Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2, NRSV)
We have all heard at one time or another the passage in Hebrews that tells us to be kind to strangers because you just never know when you may be talking to an angel. Isn’t that an awesome thought? For anyone that knows me, one thought like that leads to another…
So of course the direction that my mind takes off in is to idealize what a perfect meal (because of course hospitality includes good food!) would be like. I envision starting off the meal with an herbed tomato salad made with dainty, vibrant heirloom tomatoes. The main course should include angel chicken sitting on a bed of angel hair pasta. Of course the only logical conclusion to this meal would be to finish off with angel food cake covered in juicy, ripe strawberries and swirls of fluffy, whipped cream.
The conversation around the perfectly set dining room table is deep and meaningful. We cover important topics like relieving poverty, providing safe food and clean drinking water to all, and how to achieve world peace.
However, I don’t think that is quite what the writer of Hebrews was trying to convey in this verse.
Entertaining is stressful and messy.
Life is stressful and messy.
Last week I attended the MC USA biennial convention in Kansas City, Missouri as one of the youth sponsors with our MYF group. We connected with old friends, became better acquainted with familiar faces, learned new things in seminars, and came together to worship and praise our God during daily worship services.
Our time was filled with endless opportunities to know and hear God’s voice. We rose early to gain new insights or fresher understandings of things we already knew at the multiple seminars that were available. We were servants together in city-wide service projects. The fellowship and opportunities to be community together were plentiful. The nights ran late with worship services and were followed by more recreation time together. A fellow convention attendee said at the end of the week they were physically exhausted but spiritually filled.
The Emmaus Road in Luke 24 was the scripture focus. Some very gifted musicians, teachers, and preachers helped us to unpack this scripture through a series of dramas, songs, and sermon messages. We came away with the understanding that even though we may not see him, Jesus is always walking with us. Even in the bad times in our lives he is there, using the situation as part of the process, and ultimately there is a purpose in all that is happening that he can use to help teach us and mold us into something new and better. This is a very brief synopsis of the messages last week, and doesn’t even begin to convey the talent of the gifted people who facilitated all of the worship services.
As the week came to a close, Kim Litwiller, Associate Conference Minister for the Illinois Mennonite Conference, opened the worship service on Saturday night, just as she had done for all of the youth worship services throughout the week. She told us how sad she was to see the week close, but rather than asking us what we were taking away from our time together, Kim asked us, “Where did you see God this week?”
Where did you see God this week?
The question took me by surprise. All week I had been looking for what God wanted to do with me, but I don’t know that I was looking for him around me. My eyes were apparantly blinded.
Which made me start thinking.
Are we so busy looking for angels that appear in rays of glowing heavenly light among us that we miss the angelic moments brought to us by humanity? Do television shows and movies now have us conditioned to be looking for the extraordinary rather than paying attention to the everyday ordinary occurences and people?
What if while you are following the advice of the writer of Hebrews and showing hospitality, just in case it is an angel, you yourself are being used by God to be someone else’s angel?
During that last opening message, Kim used an illustration of where she had seen God during the convention. She told a story about a moment in her week to the 2000+ people (youth and sponsors) gathered, that she said could have been quite embarrassing for her. She had just come back to the hotel after her morning run and stopped in the lobby to get a cup of coffee. She had a flavor shot put into the cup and turned to walk to the coffee dispensers when she accidentally dropped the cup. The sticky liquid in the cup spilled on the floor and the bottom of the counter. A woman standing close by very quickly came to Kim’s aid and helped her to get it cleaned up and on her way again. In that woman, at that moment in time, Kim saw God working.
Are we paying attention to how God is using those around us for his purposes?
Are we aware as we are helping others that God is using us for his purposes?
How often do others see God through the random acts of kindness we are offering to others?
Perhaps the writer of Hebrews should have instructed us to act as angels to others by showing hospitality, empathy, and compassion rather than to watch for one of them. By helping others through good deeds and servant acts when they are in need, God is using us to help spread the light in his Kindgom.
For the most part, we will probably never know how our acts of kindness have uplifted or encouraged others. Every now and again God does allow us to see the good we did with just a random act of kindness though. In the most unlikely of ways.
The woman at the hotel coffee counter that quickly came to help that morning was me. Never in a million years did I image that simple act would be remembered or have any kind of impact.
We, the children of God in his kingdom on earth, are the hands and feet of Jesus. Let’s use those hands and feet to spread his love by showing his love through acts of kindness in a dark and cruel world. Let’s take turns carrying each others crosses and bearing each other’s burdens.
Each one helps the other, saying to one another, “Take courage!” The artisan encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer encourages the one who strikes the anvil, saying of the soldering, “It is good”; and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved. (Isaiah 41:5-7, NSRV)