the research and saying, "Maybe it's time to challenge ourselves, to push that boundary a bit, from wherever you currently are." And you'll have to know that, whoever you are. If you've never invited someone into your house, then the first step might be a real baby step. It might be inviting another couple out to dinner. It might be participating in a block party that someone else has set up and starting to make those connections, and moving towards that time where you feel comfortable, and your household feels comfortable doing that. It doesn't have to happen overnight. But it is a call we hear God giving to us. And it's one, as those who have been invited into His kingdom, into His household, we want to grow in, as we will seek to nurture faith within our own households.
Mike Zeigler: As I listen to the two of you talk, it makes me think of 1 John when he tells us, "This is love. Not that we loved first, but God loved us first, and so we also ought to love one another." And so, hospitality is a tangible way of expressing love. God was hospitable and welcomed us into His household, and now we do likewise.
Don Everts: It's interesting, in an age where there's some quarantines and there's a virus ...
Mike Zeigler: Yeah, we should talk about that.
Don Everts: Yeah. So some people could say, "Well, open doors, I can't have an open door right now." And I get that, I'm taking my kids to school this fall, and quarantining and all that. But here's what I would say, having an open door—hospitality—is about initiating with others and inviting them into your life, embracing them, welcoming them in. There's ways you can do that in other ways. So Wendy and I, we know someone who lives alone, so they're not seeing anyone; they lost their job. And so, we got them on a video call, and we set the laptop on a thing right by our dinner table, and we invited them over for dinner. So they had cooked dinner at their place, and we cooked dinner at our place, and we had dinner together, and we had conversations with each other. Now, she was at her apartment, and we were in our house. But we initiated with her and welcomed her into our household, and doing something with our household. It's just one example of how, even while being physically isolated, we can still be hospitable.
Mike Zeigler: Right. And you've seen the pictures of people visiting through a window or through the back screen door. I did that with a friend, the person we were visiting with had at-risk health conditions. So we sat on the back porch and visited through the screen door. And yeah. So there's ways to practice this, even not being out of the woods yet with this pandemic. Jason, what would you recommend to somebody, considering the circumstances of COVID, but also the call of God to be hospitable? What's something that someone could take as a tangible step toward this area?
Jason Broge: One of the things the research, not just this research, but all research has really been pointing out is, there's a lot of isolation going on. And COVID, and the quarantine that's going on, has really shown people just how bad some people are isolated, especially people who are living by themselves, and how a number of them don't have a lot of connections. Now's the time to sit down and say, "Who do we know that might be being affected by this in a particular way, who might be really experiencing that isolation, and what are things we can do to reach out to them?" And as Don said, just reaching out and extending to them, and inviting them into your life at this time, is going to be a very powerful move. Even if you can't go into their house or invite them into your house, that stop by, outside the window, can make all the difference. The letter, the FaceTime call, carving out a night now that you have less things going on because of quarantine. And if you're like my kids, a lot of their sports are canceled and everything's just done.
Now is a perfect time to discuss it with the household and pick one or two families—pick one or two people who you know might need someone connected with them—might be a grandparent that you have that lives by themself now; it might be a neighbor who you know lives by themself. Reach out to them; drop them a letter; stop by their house and, from a safe distance, talk through a door, let them know they're not alone. Reach out to a college student who, suddenly it's their freshman year, and suddenly the college campus is closed. And instead of having vibrant friends and getting to know new people and being part of groups, they have Zoom calls in a dorm room by themself. I've been praying for a lot of college students this year; this could be a rough year for them. This can be a chance for you to help make that a little better and bring some hope, the hope of the Gospel, into their lives.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you for encouraging us with God's Word today, Jason. And Don, thank you for the work that you've done in this project with the book, and other resources we have available. And you can find more about spiritually vibrant households and homes at Lutheran Hour Ministries' website, at lhm.org. Thanks for joining us.
Don Everts: Good to be with you.
Jason Broge: Thank you, Mike, for inviting us. But also for your continued, faithful proclaiming of the Word.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)