ďAflame to be HospitableĒ††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††September 22, 2013

Romans 11:11-13††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† Stephens City UMC


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


I.                   When Jan and I got married my plan had been that we would leave for our honeymoon in my 1967 Ford Mustang.

A.    It was officially cool.

1.     Unfortunately, two days before the wedding I didnít know that the fan blade in my car had developed a crack which resulted in a piece of the fan blade breaking off while I was driving the car and seriously damaging the radiator.

2.     It could not be fixed in one day so that meant we had to take Janís car Ė a light blue Volkswagen Beatle named Herbie.

3.     At first things went well but when we were about 60 miles from Niagara Falls a light appeared on the dashboard.

4.     The alternator had to be replaced and we couldnít risk going more than another 5-10 miles.

5.     There was a repair shop that would be open the next morning that could install a new alternator but we needed a motel room for the night.

6.     I canceled the motel reservations in Niagara Falls and began seeking accommodations in the small town where the car was trying to die.

7.     The motels I contacted said, ďItís 7:00 p.m. and youíre looking for a motel room when you are within an hour of Niagara Falls. Are you kidding?Ē And they would laugh.

8.     Finally I found a motel with one room left Ė it was called the Sunset Inn.

9.     As we approached the motel Jan said to me, ďAre those bars on the window?Ē

10.            They were.

11.            The manager opened a little peek hole to speak to me through the bars and somehow we exchanged the paperwork and the money and the key.

12.            Jan and I quickly carried our stuff out of the car, entered the room, locked the lock, and piled all the furniture against the door.

13.            It wasnít a real hospitable place because they didnít do the little things like placing a piece of chocolate on your pillow.

14.            However, we were secure because there were bars on our window but as I recall neither of us slept that night.

15.            Fortunately, in the morning we did get the car repaired and for Jan that set the standard for what it has meant to be married to me.

B.     Perhaps you can remember times in your life when you did not experience gracious hospitality beyond paying for a motel room through iron bars?

1.     Have you ever had a door closed on your face or been made to feel unwelcome?

2.     Have you ever been treated like a third wheel or an outsider?

3.     No fun is it?

II.                 Frequently thatís the way it is in the world but the Apostle Paul didnít want it to happen in church.

A.    Unfortunately, it can and it does.

1.     It happened to my parents when they first retired and moved from Ohio to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

2.     My mother had been a secretary at our home church and so they went to visit the nearest United Methodist Church which was less than 10 minutes away.

3.     My mother wanted to determine the welcome they would receive so she had them sit in what was literally the middle of the church.

4.     None one spoke to them except the pastor.

5.     The next Sunday they returned, again sat in the very middle of the church, and again no one spoke to them but the pastor.

6.     The following Sunday they drove 35 minutes to the United Methodist Church in Manteo.

7.     Many people welcomed them and that church became their church home where they worshipped every Sunday for 13-14 years even though it meant a round trip of over one hour.

B.     I would put forth that the difference between those two churches was that the church in Manteo may not have realized it but they were actually committed to fulfilling Godís will for their lives and for the world, while the other church was committed to themselves.

1.     My suspicion is that the difference between the two had to do with their practice of spirituality.

2.     One church was still aflame while in the other the flame had pretty much died out.

C.     When Paul wrote his letter almost 2,000 years ago to the church in Rome, which was known to be a pretty good church, he spoke pastorally and encouraged them ďDonít burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.Ē (Romans 12:11)

1.     A church leader who is echoing that encouragement at the present time is our Bishop for the Virginia Annual Conference, Young Jin Cho.

2.     His analysis of the decline in worship attendance and membership in the United Methodist Church and other denominations is that weíve burned out, that we have not kept ourselves fueled and aflame because we have become more institutional than spiritual.

3.     Like the Apostle Paul, Bishop Cho is calling for a renewal and he believes the way forward is for Christians to commit themselves to daily devotional practices, especially prayer.

4.     Let me tell you what the Bishop and his wife do every day and I can assure you that in particular his schedule is very busy, yet despite that fact they do one hour of prayer and devotional reading every morning and then every afternoon strive to spend one hour not speaking to God but listening to God.

5.     A second hour every day that is basically, ďLord, Iím not going to speak for the next hour but during this hour I will listen to you. Please speak to me now so your servant can hear.Ē

6.     That practice is really opening oneís self up to being committed to fulfilling Godís purpose for oneís life and in the world.

D.    Bishop Cho gives testimony as to how this has transformed him and the ministry he undertakes in Jesusí name.

1.     Since it has had that effect on him he wants others to know that blessing so he is determined to spend his episcopacy in our Conference creating a culture of prayer.

2.     He has set a goal of 10% of the clergy in the Virginia Annual Conference to engage in spiritual disciplines for one hour each day.

3.     I have practiced daily devotions since 1991 and over the years my morning devotions had averaged about 30 minutes.

4.     Since I signed up for the Bishopís Covenant my daily time has lengthened to 45 minutes and on occasion Iíve made an hour.

5.     I can tell you it feels good.

6.     But the strength of a local church is itsí laity not the clergy so Bishop Cho is asking churches to become Prayer Covenant Congregations.

7.     Our Church Council at our October meeting will be voting on becoming a Prayer Covenant Church and if we decide to do this besides signing a document to turn in at our Annual Charge Conference in November we will be committing to four things:

a.     Having at least one weekly prayer group that will include weekly prayers for the renewal and revival of our congregation, the Virginia Annual Conference and The United Methodist Church.

b.     Offer at least one class on prayer annually.

c.      Participating in a Conference or District prayer equipping event.

d.     Moving toward at least 10% of the laity in this church not only reading the Bible, reading devotional materials and praying daily but growing to that being one hour in duration like Iím trying to grow.

8.     That canít be a ďSure, fill out the formĒ sort of vote.

9.     Itís got to be weíre going to actually do it sort of vote.

10.            Itís about being committed to fulfilling Godís purpose for my life and the world.

III.              I think if we will do these spiritual disciplines then we will not burn out, but will keep ourselves fueled and aflame.

A.    In the Catch evangelism series by Adam Hamilton that we are following for this series of sermons Hamiltonís goal is to remind us as Christians that we have to go beyond not having bars on our windows here at church.

1.     We are to be welcoming and hospitable.

2.     Moreover, just like the Apostle Paul said to the church in Rome, ďBe inventive in hospitality.Ē

3.     In other words, not only be warm but creative Ė go the second mile if need be.

4.     But I think that will only happen if you believe that to be one of Godís purposes for your life and for this church.


Jeff then prays:


Dear God, help us practice welcome and hospitality. Show us the places where we need to change, and give us the courage and diligence to do what needs to be done. Give us hearts to welcome every person who walks through our doors. Guide us to be the church you intend us to be to fulfill your purposes for us in this community and in the world. Amen.