Archive for the ‘Service’ Category

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Show Hospitality

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing

some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13: 2

South Africa failed to win the football World Cup tournament, which it recently hosted. Spain accomplished that feat. However the host nation did win the hearts of those countries whose supporters visited in their hundreds and thousands to savour its hospitality. Apart from the vuvuzelas, the irritatingly monotone blow horns beloved of the home supporters which made it impossible for the more vocally inclined visiting fans to sing their polished repertoire of chants and songs, few people had anything but praise for their hosts. Praise which echoes that expressed by many others, including me.

On my visit to South Africa in 1992 I was the recipient of generous hospitality from many people. I particularly remember an occasion when I attended worship in the Anglican Church in Rini Township. The era of apartheid had only just ended and the fruits of that segregationist legislation were still apparent. Rini was a black township and the church’s congregation was black and very poor. The service was extraordinary in its vitality, passion and warmth and the singing was heavenly. Afterwards, the small number of visitors, all of whom were white and relatively wealthy, were invited to stay for lunch. We thought it impolite not to accept the invitation and expected to share in a simple communal meal. However, we were sat at a table by ourselves and served sumptuous fare by smiling waiters. This little church obviously believed that nothing was too good for their guests. It was a humbling if somewhat embarrassing experience. If ever I received a lesson in Christian hospitality it was then. Perhaps they believed they were entertaining angels.

The biblical demand for hospitality is clear in both Old and New Testaments. The people of God are strangers and sojourners whom God has welcomed into the “household of faith.” In turn, God’s people are to “make room” for the stranger, not only in the community of faith but also in their own personal households. This is the biblical meaning of hospitality —making room for the stranger, especially those in most acute need.

For the people of ancient Israel, understanding themselves as strangers and sojourners with responsibility to care for vulnerable strangers was part of what it meant to be the people of God. As a nomad in the ancient Near East, Abraham knew the sacred rule of hospitality. It was more stringently kept than many written laws. There were many dangers, and travellers were at risk. The rule of hospitality was that a guest would be treated with respect and honour. Water would be provided for foot washing and a large feast prepared. The traveller enjoyed protection from all enemies for three days, as the host provided sanctuary. (The Lord)… loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

Jesus, who was dependent on the hospitality of others during much of his earthly journey, also served as the gracious host in his words and in his actions. Those who turned to him found welcome and rest and the promise of welcome into the Kingdom.

The practise of hospitality was also common in the Early Church; indeed it was fundamental to its fellowship, ministry and mission. The believers’ relationships were strengthened and social boundaries shattered as they shared meals together in one another’s homes. The poor were fed and the spread of the Gospel was resourced as Christians hosted itinerant evangelists. The value of hospitality was not lost on the Apostles: ‘Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling’ (1Peter 4:9).

Hospitality should not therefore be seen as a nice extra. It is not optional, nor is it a rare spiritual gift; instead, it is a normative biblical practice, a spiritual obligation and a dynamic expression of vibrant Christianity.  Jesus expects us to practise hospitality, for whenever we welcome and care for the stranger and the broken we welcome him as our guest: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew. 25:40).

The practice of hospitality is good for the Christian soul. We lose something of the distinctive nature of Christian discipleship when we neglect it. Some of the most rewarding occasions for us as a church family have been when we have eaten together, having catered for ourselves either through bringing-and-sharing food or enjoying the talents of our catering team. This should encourage us to eat together communally more often as well as inviting each other, those whom we know well and not so well, and newcomers into our homes.

All Christians are called to be hospitable because hospitality is ministry and it is absolutely essential to the health and vitality of Christian community. We should practice it readily; after all we might find ourselves showing hospitality to angels without knowing it.

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postheadericon Helen Roseveare

Emmanuel

 

‘The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and

they will call him Emmanuel‘ – which means God with us‘.

Matthew 1: 23

Helen Roseveare is a doctor who has become a legend in her own lifetime. She served as a Christain medical missionary in the Congo 1953 – 1973, practising medicine and training others in medical work. She identified completely with the people among whom she lived and served, choosing not to abondon them through the hostile and dangerous period of political instability of the early 1960s. In 1964 she was taken prisoner by rebel forces and for five months endured beatings and rapings. Her situation was desperate.  Eventually Helen’s captors brought her before a people’s court confident that she would be found guilty of ‘crimes against the people’ and executed. To the astonishment of the rebels the people, when asked what should be Helen’s fate, courageously demanded that she be set free, insisting that Mama Luka was one of them.

On her release Helen returned to Britain but in 1966, as if to underline that she was indeed ‘one of them’, she went back to the Congo to assist in the rebuilding of the nation. She helped establish a new medical school and hospital (the other hospitals that she built were destroyed) and served there until she left in 1973.

It is impossible to imagine the terror Helen would have experienced at the hands of her captors. She must have questioned the wisdom of obeying God’s call and leaving the comfort and security of Britain for a primitive and dangerous life in the Congo. She may even have resigned herself to being killed, if not by a beating then certainly by execution.

‘And where was God throughout all this?’ we may well ask. Helen has given us the answer. He was right at her side, feeling every blow, every bruise, every broken bone. God wept Helen’s tears, and lived every minute of her loneliness, and lay at her side in the depths of despair. God knows what it is like to feel forsaken, for He became one of us.

If Christmas is to mean anything at all it must be regarded as much more than the birth of a baby boy. It commemorates the incarnation of God, His becoming a human being, one of us. In his Son, Jesus Christ, God left the glory of heaven for the squalor of a borrowed stable and an earthly existence that would acquaint him with sorrow and grief. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only [Son], who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).

At the end of his life Jesus was taken prisoner, beaten and brought before a people’s court which his enemies had subverted and which condemned him to death by crucifixion. He chose not to escape his death and so lovingly paid the penalty for the world’s sin. His resurrection broke the chains of sin and death and won eternal life for everyone. He has set the captives free because, as St Paul declared ‘…through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death’ (Romans 8: 2).

Christmas has brought among us the one who says, He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners’ (Luke 4: 18). Freedom is made possible because, with the birth of the Christ Child,  God became one of us!

Emmanuel. God is with us.

Happy Christmas!

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