There are a bunch of moments in the Scriptures where authors are writing to new communities of faith, giving them some benchmarks to aim for as they live out following Jesus together. For this blog series we are taking some of these benchmarks and seeing what we can learn from them in our own journey.
Last week I got on a plane and headed to Australia to attend a conference. I was with a friend who had done most of the organising of this trip on my behalf (thanks Andy...) and he had lined up a place for us to stay for a few nights with some friends he knew. I didn't know these people, they were strangers – and I also didn't know that these strangers were about to school me on what it looks like to welcome a stranger.
"I'll be comfortable, if you're comfortable." Those were the words that Tim said to me as we introduced ourselves to each other, and boy, did I end up feeling pretty comfortable. Offers to "help yourself" to everything in the fridge rung out; questions of "what are you up to?" were genuinely listened to with stories traded of where we've been and what we've done; more offers to "help yourself" followed by helpful advice for the next day's adventure were then followed by more offers of "help yourself – mate, do you want some ice cream?"
It's amazing to me how such openness to serve someone can take one from being a stranger, to becoming a friend. Every offer of a beer, or a question of "how did you sleep?" was like a drawbridge that was lowered into my world, inviting me to cross over into theirs.
I'm not good at being a stranger and I don't like staying one when I can help it. At Tim and Cand's place in Curl Curl, I didn't stand a chance.
Here in Paul's letter to the Romans he is describing what a life of worship looks like – a life where we point to the glory of someone else. In amongst all kinds of advice is this line that I have made a personal manifesto of how I want to live my life: "be inventive in hospitality." If I could rewrite this, it would say, "be creative and bold in serving everyone with what you have."
Now, a slight tangent for a moment.
A buzzword in church-circles these days is "community". Everyone seems to be "aiming" for it. The problem is, when we make a word like "community" the focus of our communities, we keep aiming for our ideal of it and never really hit it at all, and we end up selling ourselves short and think that just by having a potluck dinner once every couple of months we have "it". But, if we start to break it down into little chunks – little benchmarks like Paul is doing here – and do those things, suddenly one day we look around and realise we have found community as a result.
It's one of those tree/fruit kind of things. "Community" is the fruit of a tree of "service", not the other way around.
Radical service of people with all that you have, whatever that is, is always going to help build community. It will include people and it will humble others. It will use gifts and resources that are in abundance, and it will require sacrifice of things that are tight. It will make some mess, and it will do some tidying. It will love, and it will be loved.
And when all this inventive hospitality of strangers settles, we look around, and we realise that we are now surrounded by friends.
At Central Vineyard, as a church plant, we are preparing to walk this kind of adventure of strangers becoming friends. The call for everyone to be open to inventive hospitality – both giving it, and receiving it – will see us forever in a good direction. In stealing the words of my new friend Tim, "we'll be comfortable, when you're comfortable."