In addition to my ongoing series on The Sermon on the Mount, I’ve decided to begin writing (in no particular order) about the values and principles that usher in the Kingdom reign of God. I’m not claiming to be an authoritative voice or some sort of “expert” in the Way of Jesus. Rather, this is more of an exercise in “thinking out loud” (if blogging can be considered an “out loud” phenomenon), an effort to collect my thoughts on some of these Kingdom traits. I find that I think best when I write and I want to spend more time thinking about the Kingdom of God. Thus, I write.
Last week, a new governor was sworn in here in the state of Alabama. Dr. Robert Bentley garnered national attention just a few hours after his inauguration by commenting to his audience: “…anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister.” Needless to say, Bentley’s opponents were licking their chops at the ways they could use that sound bite as cannon fodder against the wet-behind-the-ears governor. Protests here within the state and around the nation have spoken loudly and forcefully in their condemnation of Bentley’s remarks.
Actually, the context of Bentley’s comments is pretty helpful in clarifying exactly what the governor was trying to say:
There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit. But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have, and like you have if you’re a Christian and if you’re saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.
Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.
While I’m not surprised non-Christians around the nation are criticizing Bentley’s remarks as insensitive and offensive, a careful reading reveals a freshly minted governor expressing a desire for the deepest kind of communion with his constituents: the fellowship of brothers and sisters in Christ. That last line is telling: I want to be your brother. Bentley goes on to say as much in elsewhere in his speech:
I was elected as a Republican candidate. But once I became governor … I became the governor of all the people. I intend to live up to that. I am color blind.
I’m neither an ardent supporter of Gov. Bentley, nor am I seeking to participate in the hyper-critical chastising he’s receiving from those with differing political ideologies. I happen to share Dr. Bentley’s conviction with regard to Jesus, but I think these kinds of statements are inevitably going to do more harm than good by being taken out of context by the political propagandists and pundits who provide vitriolic commentary on such matters.
The entire episode reminds me of the need for Christians to seriously consider the full implications of the New Testament teaching on hospitality. A few key texts:
- Practice hospitality. — Rom. 12.13
- Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach… — 1 Tim. 3.2
- Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. — Heb. 13.2
- Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. — 1 Pet. 4.9
Hospitality is a lost art among most of us. When we think of hospitality, I think most Christians think of two things:
- The hospitality industry (hotels, restaurants, etc.)
- Something we do on the off chance we might be “entertaining angels”
I guess you have to admit that it would be a feather in your spiritual cap to have invited Michael and Gabriel into your home for an evening meal. But it seems hospitality is much more ordinary most of the time. I can almost hear a voice like John the Baptist rising up and preaching, “Entertaining angels? Well, that’s mighty fine! But what about your neighbor? What of the guy down on the corner? What happens to the mother and child living under the bridge? What about the irritating co-worker who you’d just love to tell off? Perhaps we should ask ourselves: what would it look like to demonstrate the Kingdom value of hospitality to the “least of these.”
The point I want to make is that the call to offer hospitality extends beyond a cup of cool water and a warm blanket. Thankfully, social justice resonates more with this generation than with our parents and grandparents. Gen Xers and Millenials seem to have figured out that faith must be fully integrated or else it’s of no value at all. But where do you draw the line with hospitality? Where do you draw the line on how much of yourself to give? Is there such a thing as hospitable speech? As an answer to the question, maybe we can paraphrase Paul from 1 Cor. 13: “If I give all I have to the poor, if I volunteer countless hours at the soup kitchen, if I sponsor a child through World Vision, if I donate to my church’s food bank…and yet I still speak in hateful, judgmental tones, I have gained nothing. Because I have not loved.”
One of my pet peeves is when people go out of their way to make someone else feel bad, look bad, embarrass them, etc. I see people of faith do this all the time. This week, in fact, I was on the receiving end of this kind of dismissive, flippant speech. My feelings weren’t legitimately hurt (because these belittling statements came from individuals who truly don’t know me beyond a very superficial level), but it was a harsh reminder of the reality of speech and the power it holds to either create or impair community.
The Kingdom of God is a realm…
- where hospitality reigns
- where no one is alienated
- where individuals are received as they are
- where speech is used inclusively as a means of cultivating community
- where we are brothers and sisters in communion with one another
God’s Kingdom is the intersection of the hospitality we receive from God and the hospitality we demonstrate toward others. In this way, hospitality becomes an intersection between love for God and love for others.
May those of us who have tasted the Lord’s hospitality reflect His gracious mercy and love that others may experience it as well.