22 October 2019

Welcome to Tuesday’s Podcast. Our reading today is Acts 9: 19b – 31. Today we’ll focus on verse 27-28:

But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.

REFLECTION:

Hospitality is so powerful.

Being able to make someone feel welcomed, embraced and included is such an incredible gift.

Whenever I heard the word ‘hospitality’ I must confess I used to feel a bit confused. I think I fell into the trap of believing that hospitality was presenting the best ‘us’ – hoovering the house; sedating the dog – making sure the place was clean and tidy. There’s nothing wrong with those things – but hospitality isn’t entertainment. It’s not showing off a perfectly manicured home with a Danish inspired colour scheme. The Biblical picture of hospitality is deeper – it’s about allowing people into our lives. The Greek work for hospitality is filoxenia – it’s literally to ’embrace the stranger’. We spent 6 weeks over the summer thinking about ‘Big Table’ – who are we inviting into our lives? It’s nearly November – so if you’re part of STC – how are you getting on with that?

The truth is that there are two stand out characters in yesterday and today’s passage that challenge me hugely on the topic of hospitality. Yesterday Ananias literally welcomes ‘Brother Saul’, and today Barnabas. There’s so much we could say and to cover all of today’s passages would take us well outside of the time allotted for his podcast.

In today’s passage Saul’s arrival in Jerusalem and connection with the disciples there is met with hostility. Saul’s reputation went before him. Let’s not forget the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7: as his beaten bloody body was dragged him out of the city, witnesses laid their coats before Saul – and it says in verse 60b ‘Saul was there giving approval to his death’.

So I kind of have some sympathy for the Jerusalem disciples. Had Saul really changed? Was he a really a follower of the Way? Was he lulling them into a false sense of security and then reporting them to the authorities? Would they forgive him?

It’s easy to embrace those we like. People like us. It’s easy to show hospitality to those who are safe; friends – people we get on with. What about those we don’t get on with? What about those who have wronged us? Irritate us or even just get under our skin?

What happens next is quite profound. Barnabas – a kind of quiet giant in the New Testament – steps forward and embraces Saul. In much the same way that Ananias did in Damascus, Barnabas affirms Saul’s story, vouches for his character and confirms his calling. Barnabas’ name means the ‘Son of Encouragement’ – not his proper name but one given to him by the early church. He confirms over Saul all that God has spoken over him. That’s what encouragers do – they speak life. Criticism does the opposite. To change the atmosphere in our workplaces – homes and even our marriages – we need to spread encouragement. Barnabas’ encouragement of Saul is a truly hospitable thing. The Jerusalem church embraces this stranger Saul.

Encouragement and hospitality are intertwined.

If you’re in a community – is it genuinely a place of hospitality? Are your new people welcomed? Embraced? Even if their presence in your Cell group means it isn’t quite as cosy or intimate as it used to be? What about at Cluster events – will you talk to the people you don’t quite know as well – show hospitality – or stay in the comfort zone of speaking to the people you feel safe with?

A few weeks ago I was challenged walking home from school. I saw someone we know and they were walking so slowly. I was so annoyed by how slow they were walking; I wanted to cross the road and rush home. I sensed a little check in my spirit – no, walk slower. It annoys you but I want you to talk and embrace this person. I did – it cost me about an extra 5 minutes.

Hospitality is costly. Hospitality is an attitude. That’s why it’s way more than a dinner party. In the same way it was costly for the early church to embrace Saul but look at what the Lord did through their inclusion.

Who can you welcome today? Into your heart? Home? Community?

PRAYER:

Help us to embrace the gift of hospitality & share God’s goodness with all we meet.

Amen

READING: Acts 9:19b-31

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, ‘Isn’t he the man who caused havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?’ Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.

After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.