Stranger God 1

The idea: Jesus comes to us in strangers.

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. (Matthew 25:31)

All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (Matthew 25:32)

He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:33)

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. (Matthew 25:34)

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, (Matthew 25:35)

I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:36)

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? (Matthew 25:37)

When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? (Matthew 25:38)

When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ (Matthew 25:39)

“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)

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41)

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, (Matthew 25:42)

I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ (Matthew 25:43)

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ (Matthew 25:44)

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:45)

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)

Cautionary tale. The parable of the sheep and the goats is a cautionary tale. It’s about a time in the future where God separates humanity into two categories. One referred to as sheep and the other as goats. Modern day, neither of those is a compliment.

The parable continues: The sheep receive good news and the goats receive bad news. And what is the bad news? ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

And the goats will look at Jesus with a shocked look in their eyes and say ‘When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, in prison?

And Jesus will turn to them and say essentially ‘Everywhere. I was right in front of you, and you couldn’t see me.'

God comes to us in strangers. And lots of us don’t see him. In fact, the people Jesus names: The prisoner, the homeless, the hungry are named precisely because we don’t see them. This isn’t the only time in the Bible where people fail to recognize that it’s God standing right in front of them.

Genesis 18 - Abraham sitting under tree - 3 strangers.

In Genesis 18, we find Abraham sitting under a tree and 3 strangers walk up. It’s interesting b/c the Bible refers to them collectively as “The Lord”

When Abraham saw them, he jumps up and welcomes them in and cooks a meal for them.

Church history tells us that the 3 strangers represent (or perhaps actually are) the 3 members of the trinity - God the father, God the son and God the holy spirit.

In fact in 15th century, Russian painter Andrei Rublev painted his most famous work, called ‘The Hospitality of Abraham’ which depicts the 3 strangers as the trinity. (pic)

God is welcomed in extending hospitality to strangers.

Contrast - next chapter - Sodom

This story is a contrast to what happens in the next chapter. Basically two of Abrahams visitors after the dinner go down to Sodom to gather intel on this town that is rumored to be incredibly wicked. And how are they gonna tell that?

They have a simple test: They plan to go into the middle town, spend the night and see how the town takes care of these 2 people sleeping on it’s streets.

In Genesis 18, God tested the goodness of a town by how they treated a stranger.

And it seems like maybe everything is gonna go ok when Lot pleads with them and convinces them to stay in his house. But then it all goes belly up when the violent mob tries to rape the 2 angels.

People often think that the sin of sodom and Gomorrah as homosexuality. That’s not what this story is about. This story is about the contrast between Abraham welcoming the strangers and Sodom abusing them.

Judges 6:11-14

The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. (Judges 6:11)

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12)

“Pardon me, my lord,” (sir) Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? … (Judges 6:13)

The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14)

So here we see Gideon sitting by what he thought was a regular man, but as I turns out it was the God himself, in disguise.

Last one:

Hebrews 13:1-13

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. (Hebrews 13:1)

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)

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)

So here the writer or Hebrews says that when we encounter a stranger, be careful how you act, because that stranger may very well be an angel in disguise.

God comes to us in strangers.


Book : Stranger God.

Which brings us to this book. It’s called Stranger God which his a pretty weird title. I like it. It’s by this guy named Richard Beck. Professor of Psychology at Abilene Christian University He has a GREAT blog called ‘Experimental Theology’ which I love. I love that title, wish I came up with it.

One of the things he’s known for is having a weekly bible study at the French Robertson maximum security prison.

When asked was asked by the chaplain why he would want to start this bible study he said “Jesus said we’d find him disguised as a prisoner. So I’m out here looking for Jesus."

Last year he published this book called Stranger God.

It’s all about this word ‘Hospitality’ : the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.

Living with the awareness that sometimes the homeless man IS God himself, has a way of changing how you treat the homeless.

And if you were to ask most Christians about hospitality they would say that we practice hospitality to be like Jesus. And that’s completely true. But the Bible teaches us that we practice hospitality to welcome Jesus.

Matthew 25 In Matt 25, Jesus isn’t the one doing the jail visits, he’s the one in jail being visited. God isn’t the host, God is the stranger. And so the reason it’s important for us to look at this concept of hospitality is that God says how we treat the least in our society is how we treat him.

Read Along We’re going to be following the book a little. There’s stuff we’re talking about that’s NOT in the book and LOTS in the book that we don’t have time to get into, but I highly recommend it. Love for you to read along.

Selling Book We’re selling the book in the back. It’s $10. It’s cheaper than you’d get on amazon. Also last week, one of you gave an extra $20 in case a couple people didn’t have the money for the book but still wanted to read it. So if you don’t have the cash but you’d still like the book, that’s alright too. Just head back after service and get one.


Story - lady coming through window

When I was in Bible college, me and Luke had an apartment together. We lived on the third floor so there was never anyone passing by our window, there was nowhere to go except for our front door. Well one night we were sleeping and I looked up at my window and I could see someone messing with my window and trying to open it. And it was only at probably 2 feet away from my head. And it was backlit because the light was on outside so I could see the outline of this person. Well eventually they were able to slide the window open and I saw their hand reach through the blinds and it was only about probably 1 foot away from my head.

So I said "can I help you?" And this sweet African-American lady said "Oh I'm sorry, I am sorry, does Jasmine still with here?" And I said "uhh… nope" and so she said "oh I'm so sorry I'm so sorry" and she close's my window. Well another couple minutes pass and I hear a knock at the door. So I put on pants go and open the door and it's this lady and she says "I'm sorry I'm sorry, but can I use your phone? "Now keep in mind that this is probably three in the morning. And so I said sure come on in. So she's using our phone, smoking in our living room talking to somebody pacing in the living room and I'm just in shock and what's happening. Eventually she gets off the phone, and says I'm sorry I'm sorry but is there anyway that you can give me a ride? And I'm just thinking what is happening right now? But I said sure and then I realize it is freezing outside and she's in this basketball jersey type thing and shorts. And then I say "do you have a jacket?" And she says "no." So I sigh and I give her my jacket. And then I take her to where she wants to go drop her off, "God bless you". And then I head back home just in time to get ready for school.

As weird as that sounds, I’ve always been kind proud of that story. But as I’ve grown, I’ve started to ask myself: Am I still that person? Am I still the guy that is willing be inconvenienced by stranger?

Book - reawakened.

And honestly, I’m not sure. But I know I want to be. And that’s kind of where this book comes in. Earlier this year when I read it, I felt like it reawakened something in me that used to be really strong, but had fallen asleep.

Where my default posture towards the world USED to be openness and kindness, I don’t know, I just feel like I got busy and scared and so I closed up. But God is re-opening me up to the people in my community. And so this book really meant a lot to me when I read it, and I hope this time will mean a lot to you to.


Idea for tonight:

Hospitality is a heart thing

Here’s the idea for tonight: Hospitality is a heart thing

Imagine with me that you’ve been invited to a party, and so you show up, by yourself. As soon as you walk in, what’s the first question you ask yourself? - “Are my friends here?”

And as strange as it sounds, that simple tendency to cling to the people who know and understand is one of the reasons we’re so bad at being hospitable like Jesus.

The Circle of our Affection

People who are inside our circle of affection and people who are outside of it.

And the way that we treat people who are inside our circle is completely different than the way we treat outsiders.

On one hand, there’s a lot of good that comes out of this: Love for family, love for your close friends.

But there’s also a lot of bad here. That we have a way of not noticing or even mistreating people that are outside of our circle.

Hospitality is really centered around this idea of making room. Making room for the God who comes to us in strangers.

But before you can ever make room for strangers in your life, you have to first make room for strangers in your heart.

WTD: Hospitality is expanding the circle of our affections to make room in our hearts for other people.

And that’s a really hard idea. We see the will the embrace emanating from the life of Jesus, but if we’re honest, I’d say most of us don’t have that.

The reason is pretty simple, it’s b/c strangers are strange. Sometimes even scary.

It’s much easier to narrow our circle of affection to people who we already know and understand.

Servers @ restaurants.

Think about servers at restaurants.

I waited tables for years to get through bible college, and worse yet, I waited tables at a restaurant next to a mega-church.

One time instead of a tip, the person wrote on the line : “Here’s a tip: follow Jesus.”

Let’s say you have a friend who just got a job at a restaurant and it’s their first night waiting tables. So you and a few friends show up and asked to be seated in her section. Well she comes up frantic, saying this first night has been a night from hell and she’s so behind on all her tables and she doesn’t know what she’s gonna do! - What do you say to your friend? “Don’t worry about us! Take your time. Deal with those other tables first.” Of course you’ll say that to your friend. Because she’s in your inner circle.

Now imagine that same thing happens but the server is a stranger. You don’t notice it’s busy. You don’t notice your server is frantically running around and sweating. All you notice is that your drinks are taking too long.

Before you know it, you get annoyed and stop making eye contact with them. Maybe you make a joke about them, leave a small tip.

Let’s think about those 2 scenarios. What’s the difference? In the first example, the server is inside your circle of affection and in the second example the server is outside your circle of affection. But we know she’s in SOMEONE’S inner circle, we know SOMEONE loves her, just not us.


Struggle - expanding - in The Early Church.

You can see this this struggle to expand the circle of affection in the early church.

In Galatians 2, we read about this fight between Peter and Paul.

Galatians 2:11-13

When Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. (Galatians 2:11)

So here we have Paul confronting Peter to his face. Why? - Read on.

For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. (Galatians 2:12)

The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. (Galatians 2:13)

Explain: So Peter was a jew, and all these non-jews started following Jesus, and at first, he was great with that, he was eating with them. But some other jews convinced Peter to stop. “Keep your circle small, Peter” And so he did. The circle of his affection collapses. And Paul calls him out on it.

Which is a lot like today. Today the lines of division aren’t jew and gentile, it’s probably more like Republican/Democrat, rich/poor, black/white, american/non-american.


Order is everything

In Mark 1, we read a story about a Leper who comes and falls at Jesus’s feet.

Lepers for those of you who don’t know where completely separated from society, had to live alone and everywhere they went, they had to yell “Unclean! Unclean!” So that people would know not to touch them.

Mark 1:40-42

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40)

Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” (Mark 1:41)

Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. (Mark 1:42)

And after he touches his he says “Be clean.” And the man is healed.

Notice ORDER. But I want you to notice the ORDER: Jesus touched the man BEFORE he cleansed him, while we was still unclean.

Step 1: Embrace / Step 2: Cleansing

That’s a huge deal. That’s so different than what we get from so much of the world today, which is : “If you get cleaned up, then we’ll embrace you.” That’s not what Jesus did. When Jesus looks at this man, ‘a leper’ is not the first thing he sees. The first thing he sees is a human being.

(The book:) “Order is everything. We welcome people into the circle of our affections when we unconditionally embrace their humanity before we sort, judge, or evaluate them by any other criteria or standards.

Before we see a woman, or a Democrat or a lesbian or a homeless person or prisoner or minority or an addict or a Muslim, or any other label we can imagine, we must see the human being first. That’s the will to embrace, the first step in hospitality.

B/C if what you do is say: “I’m dealing with a muslim here.” Instead of them being first and foremost a human being, you already making space between yourself and them.

‘Love the sinner, but hate the sin.’

That’s why the whole idea of ‘love the sinner, but hate the sin.’ Is actually not that good. Because you’re still labeling the other person. They’re ‘a sinner’, not a human being, not friend, not brother, but ’sinner’.

Or at least you could say it like this: “Love the sinner, hate the sin” only works when you already love the person. Your son is making stupid decisions and you love him but you hate the decisions he’s making.

That’s fine. The reason that’s fine is because the love was first.

Your sister is making bad decisions, and you love her but you hate her sin.

That’s fine. B/C the love was first.

The order is everything. It starts with love.

But if you don’t already love a person and you see them and you say ‘Yuck. Well, love the sinner, hate the sin.’ That doesn’t work. You’re just labeling people.

You might be thinking: “So does this mean never address bad behavior? We never address sin?

  • Conservative Christians tend to worry that welcoming sinners will dilute our Christian message.
  • Progressive Christians tend to worry that welcoming sinners will protect abusers and oppressors.

In reality, of course it doesn’t do any of those things.

Again, it’s all about the order. We love FIRST and then we confront SECOND. Without confronting sin both personal and systemic, we lose justice and we lose truth, which are both things we’re called to.

Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. - Henri Nouwen


Peter Rollins - Salvation for a Demon

Peter Rollins is this super interesting philosopher and author and he has this parable that he calls ‘Salvation for a demon.'

It’s about a small little priest who’s known for his hospitality. Well late one night, in the middle of winter a knock was at the door of the church, the priest was concerned that it was someone who might be freezing to death so he hurried and opened the door. And standing outside the door was this huge terrifying demon.

Without even thinking of it, the priest welcomed the demon into the church, and the demon is going around cursing and blaspheming.

When it was time to go home, the priest left to his house and the demon followed him. Again without even thinking of it, the priest invited the demon into his home and prepared them both a meal. All the while the demon is cursing and mocking the priest.

Here’s the climax of the story:

The demon then ate the meal that was provided and afterward turned his attention to the priest,

“Old man, you welcomed me first into your church and then into your house. I have one more request for you: will you now welcome me into your heart?”

“Why, of course,” said the priest, “what I have is yours and what I am is yours.”

This heartfelt response brought the demon to a standstill… For the demon was unable to rob him of his kindness and his hospitality, his love and his compassion…

What happened to that demon after this meeting with the elderly priest is anyone’s guess. Some say that although he left that place empty-handed he received more than he could ever have imagined.

And the priest? He simply ascended the stairs, got into bed and drifted off to sleep, all the time wondering what guise his Christ would take next.


This kind of thing actually happens in real life…

Daryl Davis - African American musician who’s spent his life befriending members of the KKK.

Dozens of former KKK members have left the clan because of Daryl Davis. And they’ve given him their robes. He has robes of former Grand Dragons. (pic)

Because he’s willing to sit with them, have conversation with them, even form a friendship with them. BEFORE he sees a hood, he sees a shared humanity. When asked what his strategy is he said this “You invite somebody to the table."

Judy's Husband Keith Judy's Husband Keith - Was at the calcutta home for the dying. And it was his job to care for this teenage girl. And she was wild. The people there said she was demon possessed. And when talking about it years later he said: "It was my job to take care of Jesus in the most distressing disguise."


Closing

(Prepare - Communion)

Takeaway (challenge):

As you go about your daily life, try to notice where you circle of affection begins and ends. And then ask yourself: In what small way can I work to expand it to include other people?

As pass - Remembering Jesus’s hospitality towards you, and how that affects your hospitality towards others.