Paul had a plan. Every city and every town that he hoped to impact with the power of the Gospel, he had a list of people to talk to. He would go pretty early to the leaders of the synagogue. There he would try to show them how the truth about God that they had known from their earliest age had come to fruition in the person of Christ. He would also want to go talk with the political and business leader. If they could be converted, then he would have some incredible influence on his side.
But in each town, his plan began with a specific knock on a specific door. The very first thing, he would find out where the Christians were. The members of the Christ-sect. The believers. The Way. And he would go to their house and simply knock on the door. And with the knock, came a request. He would ask them to show him hospitality, to give him food and lodging and prayers. It was a moment of truth. How would they respond? What would they do? Would they turn him away, or invite him in? On their answer hinged the future of ministry in that place.
Those called out for leadership in ministry for God have always had to knock on that door. They have always had to rely on the help of others in order to the work that they do. The Levites, the ordained priests of God in the Old Testament, relied on the people to bring an additional offering for them to live on, and relied on the people to provide extra resources for their survival. Jesus, in his ministry on earth, moved from house to house, relying on the hospitality of others. Remember when he stayed with Mary and Martha? When he told Zaccheus that he was coming to his house that day? When he sent out the seventy-two and told them to knock on the door and if they were accepted, then they should minister there, but if they were rejected, they should shake off the dust of their feet and never set foot in the town again. He taught them that they had to knock on that door.
Paul did, too. As did missionaries like him, whose primary vocation was to preach the Gospel of Christ, he was dependent on the hospitality of the church. When he went to a new town, he would go first to the Christ-followers and ask whether or not he could stay with them.
This is the context of Romans 12. In the passage I read a few moments ago, Paul is sending a letter to the believers in Rome, before he even steps foot in the city. His purpose is two-fold. First, it is to give them a theological heads up about his message and what he hopes to preach with them personally. But it is also a practical heads up. He is telling them he’ll be there soon, or at least someone representing him. Raymond Brown notes that Romans is both a letter of recommendation for his Gospel, but also a letter of recommendation for himself! “Extend hospitality,” he says. Paul is suggesting that they care for the needs of those missionaries who he sends, and indeed eventually his own. “Expect,” he is saying, “a knock on the door.”
This month, we have been revolving our conversations around Matthew 25 and the parable of the sheep and the goats. Now, the most general and open translation of “the least of these” is all who are in need. Anyone in our community or world that needs the care that we can give. But there is some traction in some scholarly circles that Matthew did not mean such an inclusive translation. Instead, he was referring to the same missionary model that Paul was. They suggest Matthew was talking specifically about caring for the needs of missionaries who were working in their midst. He is referring to these missionaries when he suggests that we must feed them and house them, take care of their health needs, and visit them when they were imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. They are the “least of these.”
Now, personally, I prefer a more general and open translation of Matthew 25 myself. I think it is consistent with the call of Christ that all in need should be cared for. Many scholars agree. However, it is important to note that even if we translate these passage in the most restrictive way, the most narrow interpretation, it still demands hospitality to our leaders and missionaries as a baseline. Hospitality is a non-negotiable.
So what does this mean in our context? I think it means a few things.
First of all, I think it is relevant for the ways that we talk about and to our leadership of the congregation. Our Spiritual Leadership Team. Leaders of our Ministries. I don’t have to tell you that this has been a significant year in the life of the church, and it has been a challenging year for our leadership. Month after month. Meeting after meeting. Difficult news. Difficult decisions. Difficult second-guessing.
Now, if the stress of a church emergency were all that was facing the Spiritual Leadership Team, it would be enough. Yet, it is only the beginning. You can imagine the challenges that they face in their personal lives as well, as do so many of us. Loved ones facing serious health crises. Family members going through significant life transitions. Grief over the loss of family and friends. New and difficult life situations that make life challenging and difficult. Yet, here they come month after month, reporting faithfully to talk about remediation plans and mold counts. And month after month, they continue to do it with wisdom. And commitment. And love.
Let me tell you, these women and men deserve our hospitality. They deserve our care. They deserve our love. They deserve our prayers. I would draw that circle of leadership widely. John Pauls and the Spiritual Leadership Team, Craig Weinaug and Steve Heilman and the Capital Campaign Team, Neal Purvis and Nathan Benfield and Dava Cooper and the Facilities Ministry, Bill Stauffer and Travis Cooper and the Finance Ministry. These are significant leaders and workers for the Kingdom of God. And they deserve to be cared for. They deserve to be supported. They deserve to be prayed for.
Romans 12 is a powerful picture of how the church is supposed to work. Each part of the body doing their job. Working together to do their part. Unity in mission and purpose as they each respond to their call to ministry.
So, today, in our context, what is your role in the body of Christ? What is your calling? What are your gifts? How will you support the church? How will you extend hospitality to its leaders?
What are ways that you support them?
What are ways that you pray for them? For their ministries and for their lives?
Do you ask how they are doing and how you can help?
What are ways that you join them in their work of ministry and mission in this place and in our community?
This morning, I challenge you to “extend hospitality” to the leadership of our congregation. Maybe it is to invite them into your home, or out for a coffee. Not to give them a list of things they should be doing differently, but just to say “thank you” or “I’m praying for you.” They are giving long hours and long energy. They will not knock on the door themselves, so I am knocking on the door for them. They need your support and your unity and your prayers.
But our work of hospitality is not done. No, it’s just beginning.
Because it was almost two full years ago that someone else came knocking on our door to open our eyes to a larger Gospel work. Following our trip to Haiti, our team was enamored by the story and the passion of our translator, Louisene Desauguste (or Dezo). She had a vision for ministry in her beloved homeland. She had a vision to come to the States and learn to become a nurse, in order to return to Haiti to do ministry there. Dezo has a plan! And now, by the grace of God, we are a part of her plan, as we have the opportunity to host her during her time here in the States in nursing school.
So, in a manner not unlike Paul’s, Dezo left her home and her family and her comfort and came to Kansas, to prepare for the Gospel work of caring for the children of Haiti. I remember that Christmas night two years ago, when she arrived from the airport and met a group of us from the church. It felt like our advent was over…our waiting had been rewarded. Yet, our work had just begun. For in some incredibly practical ways, Dezo needs us to “extend hospitality” to her as she prepares for her Gospel work. As we partner with her, our role is an important one. Yet, it challenges us beyond our realm of convenience:
- How many of you regularly give financially for Dezo’s education? Or her personal needs? What could you sacrifice to make her mission a reality?
- How many of you go out of your way to invite her into your home to let her know that we care for her? Or take her out to eat? To sit her down and ask how she is and how her classes are going?
- How many of you pray for her? For her classes? For the children of Haiti that she will empower and heal?
I know that some of these questions are pretty personal. We are talking about hard earned dollars and the sacredness of our homes. But hospitality is a personal endeavor. But, again, Dezo will not necessarily knock on that door, so I am knocking on it for her. Like Paul, she is relying on us and our hospitality. And like members of the community of believers in Antioch, or Ephesus, or Corinth, it is our responsibility and our covenant to do just that.
And now, we each face a moment of truth. How will we respond? What will we do? Even after two years, the question is real, will we invite her in? Will we extend hospitality to those doing Gospel work among us?