Sunday, February 17, 2013

Showing Hospitality to Guests

Exodus 23:9 (NKJV)
“Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

As our Scripture today reminds us, God commanded Israel to be hospitable, merciful, just and gracious to “strangers” – that is, foreigners or immigrants in Israel who were most susceptible to abuse and exploitation by those who understood Israel’s language and customs. God warns Israel lest they use their knowledge to swindle these newcomers or to humiliate them.

Note that in our passage today the rationale God uses to enforce his command is Israel’s own experience in Egypt. The Israelites were to remember that they had once been strangers and that, therefore, they knew what it was to be in a different land – unfamiliar with the language, ignorant of the customs, uncertain of the expectations, vulnerable to exploitation. Israel knew the heart of a stranger. Therefore, Israel was not to oppress a stranger.

This principle is repeated throughout the law. We read, for example, in Leviticus 19:33–34:
‘And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Israel was to take special care that foreigners and strangers be treated justly and compassionately. So what does this command have to do with us? Much in every way. After all, Paul commands us in the book of Hebrews, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…” As Christians we have an obligation to welcome and protect those most vulnerable to exploitation or humiliation.

There are numerous implications that follow from this principle – today let us consider one and we will address others in weeks to come. One implication is that we need to love strangers to our congregation. When there are visitors, we have an obligation in the sight of God to love and cherish these folks and to assist them to feel at home. We have a certain language and certain customs with which visitors are unfamiliar; we have relationships with one another that visitors don’t yet enjoy. So we have an opportunity to make visitors feel welcome, loved, appreciated, and included. This may mean assisting them with their bulletin or their hymnals; it most certainly means making sure that visitors aren’t standing around with no one welcoming them. Be courteous, be gracious, be hospitable, be welcoming. The goal is to make them feel at home – for you understand, do you not, the heart of a stranger? You know what it is to visit a new congregation of God’s people – you know that it is awkward and that when members of that congregation make you feel at home it is a welcome oasis in a barren land.

But often we are so consumed with our own troubles or our desire to be with just our friends that we neglect to think of these visitors in our midst. Rather than think of others, we primarily think of ourselves. This exhortation I would urge upon the youth as much or more than upon the adults. Look for opportunities to welcome visitors. Welcome them and make them feel at home.

Reminded of our obligation to welcome strangers and of our tendency to think of ourselves more than others, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.