“Heavenly Hospitality”Dr. Noel Schoonmaker John 14:1-3 Year A – Fifth Sunday of Easter – May 18, 2014
In this part of the United States – the South – we are famous for many things. We are known, of course, for our accents. We are renowned for our “home-style country cooking.” And we are especially famous for our hospitality. People all over the U.S. are familiar with the term: “southern hospitality.”
Southern hospitality might mean different things to different people. But to me, it’s a term that captures the genuinely warm, friendly, welcoming ways of many people in the South. I can hear the soundtrack of southern hospitality in my mind right now…
Come on in. Can I take your coat? Have a seat on the couch. Make yourself at home. May I pour you a glass of sweet tea, or some lemonade? Have you eaten anything yet? Do you want some chicken casserole, some string beans, or some sweet potatoes? Let me fix you a plate. Would you like another helping, or maybe some dessert? We have cookies, banana pudding, and three kinds of pound cake. Are you sure you won’t have some more? Don’t rush off now. It’s so good to see you. You are welcome here any time.
That’s what comes to my mind when I think about southern hospitality. And I love it! I’m so glad to live in an area where many still practice that warm, friendly, old-fashioned, southern hospitality. But today, I want to talk about a different kind of hospitality.
You see, while we practice our hospitality down here in the South, our Lord is up in heaven practicing heavenly hospitality.
In our text today, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” When Jesus says, “In my Father’s house,” he is referring to the residential area in heaven. He’s talking about God’s home, his own home. And he says there are many dwelling places there. Church, that is good news! There is plenty of room in God’s presence for everyone who wishes to take up residence there!
I find it wonderfully ironic that Jesus invites us to his home, his Father’s house. Here’s why: When Jesus came from his Father’s house to visit us here on earth, we didn’t have enough room for him.
Mary and Joseph just wanted a place to stay at the inn in Bethlehem, but there was no room available for the Son of God. And the little baby that we didn’t have a room for grew up and promised us that when we come to visit him in heaven, he’ll make sure there’s a place for us!
You see, not only is there plenty of room in heaven; Jesus even says he’s going to prepare a place for us there. What hospitality! All the necessary preparations have been made for our life with God!
Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus prepares the way for us into God’s presence. Dying on the cross in apparent weakness, Jesus powerfully demolished the boundary that stood between God and humanity.
Mark’s gospel says that when Jesus died on the cross, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two (See Mark 15:37-38). Formerly, that curtain had separated the people in their sinfulness from God in God’s holiness. But Jesus’ death on the cross tore that curtain in two, making a way for us sinners to dwell in the immediate and infinite presence of almighty God! Jesus opened the door and said, “Come on in to God’s presence.”
Basically, in our text today Jesus tells us not to be troubled, because we are welcome in God’s presence; we are welcome in heaven. People often talk about heaven’s pearly gates. I’m sure many of you have heard someone start a joke with St. Peter standing outside the pearly gates of heaven.
Well, I don’t know if there are literal pearly gates at the entrance to heaven, but if there are, Jesus has flung them wide open and put a celestial welcome mat in front of them! In Christ, we are welcomed into God’s eternal presence! There is a place for us in God’s home, later. And there is a home for us in God, now. That is the good news of heavenly hospitality!
The Bible speaks of Jesus sitting at God’s right hand in glory, and I believe he does (See Luke 22:69, Acts 2:33, Colossians 3:1). But in a way, Jesus is God’s right hand stretched out of heaven, saying, “Welcome. You are welcome here. You are welcome in God’s presence.” And this truth not only applies to the heavenly tomorrow in our lives; it also applies to the earthly today!
Today, we are not in heaven. In fact, the pain and suffering in this world often makes it a place that is far from heavenly. But nonetheless, we can experience life with God here and now. When we feel lost in this life that is far from heaven, God gives us guidance and direction through the Bible. When we feel guilt in this life that is far from heaven, we find God’s forgiveness in Jesus’ death on the cross. When earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters strike in this world that is far from heaven, we trust that God is still working for good on the earth!
Even though there is suffering and hardship in this world that is so far from heaven, we can experience God’s presence through Christian community: people that love us and stand with us; people who will prop us up on every leaning side when we are struggling; people who rejoice with us when we celebrate and weep with us when we mourn.
And finally, we can experience life with God through the hope we have today, hope for a brighter tomorrow. For Jesus promises that some day he will return and take us to be with him in heaven!
Jesus is God’s invitation to humanity. Jesus is God’s one man welcoming committee that opens wide his arms, saying: welcome all. Jesus is God’s hospitality in human flesh. Jesus says elsewhere in John, “I am the door” (See John 10:7-9). He is the door, but not a closed one. Rather, Jesus is the open door into God’s forgiveness, God’s peace, and God’s community right now. And beyond this life, he is the open door to God’s eternal presence in heaven.
Church, that is good news! That is gospel truth! But like all gospel truth, it does not allow us to remain as we are, and it certainly does not allow us to sit idle until heaven calls and says our room is ready. This gospel truth calls us to practice heavenly hospitality here on earth.It calls us to pull down heaven’s ways of welcoming and use them here. We often pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and hospitality is one way to make that happen.
You see, in the Christian faith, when we believe something about God, when we make a theological claim, we don’t just say it with our lips; we also articulate it with our lives. If God’s Kingdom is a place of hospitality, where all are invited and all are welcome, the church should strive to be the same way. If we are to be a foretaste of God’s Kingdom here on earth, then we must practice heaven’s kind of hospitality.
But what, exactly, does it mean to practice heavenly hospitality? Heavenly hospitality means having the attitude that we have plenty of room for everyone who enters our church doors. It means that when a visitor sits in “your seat” on Sunday morning, you do not get upset; rather, you are delighted that someone new has come to worship with us! And heavenly hospitality means making friendship a goal among our membership.
Heavenly hospitality: being glad to see unfamiliar faces in the sanctuary and eager to learn some new names.
Heavenly hospitality: shaking some new hands during our greeting time and telling a few more folks that you are glad they are here to worship God with you.
Heavenly hospitality: reminding our homebound members that they are a crucial part of our church, and that we love and appreciate them.
Heavenly hospitality: reminding our inactive members that we miss them and would love for them to get involved again in our church family.
Heavenly hospitality is not sitting around and waiting for people without a church home to come visit us. It means being pro-active and inviting people to come and worship the living God with us! If we are really going to be the body of Christ, then we must strive to be the outstretched hand of God in this world, welcoming friends and members, guests and strangers, all who will come.
I believe hospitality is heaven’s style of evangelism. God doesn’t force anyone into faith. But in Christ, God invites and welcomes whosoever will come. Likewise, we shouldn’t try to force people into faith. But, we should welcome them to a place where they can find space to worship the living God, a place where they can find plenty of room to grow spiritually, a place where they can join the community of Christ.
Overall, I suppose southern hospitality and heavenly hospitality have some things in common.
Come on in.
Make yourself at home.
You are welcome here any time.
About the writer:
Noel Schoonmaker is Pastor of First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, TN. A native of Travelers Rest, SC, he was ordained to the gospel ministry at Churchland Baptist Church in Lexington, NC, where he served as Senior Pastor from 2004-2005. He also served as Pastor of First Baptist Church, Valdese, NC from 2007-2013. Noel is a graduate of Furman University (B.A.), Wake Forest University (M.Div.), and Vanderbilt University (Ph.D.). He enjoys making music, playing basketball, reading, and being in the mountains. His favorite thing to do is spend time with his wife, Dayna, and their young daughters, Maggie and Nora.
Scripture and Music:
1 Peter 2:2-10
How Firm A Foundation
The Church s One Foundation
Only Trust Him
Be Still My Soul
My Jesus, I Love Thee
Christ Is the World s True Light
When We All Get to Heaven
Victory in Jesus
God Is My Refuge and Strength (Pote)
Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life (Clausen)
God of Grace and God of Glory (Langston)
Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation (Wood)
Dear Lord, Lead Me Day by Day (Jane Marshall)
If You Love Me (Pfautsch)
Father, Lead Me Day by Day (David York)
His Eye Is on the Sparrow