Growing up I remember learning lessons about hospitality from my mom. How to throw a great party, how to make a fabulous birthday cake, how to clean, and always to write thank you cards, and most importantly how to make people feel loved, [ She was especially good at that one.]
So, as I grew up, and learned more about hospitality and loving people I realized that I missed the important stuff. The focus on the cake, the clean house, and the cards was great, but the key isn't the perfect party it’s the people. It is about the acceptance and love they feel as they enter our house. It is instilling into guests that this is a safe zone for whatever is burdening you. This is a place where you bring your mess and we help you in anyway we can to make sense of it [ or sometimes just sit with you in it!]
So, as we look at Paul and his ministry, we see incredible glimpses of hospitality. But, not in the way you are thinking [that is why it is a story that I love and remember - because it comes from complete left field.]
In Acts chapter 21 we jump into a tough time in Paul's life. He is getting arrested for teaching God’s word and then starts his journey back to Rome [because he is a roman citizen] to be tried for his “crime” and this is where I want to sit for a little.
After some treacherous storms and a last-ditch effort of throwing overboard their supplies, the boat and it’s crew are in over their heads. So Paul [a prisoner] stands up and says “Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island.” [Acts 22-26]
I think the reason this story stuck out to me so much is because it baffles me that as a prisoner, Paul is still rising up as a leader, an encourager, and a messenger of good news. And he only continues to do that as the story unfolds.
So, with little food left, Paul encouraged the men to eat one last meal before they throw the rest over board. He [a prisoner] “...took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat. Then they were all encouraged and ate some food themselves.” [Acts 27:35-36]
Paul took the Lord’s supper on a ship with men who wanted him killed for sharing this good news. He is so confident in his mission with God, that he doesn't even think twice about giving thanks and remembering Jesus’ sacrifice.
That day, the ship struck a reef and everyone had to swim to an unknown shore, which we know as Malta. As they all swam to shore, they were welcomed, as the “...native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.” [Acts 28:2]
Did you read that?? The native people of this island WELCOMED a ship FULL of PRISONERS and took UNUSUALLY good care of them. If that doesn't scream good hospitality, then I am not sure what does. It puts my cake and thank-you cards to shame. These strangers were welcomed with open arms and treated with kindness and love.
How many of us can say that is how we would have responded?
If a bus full of prisoners broke down in our neighborhood would we welcome them in? Light them a fire? Feed them? [I am sure some of you are laughing at that request because it seems so foreign] - but isn't that what we are called to?
Aren't we called to invite, encourage, love and show mercy? Isn't that what is going to make people feel welcomed?
Minus a few hiccups, like Paul being bitten by a snake, deemed a murderer, to then be called a god once no misfortune came from the bite - these people show incredible hospitality. They “...received them and entertained them hospitably for three days.” [Acts 28:7]
For three days these strangers took care of these shipwrecked strangers. They fed, clothed, and housed prisoners all while showing mercy, compassion and love. Can you imagine if we as a culture acted so hospitable?
Maybe this life wouldn't be so hard.
Maybe this life wouldn't be so lonely.
Maybe we wouldn't be so fearful of being vulnerable.
Maybe we would ask for help more often.
If we just trusted and invited and loved.
And as the story come to a close we learn that “...the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him. And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. They also honored us greatly,and when we were about to sail, they put on board whatever we needed.” [Acts 28: 7-10]
They invited strangers in and a stranger saves them. Nothing on that island happened by chance - God orchestrated every move.
This story has stayed with me because it is an incredible reminder that God may not call us to paradise on an island, but He does call us to that island to be a blessing to others.
So while we may all be striving for a place of paradise, instead maybe we should strive to be a place of hospitality.
These people from Malta understand the true meaning of what people need and they met them there in their moment of deepest need.
That is what life is about. Not about the perfect house, cake, card, or party favors. Hospitality is about meeting a person's deepest need. And if that means heartfelt conversations in your PJ’s on an un-vacuumed floor, snuggled in a blanket that has too many coffee stains to count - so be it.
So, let’s start worrying less about the material matters and more about heart matters.
That’s what I have carried with me; that even in inconvenient times we are called to be hospitable, that God orchestrates every move, and that heart matters are more important than material matters.