The Resurrection and Hospitality
Acts 2:42-47

(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg


The Fellowship of the Believers
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This morning I would like to start my sermon by taking a little pastoral risk. I would like to ask if there are any strangers here?  Are there any strangers here?

Even as I ask the question, I sense there is some distinct discomfort among us. I suspect there are a few visitors among us, and we would be willing to raise our hand if I had asked if there were any visitors because the very word visitor extends a welcome. But to use the word “stranger” implies that someone might be here who does not fit in, who stands out in the crowd because of their difference, who is noticed simply because they have not been noticed before.

If you were a person who felt distinctly uncomfortable when I asked the question “Are there any strangers here?” then I invite you to remember that theme of discomfort as clearly as you can. And then hear these words - “No matter who you are, you are welcome here!” I am so glad you have joined us to be part of our community today.

What I have just done, in making you feel the discomfort of strangeness (xenophobia) and then welcoming you has everything to do with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Imagine if you were one of the disciples who not only witnessed Jesus arise from the grave, imagine if you were also one of the disciples who witnessed his final blessing, he raised his hands, and even while he was raising his hands he ascended to heaven right in front of you.

The truth is, maybe our imagination needs a little help. First of all, if you had witnessed the resurrection or ascension, you would be a Jew or at least a God fearer. But your home land and your home city no longer belongs to you, it belongs to the Romans and the way they rule can be capricious, unpredictable, violent, abusive. You may have property, but the truth is, you just don’t have a clue how long it will be yours. As a Jew, you know the times are unpredictable, in fact you came from a long history of unpredictability - going all the way back to Abraham, who left his home to live as a stranger and an alien in a land that God promised was his, but everyone in the land had no clue that it belonged to him. Jacob saw his whole life as a pilgrimage. If you had witnessed the resurrection and ascension, a big part of your family history goes right back to Egypt, where you were strangers and eventually powerless slaves because different Pharaohs had different ways of treating strangers. And we can add to that story the exile.  At that time, Israel lost their homes, the city, they were deported to Babylon to be servants and slaves there. If you witnessed the Ascension, being a stranger is in your blood, in your story, in your present political circumstances.

Jesus was also a stranger. He was one of them, yet he was different, but as they got to know him, this stranger had the words of life, the power to heal. This stranger told them that he was the same as God, the same person, the same power, the same stranger “I am who I am” that talked to Abraham and Moses and Elijah, the same God who had spoken through David, Isaiah and Daniel. This stranger had the power to forgive sins and he told those who followed him that he was preparing a home for them - “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14)

But as they heard it, they wondered what he meant. They sensed that he, the stranger, had promised them a home where they would not be strange.

Then he died. All the promises seemed to come to nothing. For the disciples, his death was not only the loss of a friend and master, it was the loss of a hoped home, a place to belong, a place they could call their own.

And then he arose again. They witnessed the reality of his physical body, with its new supernatural characteristics. They witnessed his presence, his words of assurance, the peace he came to give. They heard his blessing as he ascended. They saw him arise to heaven, they saw him disappear into the clouds, they saw the angels who announced he would return just as he left. But in all this, they saw something even more profound, they saw that they themselves belonged to something different, another kingdom, another country, a new Jerusalem. They started seeing themselves as citizens of another world, a spiritual kingdom that was not worldly. They were reminded that they themselves were sojourners, strangers on a journey toward home, a “kingdom that would never be shaken,” wherever they were.
Witnessing the resurrection and ascension, the early church had the realization that their journey on earth was only temporary, they belonged to an eternal kingdom whose treasures would never perish, spoil or fade. Their political identity became shaped by an eternal kingdom, their economic identity became defined by eternal treasures, their family identity became the eternal family of God into which they had been reborn, their purpose in life went beyond making a living to making a loving - loving brothers and sisters, new members in the family of God with whom they would spend eternity.

The resurrection had a profound effect on how they understood themselves. Being a stranger took on a whole new meaning. And being the church took on a whole new meaning. Listen to Paul in Ephesians 2:19f:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.  In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

The church became the place where strangers could come because it was a place full of those who had the experience of being strangers. Luke, in Acts 2 pictures this wonderfully for us. He tells us that Jerusalem, at the time of Pentecost was a place full of strangers from ever known nation. It was a crowd of strangers gathered together that witnessed the outpouring of the Spirit. In tasting of the Spirit, they tasted of God, who was choosing to be a stranger no longer, God was making his home among his people.

The passage which we read tells us that the early church made up of all these people from all over the world had a remarkable welcome for strangers.
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people.

Their welcome was not only to worship, their welcome was into their homes, beside their tables, a welcome not only extended to family, it was extended to people from all over the world. And so Peter would call the church a whole bunch of strangers who had been chosen by God.

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
(1 Peter 1:1f)

As the church grew throughout the Roman empire, everyone noticed that if ever there was a welcoming group, it was those Christians. In times of persecution, the church survived in large part because Christians welcomed strangers, refugees, escapees into their homes, often at great personal risk. The entire hospital movement was started to by providing a place that was safe for strangers. We, the Lord willing will have the opportunity this fall to spend more focused reflection on the profound nature of hospitality that God calls us too.
The effect of the resurrection was to cement into the early church that as aliens in this world, the church was their new home, their new family, their eternal relationships. And so they regularly shared their homes with each other and with strangers, knowing that these strangers were not only their eternal brothers and sisters, knowing also that these strangers they welcomed may actually be the Lord, checking out their welcome.

I would like to conclude by making one tribute to mothers on this theme, and then we will proceed to the Lord’s supper.

As I have listened to individuals over the years, as I have heard them talk about their mothers, one theme has come through repeatedly and clearly. Mothers had a wonderful way of welcoming strangers. Maybe this story is similar to yours. I remember that one of the characteristics of my mother, when I was young was her profound capacity to welcome my strangers into her home. For some reason I remember my 10th birthday (or maybe it was my 12th) my mother threw a party for me that welcomed my classmates, even though she knew hardly any of them. I remember my classmates pumping our pump organ as hard as they could, seeing if they could get it to make music with all the keys pushed down simultaneously, which only took about 6 boys to try. She welcomed them, even though the bellows of that wonderful organ never worked quite as well thereafter. So that I would not be a stranger in our classroom, she invited strangers into our home. She knew how to throw a party, something like the early church. You see the flip side of welcoming the stranger is we keep ourselves from being strangers. We identify ourselves as one of the family of God.

This morning we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. It is fitting that we do that, because Christ, in welcoming to the Lord’s supper welcomes us who were once strangers, Paul would say enemies, to this meal. And in the scriptures, to share a meal was to be personal friends together.

And so this morning, if you are a stranger, or even if you feel like a stranger though you may have participated in our worship often, Christ invites you to come. In his invitation, he is saying “ I have chosen not to be a stranger to you.” Come, join the party, remember and believe that I died so that you can be part of an eternal home, an eternal family, an eternal belonging to the family of God. Come, join the party, remember and believe in me.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God ; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

 


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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