I love benedictions. The church I grew up in ended each service with a reading of one of the Scriptural blessings at the end of the epistles.
Hebrews 13’s benediction is my favorite. I was reading it today and realized it comes right after one of my favorite exhortations to love the stranger. The writer urges:
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).
Do I (or anyone) know exactly what this means or how frequently angels hang out in our living rooms? No. But, as I wrote in Loving the Stranger:
Strangers are connected with something much bigger than themselves – in this case, they can be messengers of God’s blessing.
Realizing the abiding love that God has for the vulnerable and the importance and mysterious significance he places on welcoming the stranger should propel us forward, empowering us to reach out our hands in welcome and friendship to those who are different than us.
By doing this, we will be in line with the heart of God, and the Bible makes it clear that somehow, when we reach out to touch a stranger with love, we will find ourselves more in touch with the Lord himself.
Hebrews 13 continues with so much beautiful encouragement for welcomers. Since “Jesus suffered outside the camp” (Calvary was outside the gate of Jerusalem), the writer encourages us: “Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach that he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13: 12-14).
Moving towards the margins (outside the camp) was Jesus’ plan all along. He invites us to follow Him there, remembering that we ourselves are sojourners and pilgrims who will one day receive “a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28) along with those from all nations who welcome His second coming.
While we wait for him, we are instructed: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
How can we “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God” in 2019? There are many ways, but part of praising God could be:
- sharing our beans and rice.
- remembering that “entertaining” is different than hospitality.
- becoming a guest.
- giving the gift of normalcy.
- help newcomers adjust to the cold weather and snow.
- being a resource for immigrants who have questions about things like banking, mail, forms, and other paperwork.
- being truly interested in immigrants as people (not ambassadors of their countries).
- being a friend to those dealing with culture shock.
- focusing on small gestures over time as more important than grandiose one-time get-togethers.
And now let’s close the year with a benediction, reminding us of the gracious power of God available to empower us as welcomers:
Now may the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
Amen, indeed. I’m thankful for you and all that He is doing in and through you. Praying for all of us today, that next year would be a year of open homes, open hearts, and open heavens.