Entertaining Angels? Hebrews 13:1-2

Have you ever been among a group of people in which they were clearly on the “inside” and you were equally clearly on the “outside”?  Do you remember that hollow, uncomfortable, anxious feeling that made you just want to get away as they exchanged old stories, laughed at inside jokes, and engaged in unfamiliar rituals?  When you started a new job?  Came to a new school?  Joined a new organization?  Perhaps you remember the first time you visited a church – ours or another.  How did you feel on that occasion?

The answer to that question will tell you an awful lot about a church (and, of course, the people who make up that church – the church is people).  Statistically, the most important determinant for whether someone comes back to a church is not the music, the preaching, the sanctuary decorations, the parking, the nursery, or the programs.  The most important thing is, “Is this a warm and friendly group of people?”  If someone visits two or three times and no one notices them or even tries to their name they won’t come back.  They need to begin to build relationships with eight different people in order to ultimately be incorporated into the family.  It doesn’t matter how good a job we do in every other way – dropping the hospitality ball does insurmountable damage.

Hospitality is one of the spiritual disciplines that the New Testament talks about the most and that we talk about the least.  “Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13).  “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9).  “We ought therefore to show hospitality to such men so that we may work together for the truth” (3 John 1:8).  The Greek word translated “hospitality” literally means “love for a stranger.”  Do you have “love for a stranger”?  This flies in the face of cultural principles – “Watch out for Stranger Danger,”  “Good fences make good neighbors,” and so on.   Yet the Bible says to love strangers.  Do we love even the strangers who walk through our doors on Sunday morning?  Or are we too busy visiting with, talking with, fellowshipping with those on the inside that we never practice even the most basic forms of hospitality – “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met…”  “Hello, my name is…”  “Our kids are about the same age, why don’t we get together for a play date…”  The New Testament recognizes this as a spiritual discipline as important as prayer, Bible study, worship participation.  It is one of the ways you can tell whether your faith is turned inward (and therefore self-centered) or outward (and therefore others-centered).

One more curious scripture concerning hospitality is found in Hebrews 13:1-2, “Keep on loving each other as brothers.  Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”  The word translated “entertain” doesn’t mean juggling or doing a song and dance.  The word means “to extend hospitality.”  The scripture says that sometimes it is angels who are there as strangers to receive hospitality – Why?  No doubt it is to test the obedience of those believers – would they practice this spiritual discipline and extend their love even to strangers?  Or are they all talk and no action?  I wonder….If an angel showed up here for worship next Sunday, would we pass the test?