Epistle: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
1Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” 7Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Hospitality – you may just be greeting an angel.
A story by Fred Craddock:
A few years back, Fred was invited to lead some kind of preaching mission in Winnipeg (Friday night ... Saturday morning ... Saturday evening ... twice on Sunday ... you know the drill). When he finished Friday night, he noticed that it was spitting snow. His host told him not to worry, given that it was only mid-October. "Good," said Fred, "because all I brought from Atlanta was this little, thin jacket."
Fred went to bed. But when he got up the next morning, he couldn't open the door for all the white stuff that was piled against it. Snow driving. Wind howling. Temperature falling. Phone ringing. It was the host calling Fred's motel room.
I hate to tell you this, but we're going to have to cancel this morning's session. Can't tell about the evening. But things look pretty bad. Nobody saw this coming. City's not ready. Plows, not ready. Crews, not ready. Nothing's ready. Worse yet, nothing's open. In fact, I'm stuck in my driveway, meaning that I can't come down to fetch you. So I don't know what you are going to do about breakfast. But I do have an idea. If you can make it out of your room, walk down to the corner ... turn right ... go one block ... turn right again ... and you should be standing within shouting distance of the bus station. There's a little cafe in there. And if any place is gonna be open, it's gonna be open.
So Fred curses his luck, zips up his jacket, busts out his door, and goes in search of the little cafe. Two rights. Bus station. There it is. Wonder of wonders, it's open. But it's also crowded. It seems as if every stranded soul in the universe is crammed inside.
There is no place to sit. But some guy slides down the bench and makes room for Fred to squeeze in. Waiter comes over ... big burly guy ... non-shaven ... wearing half the kitchen on his apron. "Whatcha want?" he snarls. "Can I see a menu?" Fred asks. "Don't need no menu," the waiter answers. "Didn't get no deliveries this morning. All we got is soup." "Well then," says Fred, "soup it is. I like a little breakfast soup from time to time."
So the soup comes in a rather tallish mug. Looks awful. Shade of mousey gray. Fred half-wonders if that's what it could be ... cream of mouse. So he doesn't eat it. But he does use the mug as a stove ... cupping his fingers around it ... warming them on it.
Which is when the door opens once more. Wind howls. Cold surges. "Shut the blankety-blank door," someone shouts. Lady enters. Thin coat. No hat. Ice crystals in her hair and eyebrows. Maybe 40. Painfully skinny. Men slide over to make room for her at another table.
"Whatcha want?" shouts the guy with the greasy apron. "I'll just have a glass of water," she answers. "Look lady," he says. "We're crowded in here. We don't give no glasses of water. Either you order something or you leave."
Well, it quickly becomes apparent that she isn't able to buy something. So she rebuttons her coat and commences to leave. Whereupon a funny thing happens. One by one, everybody at her table gets up to leave, too. Followed by others ... at other tables. Even Fred (who still hasn't touched his soup) gets up to leave.
"All right ... all right," says the soup master. "She can stay." And he brings her a bowl of soup. With order restored, Fred turns to his table mate and says: "Who is she? She must be somebody important." To which the guy says: "Never saw her before in my life. But I kinda figure if she's not welcome, ain't nobody welcome."
Which pretty much settled the matter, to the point where all you could hear (for the next few minutes) were soup spoons clinking against the sides of the mugs. Even Fred broke down and ate his soup. Which wasn't half bad, really. Some might even call it tasty.
Later on, he still couldn't make out the taste ... but he felt as if he'd had it before. But what was it? He couldn't remember. For the life of him, he couldn't remember. Then it hit him. Strangest thing, really. That cream of mouse soup tasted, for all the world, like bread and wine. That was it ... for all the world like bread and wine.
William A. Ritter, quoting Fred Craddock, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
Let us pray: Lord, may we welcome all, for your message comes in the most surprising ways when we are open to it. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen