The Architecture of Hospitality (11am)
Scripture: Romans 12:9–12:13,
One of the things I’ve always been impressed by is stunning architecture. I’m not very well-traveled so I haven’t had the chance to see much in terms of world famous architecture first hand, but when I have, it just astounds me. Caitlin and I went to St. Louis for the first time for our anniversary in the Fall, and seeing the arch just blew me away. I remember doing field trips to D.C. and seeing the Washington monument and the US Capitol building and being in awe. A couple other examples I’ve really come to love.
The first is the Lotus Temple in New Delhi. It almost appears like a flower of stone coming from the earth ready to bloom.
The Petronus Towers in Malaysia are another example. Sleek and postmodern in design, they look like something out of a sci-fi novel depicting a utopian future.
Who doesn’t know the Leaning Tower of Pisa? The tower itself is beautiful but it’s the marvelous mishap of its foundation that makes it such a wonder. Consider that the beauty and wonder is found not in perfection, but in stasis of a flaw.
In April I’ll be traveling out to Seattle and will get to see the Space Needle. Another marvel of architectural ingenuity. This structure was built not only with impressive style but also with purposeful intent as it can withstand wind velocities of up to 200mph and earthquakes of a 9.1 magnitude.
And one can’t really talk about inspiring architecture without talking about our own modern day Tower of Babel – the Burj Khalifa. Despite being almost a decade old, this mega skyscraper is still the tallest structure on the planet standing at 2,722 ft. It actually holds multiple records in addition to being the tallest structure. It is the building with the most floors, it has the world’s highest elevator, the world’s highest nightclub and restaurant, and others.
But if you’ve been here the past few weeks you’re probably asking yourself a question: I thought we were doing a series about neighbors. So why are we talking so much about buildings. Well, good observation. But, believe it or not, architecture and being a good neighbor have a lot more in common than you’d think. One of the striking realities about every one of these marvels of construction is that they were produced from a passionate vision and meticulous execution. They had different purposes and styles but they all came about through a process.
Well, asking the question of who is our neighbor really only holds power if we know what we’re going to do with the answer. And though it can be described in different ways, I think the desired practice of a good neighbor is ultimately hospitality. And just like how any building begins as an idea and then gets drawn out and put on a blue print before it begins to take physical shape…so too, can our hospitality grow from an internal passion and a blueprint of our faith. Paul lays this out in Romans 12. Often toted as one the most theology-rich books in the Bible, the back end of Romans actually provides some of the most thoughtful and compelling encouragement on practicing the faith we believe. Our text this morning is Romans 12:9-13.
It’s no secret that sometimes the Bible can be tough to translate into daily life today. Not so with this passage. I mean, this is about the closest we get to a check list. And a fairly down-to-earth one too! We’re not being asked to determine the location of heaven or explain how the Trinity works or even solve world hunger. Instead, we are given the direction to do the work of a true and good neighbor. And it starts with love. Sincere love. Love that is free from any pretense or deception. Love that spills out from genuine and personal feelings. It’s not a back handed love or a love with conditions or terms. Timothy Keller is quick to point out how this totally different than simply being nice. He says, “We are not to be phony in our dealings with people. We are not to be polite, helpful, and apparently warm on the outside, while despising them on the inside.” Keller goes on to say how this is especially critical in the church where a culture of niceness can become simply a veneer covering gossip, judgement, and discord. No, Paul isn’t telling us to be nice.
The closest thing I can think to compare it to is the love a parent has for a child. I love Isaac but that love is in no way dependent on his reciprocation of that love or his actions. It simply emanates from my heart the way rays of light come from the sun. So the first piece is love. The next one, oddly enough, is hate. Not exactly the thing you expect to be told to do when you come to church. Yet, Paul tells us to hate or to be horrified by what is evil and cling to what is good. It may seem odd but this is right in line with the attitude and work of Christ When he saw people abusing the temple for personal gain, he flipped tables and chased them out. When He saw religious leaders care more about customs and practices, like the Sabbath, instead of the well-being and healing of a person, he called them out.
Christ opposed and fought the evil he encountered, both earthly and the supernatural. We must do the same. And the language here is, I think, very telling. Using the word “cling” can imply both a scarcity of good and the sheer magnitude of evil. In a world consumed with darkness, confusion, division, and suspicion – we are told to hate the evil and hang onto the good. Honor one another above yourselves. Selflessness. Truly valuing another human being not because of what they can offer but because of the love God has for them. This is literally the work and spirit of Christ. He considered us before Himself. He came to this place and took on our sin and died our death not because of what we could offer or become, but rather, because of a sincere love. If we want to be like Christ, than our focus needs to move solely from ourselves to the needs and well-being of the other. We’re called to not lack in zeal but to keep our spiritual fervor as we live lives that serve God. This sounds more like an encouragement than a simple command. Perhaps Paul’s equivalent of the “Hang in there, kitty” posters we sometimes see. Paul knows the road will be tough and so he offers this to his audience. Thousands of years later, it’s still tough. Tough to hold onto hope, to live with conviction, to follow with true devotion. Amid a charged political climate and a season where the sun rarely shines, it can seem tough enough. But then we throw in illness, tragedy, change, and every other thing that throws us off balance and it becomes easy to see why Paul encouraged Christians to stay strong in our passion to follow Christ, no matter what.
There will be days where we lack the usual pep in our step but the true challenge is to make sure the spark of faith in our heart doesn’t fade. To maintain hope, to remain patient through affliction, to stay faithful in prayer…these are encouragements for a people who, true, would need endurance. But the world needs hope. It needs patience despite pain. And, Lord knows, the world needs prayer. All of these things, everything in Paul’s quote-unquote “check list” is good for self but they become the materials for becoming the neighbor the world needs. Because when we do those things, possess those qualities, put them into practice in our lives – then we are able to do the final admonition from our text: Practice hospitality. And that, in the end, is the true work of a neighbor.
I started my message talking about and remarking several marvels of architecture. Each unique in its design and location. But every single one of them began as an idea, which became a vision and a blueprint. That vision was then given space to begin construction, the proper materials were brought together, and then construction began. A lifestyle of hospitality is no different. It begins in our hearts and our minds.
We identify where or who in our lives needs that hospitality. And then we bring the necessary materials – sincere love, selflessness, passion, patience, prayer, hope – and we begin the work of Christ in building hospitality. And just like the actual buildings we looked at, it will be different every time. Some, like the Space Needle, will be built to endure the roughest quakes and gusts that life can throw. Some, like the Lotus Temple, will be elegant and organic in nature. And some, perhaps many, will be like the Tower of Pisa – imperfect in some way but still breath-taking and awe-inspiring. The point is, regardless of what the final product looks like or where it is designed and built, hospitality becomes a display of God’s love and something to inspire and encourage those who witness it. Architecture, as many well know, can be laborious and expensive. It can be time-consuming and frustrating. So can the work of hospitality. It can cost us what we have in our wallets or even a perceived sense of safety we’ve never been willing to give up. It can rearrange our schedules and cause delays in other endeavors. It can mean working with and serving individuals we never expected to serve.
Neighbors born down the street from us. Neighbors born in countries far from our own. Even neighbors not yet born but who bear the image of God nonetheless. Sometimes it can be so frustrating that we wonder if it even matters. It can be work that produces sweat, tears, and most often, fervent prayer. Sometimes moving bricks of prejudice and ignorance is more difficult than moving actual stone. While a bulldozer can clear the way for a foundation in days, fostering the foundation for true hospitality and true presence can sometimes take months or even years. But we can never forget that the architecture of hospitality is God’s design. Paul shows us the blueprint. He lists off the materials and qualities we need. It is up to us to decide when we will begin the work of building hospitality.