Tag Archives: hospitality series

Who Are Our Neighbors?

By Barbie Fischer

In Mark 12:30-31 Jesus tells us what the greatest commandments are: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” This brings to mind the question, who are our neighbors.

Who Are Our Neighbors 2Throughout the New Testament we see that Jesus intends this word ‘neighbor’ to mean any other person, irrespective of race or religion, with whom we live or whom we meet. This is clearly brought out in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37 and Mark 12:30-33). This commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves is reiterated numerous times in the New Testament (Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; Romans 13:9, 10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile (photo courtesy of Castile family)
Alton Sterling, Philando Castile (photo courtesy of Castile family)

The last two days have brought to mind for me this question of ‘who are our neighbors’, as I watched the news and spoke with friends around the country regarding the two police-involved shootings that happened just this week. These shootings resulted in the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Both shootings took place not far from some of my friends. These men were quite literally my friends’ neighbors . The police officers who took these men’s lives were also my friends’ neighbors. In the moments leading to the weapons being fired, I dare say Alton and Philando were not viewed as neighbors by those who took their lives, but instead were viewed as threats.

When you answer the question ‘who is your neighbor’, who comes to mind? People from church, friends? What are these people like? How many of them are different from you?

We gravitate towards people who are like us. It is comfortable. Navigating those awkward cultural differences can be very uncomfortable. Yet, when we get to know one another and especially people different from ourselves, oh the new things we learn and the blessings these experiences become! I live up the block from a home for mentally impaired adults. Honestly, at first I found a few of them quiet frightening. There is an older lady who stands and stares even I you try to say hello or smile at her, she will follow you with her eyes just staring with a cold, blank expression. There is an older man who walks his imaginary dog every morning. He is often seen singing and dancing, leaping through the air even. While these people live close to me, I might not have considered them my neighbors at first. In fact, had I seen them before I moved in I might have reconsidered. Yet, I am so thankful I live where I do and I am blessed to call these people my neighbors. Each morning as I leave for work, I look for the man with his imaginary dog. His pure joy brightens my day, especially when I ask about his pooch and he picks up the imaginary dog and holds him to my car window for me to pet. I am thankful that the Spirit led me to get to engage with him. If I hadn’t, I might not get that extra smile from seeing him every morning. Even the lady who stares. I still smile and say good morning as uncomfortable as it makes me feel.

Who Are Our Neighbors 4Lord God, we grieve with our neighbors around the country at the loss of two of our neighbors. Both were created in your image, as all of us are. We ask that you comfort those involved in these shootings. We ask that you guide us in your ways and show us what you desire from us at these times and always. We ask, Lord, that as we go through our days, may our eyes be opened to seeing all those we meet as our neighbors. May we see all people as you see them, Lord. In Jesus’s precious name, Amen.

Hospitality from a Harlot

by Barbie Fischer

Rahab photo - 6-23-16Rahab is often referred to in scripture as a harlot. Yet, she is the great grandmother of King David, a man after God’s own heart, and is one of five woman mentioned by Matthew in the lineage of Jesus Christ, God’s own son. Even though she is known as a harlot, she is also mentioned in Hebrews among the faithful. How could this be? In the story of Rahab documented in the book of Jeremiah, we see that Rahab’s faith led to great hospitality, leading to a victory for Jeremiah and the Israelites over the land of Jericho. The story of Rahab is a reminder that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23), yet our faith in Christ as seen in our actions, such as hospitality, saves us. After all, James 2:17 says, “even so faith, if it has no works, is dead.”

Joshua told the spies to go view the land, especially Jericho. “So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there” (Joshua 2:1). Large houses near the city gates would often serve as the city hotel for traveling caravans. Rahab and her family operated one of these inns right on the wall where travelers would pass. Many of these establishments had a little extra emphasis on the “bed” available for the right price. Most likely this is how Rahab got her title of harlot.

Rahab would have known of the Israelites as they could be seen across the river from Jericho in their camp. She may have heard how they miraculously escaped from Egypt and the people of Jericho knew of how the Israelites has conquered other nations. Thus Rahab and others in Jericho knew the Israelites were most likely coming to destroy Jericho.

Rahab, knowing all she does of Israel, not only welcomed the Israelite spies — she risked her life and that of her family by hiding them on her roof when the King’s army came calling for them (Joshua 2:2-7). Joshua 2:8 clearly shows that Rahab offered hospitality at the risk of her life because she believes in the Lord, stating that she knows the Lord has delivered Jericho to the Israelites. She believed. She had faith. She not only offered hospitality because of this — she risked her life.

How many times have Christians judged someone like Rahab. Someone living a life we may disagree with and claiming that they must not be a believer? Could it be that in fact they do believe but need some more discipleship, like Rahab? Yet as Christians do we invest in getting to know these people whose lifestyles are different than our own, strangers to us, or do we offer them hospitality?

The Israelites’ lifestyles were different than Rahab’s; they were strangers to her, yet Rahab offered them hospitality and they accepted it. Her life led to that of King David and Jesus Christ our Lord. Perhaps, we should not write off those different from us so quickly. Perhaps we should offer and accept hospitality from them. After all, we are all sinners (Romans 3:23) and we are all God’s creation (Colossians 1:16).

All Are Invited to the Banquet

by Barbie Fischer

Often the word hospitality invokes images of places to stay and delicious food to be consumed. Throughout the Bible there are over 52 references to feasting and 73 references to banquets. These stories are not just about eating, drinking and being merry; they go beyond that.

In Matthew 22, the wedding banquet is used as an imagery of heaven. Yet those invited were too busy and consumed with work to come. So the host told his servants to invite anyone they found, “those on the street corners … anyone.”

In Luke 12:12-14 we are instructed that:

When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

banquetThese stories caution us that yes, some of us are too busy for heaven. Too busy to come to the wedding feast the Lord has prepared for us. They show us also that while it is comfortable for us to invite our friends and family and “rich neighbors” to a dinner, we are called to go beyond that. We are called to invite all people just as they are, that they may come to the feast and get to know the Lord.  As Christians, these stories are cautionary tales and a call to go beyond the comfortable.

Heaven is open to all, yes, even those who make us uncomfortable at times, because they do not look or act like us. In the story of the wedding feast, the people who came did not have to clean themselves up before they entered the feast. We are not told to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, but make sure they clean up before they come. They were welcomed just as they were. So why is it that so often we expect people to clean themselves up before they come to church, to wear a certain kind of clothing, to act a specific way? All before they come to know Christ?

While the people who came to the banquets in the biblical stories may have been strangers to their hosts when they entered the feast, do you think they left the same as they came? How are people supposed to come to know Christ if we are too uncomfortable to get to know them and share Christ’s love with them?

This week when your worship service begins, look around. Would anyone off the street feel welcome in your congregation? What if they were covered in tattoos and piercings, or maybe their clothes are tattered — would you welcome them to the banquet as you did your friends and family?

As the Lord said in 1 Samuel 16:7, “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” May our eyes be opened to see people as the Lord sees them.

Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zone

by Barbie Fischer

Abraham pic 5-26-16In our last edition, we began our series on hospitality and took a look at Abraham and Sarah welcoming three strangers in Genesis 18: 1-8 in the article Welcoming the Stranger. Hospitality such as this was a cultural obligation and as noted in the article, the Hebrew word actually means bringing in of strangers. As I read the story again, there is a word that struck me in verse two: the word “ran”. In verse two, it says that when Abraham saw the strangers he did not just welcome them in — he ran to welcome them.

This made me think of a firefighter running into a burning building to help someone in need. It also made me think of how often not only do we not run to help a stranger, we often pretend they don’t exist. Especially the homeless people I often see. How many of us pass them by without even looking at them? How often do we do that to people in need in our own congregations or communities?

In Matthew 10:46-52, a blind beggar was crying out to Jesus and the crowd told him to hush, much like our society tells us to ignore the homeless or those in need. Rather than telling the beggar to hush, society tells us we don’t have time, it is not safe. Yet these are our brothers and sisters. In Matthew 10, the author even names the beggar, Bartimaeus. He is a man, not something to be ignored. And Jesus does not ignore him. As Abraham ran to the strangers, Jesus calls for Baritmaeus and heals him.

Honestly, I can’t think of the last time I ran to a stranger, or even called to one. This past weekend, I had a woman cry out to me and ask for spare change. I honestly had no cash on me and so I looked her in the eye and said as much. As I walked away she said, “thank you for responding.” It struck me to my core. I wonder how many times she watches people walk past her, avoiding eye contact, trying to pretend she does not exists.

Abraham article pic 5-26-16It can slow us down to stop and acknowledge that a person is speaking to us, even more so if we try to be hospitable and offer assistance; yet as God’s children are we not called to love our brothers and sisters? Even if right now they are strangers to us?

This week I have been restocking my blessing bags that I keep in my car. These can contain any number of items. In mine I have a snack size bag of chips, soft granola bar, an apple, a small bar of soap, band aids, tooth paste, tooth brush, and a note of encouragement and address to a local shelter. In the winter I add socks and gloves. I keep a few in my car, so when I see someone asking for money I can hand them a bag. When I lived in Washington, DC, I often tried to keep extra granola bars and trail mix in my purse for the same reason. Perhaps, this can be something your congregation can do together. Or if you do not see homeless people on a regular occasion, maybe your congregation can do a food drive for a local food bank and then volunteer at the food bank, and get to know those in your area who are in need. Or begin collecting school supplies for local kids and organize a back pack stuffing day at the end of the summer and a celebration event where the back packs can be handed out.

Hospitality can be uncomfortable. It stretches us out of our comfort zone. Yet, the word of God says, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline,” 2 Timothy 1:7. May the spirit of power, love and discipline manifest in us all as we continue to go to the margins and beyond.

Welcoming the Stranger

By Barbie Fischer

As we begin this journey of diving into the subject of hospitality, it seems fitting to start at the beginning. The origin of the word hospitality can be traced back to the Hebrew/Aramaic word הכנסת אורחים (hachnasat orchim) which literally translates to bringing in of strangers. Something that nowadays may give many of us pause, if asked to bring a complete stranger into our home. Yet, this was common practice in the days of Abraham and Sarah. We see the first record of hospitality in the Bible as Abraham and Sarah welcome three visitors.

The story is recorded in Genesis 18: 1-8, and states:

Abraham“Now the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day. When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth, and said, “My Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by. Please let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree; and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.” And they said, “So do, as you have said.” So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it and make bread cakes.” Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.”

To understand this story one must look at the cultural context. During this period people were seminomadic and there were no hotels or inns, no hospitality industry. It was deemed a social obligation of people in cities and encampments to care for travelers. Abraham and Sarah would have been accustomed to welcoming strangers.

It reminds me of our Mennonite Culture, as we are known for our homestays, and also of my time in Africa, I was never without a place to sleep. Yet, this is not common in our broader culture here in the states and nowadays even as Mennonites we might pause welcoming someone who happens upon our front door with no knowledge of who they are or where they came from. There was a time I was traveling and needed a place to stay here in the states. I mentioned to my friend, Bahati, from the Congo, I was looking for a place. He looked at me and said, “If we were in Africa, I would say come and stay with my wife and I, but we are in America, so I must say, let me check with my wife.” A sign of a respectful husband, but also of our culture, as perhaps his wife would not want a guest. Inviting a guest into the home is not a given in our culture. Yet, for Abraham and Sarah, it would be unthinkable to allow a person in need to pass by without offering them hospitality.

It makes one wonder, what is it about Abraham and Sarah that made them so open to being hospitable? Was it their upbringing and culture? Or something deeper? And what keeps us from being hospitable at times? Is it our upbringing and culture? How can we show hospitality like Abraham and Sarah in this day and age?

Stay tuned for more on Abraham and Sarah with the three visitors, in the next Intersectings edition.

Creating Space

By Jenifer Eriksen Morales

teddy bear picnicMy 4-year-old daughter invited me to join her picnic, complete with plastic fruit.  I looked at the stuffed animal guests, “Wow, you have very different friends.  Aren’t you afraid the bear will eat the dogs or the dogs will eat the cats?” She patiently responded, “No Mommy.  That is not going to happen because Jesus is with us.” She pointed to a doll wrapped in white lying on the edge of the picnic blanket. “See?”

What a prime example of hospitality according to Henri Nouwen’s definition, quoted in last week’s Intersectings. “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place…”

My role as a LEADership minister offers me many opportunities to witness hospitality at its finest within Franconia Conference.  Here are just a few ways in which congregations or members of congregations are “creating space.”

West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship is partnering with Redemption Housing to purchase a recovery home in West Philadelphia that is designed to encourage and support returning citizens. Not only are they collaborating in ministry with this organization, but the congregation will spend the next year preparing themselves to better understand, welcome and build relationships with citizens returning from prison to the broader community and congregation.  This will happen through trainings, Sunday school studies, and guest speakers who will help them grow in understanding the prison system/mass incarceration, and intercultural competencies.

A year ago, a man in the Spring Mount congregation told me about multiple new neighbors who are Muslim.  He asked me to recommend books he could read to learn more about this faith tradition.  Recently, he returned a book I lent him and told me about his on-going learning about Islam and the comfortable friendships he is forming with his neighbors from Pakistan, Egypt and Bangladesh.

Souderton Mennonite Church recently turned an extra Sunday school room into a warm, living room-type space where parents can retreat and connect with each other.  I spent some Wednesday evening club nights there drinking coffee and visiting with others.  I was able to get to know a woman from the Congo. Thanks to the provided space, our family has new friends.

Plains Mennonite Church has a beautiful park which often serves as space for people to connect.  Members of the congregation hang out at the park to have conversation and build relationships with neighbors who gather there for basketball, soccer, disc golf, or just to play at the playground. One member of the congregation carries dog treats in his pocket and takes a couple minutes to greet people and their pets.  This summer the congregation is hosting Art in the Park.  They will hold concerts, movies, and line dancing.  This July, a simple meal will be served each week in the pavilion followed by an art of living class on different topics such as gardening, or cooking/preserving in season foods. This is all free and open to the community. The goal is for all to feel welcomed and comfortable, including those with special needs. To prepare for this time, the congregation will devote June Sunday school classes to raising sensitivity and awareness and learning how to embrace and reach out to the special needs community.

5 years ago, the Perkasie congregation received a Franconia Conference grant to aid in their endeavor to create a safe place for people from the community to gather with faith-related questions or to talk about different ways of understanding the Bible.  The friendships formed there have been lasting.  This group of people still meet and are currently studying Phyllis Tickle’s video series around the theme of Emergent Christianity.

I could write pages about the different ways I see congregations and individuals intentionally creating space where strangers can come together.  As followers and worshipers of Jesus, we live in Jesus’ promise to be with us always.  The space we create in the name of Jesus, where lives and love are shared and transformed is ordinary and sacred.  Because Jesus is with us.  See?

Jenifer Eriksen Morales is Minister of Transitional Ministries and a LEADership Minister for eleven congregations in Franconia Conference.

The Meaning of Hospitality

Radical hospitality image - 4-28-16by Barbie Fischer

Hospitality is a word used often in church, yet, how often do we stop to contemplate what it really means to be hospitable? The Greek word translated to hospitality in the Bible is philoxenia, literally: love the stranger — philo meaning love and xenia stranger. How do we love the stranger? Is it simply sharing a meal, or acting kindly?

Henri Nouwen states in Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life,
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”

Over the next several months, Intersectings will be diving into biblical and everyday stories of hospitality. Digging into the story of the good Samaritan, Rahab and the spies, Abraham and Sarah with the angel of the Lord, and many others. The goal is to explore and uncover what it means to truly be hospitable as Franconia Conference strives to be a place of Christ-centered hospitality, a space where change can take place, and lives transformed for the Lord.

You are welcome to join in on this conversation. Submit your stories of hospitality, reflections and thought on your favorite biblical story on hospitality, or questions you wish to explore to BFischer@FranconiaConference.org.