So what does it take to get people to let go of their citizenship of this world, and partake of the citizenship of heaven? The first step, I believe, is stomach-satisfying hospitality. Hospitality is a radical, unimaginable, generous love of the stranger within our church.
And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.”
Fruit is for eating--not just for decoration. In the last sermon, I described that the front yard of the House of God as a fruit garden--specifically a fruit garden of the good works of the people of God. And it is this fruit garden that gives off the aroma of Christ that attracts people into the House of God (See article 2 above).
But here's the question--is the fruit just for decoration? Or it for food? In essence, the good works produce is it just merely to show off our Christian life? Or is it to feed and bless people? Are you trying to love and to feed your neighbor with your good works? The point of good works is, yes to glorify God but it's also to love our neighbor. And this is why people are drawn to the House of God--not because the garden looks good, but the people of God use the fruit to feed, satisfy, and nourish others. The fruits of our good works is for hospitality to strangers in the community. Whether we are cognizant of it or not, I think hospitality is how plowing the land for Evangelism begins.
Let me give you an Old Testament example of how "hospitality" is used for Evangelism. Often, I think we don't think of Evangelism in the OT because there was no outward/explicit proselytizing in the OT; however, there was one clear way how the people of God 'invited' non-Jewish people into the "assembly" or church of God: by loving generously and sacrificially the non-Jewish people in their midst.
Loving the outsider as an insider.
Who is the sojourner in Israel? Translated multiple ways: stranger, sojourner, foreigner. A Jewish commentator Saran defines the 'stranger' as "a foreign-born permanent resident whose status was intermediate between the native-born citizen and the foreigner temporarily residing outside his community . Because he could not fall back upon local family and clan ties, he lacked the social and legal protection that these ordinarily afforded. Being dependent on the goodwill of others, he could easily fall victim to discrimination and exploitation."
What were some reasons for sojourners to live in the nation of Israel? Some joined due to a confession of faith in God YHWH (Gibeonites/Rahab). Some may have escaped Egypt with Israel. Some were captives of war. Some were possibly hired slaves/employees. Some were non-Jewish family members (e.g. Ruth). There are some who are just happen to be a foreigner but never know why (apparently Caleb was one).
The stranger/sojourner were often weak, neglected, poor, and defenseless. They were often categorized with the orphans and the widows (Deut 27:19). Why? Because foreigners (like orphans and like widows), if you take advantage of them, if you mistreat them, there is no one powerful to protect them. There is no consequence to you. Think of how Egypt mistreated the Israelites. I do not think that was an uncommon way of other empires took advantage of strangers in their land.
Loving is always costly.
However, The Law of YHWH was incredibly different when it came to sojourners/aliens compared to other nations. YHWH was incredibly generous to the sojourner/alien in their community and at great expense to the God's people. GOD commanded hospitality to the alien:
Equal rights - Even if the stranger may not have been fully devoted to YHWH, the LORD still protected them legally and demanded justice. (Exodus 22:21-25). You could even say that the foreigners had the same exact rights to justice as the Israelite orphans and widows.
Giving them weekly rest--unheard of in any other nation. (Deut 5:12f)
YHWH fed them with their produce (Deut 24:19-22)
YHWH fed them with tithe of the Israelite nation (Deut 14:28)
YHWH gave generously to them and fed them generously every Sabbath year.
Essentially, the fields of Israel were not only to feed the prosperous Torah-abiding Israelites, but also to love, feed, and nurture the poor, foreign idol worshippers among their midst. This is why the fruit that Temple bears in Ezekiel 47:12 is not just for Bible-believing Christians. It is to bless and feed the fatherless, the widows, and sinful/idolatrous people in the community of God.
As you can imagine, this kind of generous and sacrificial love was extremely costly; however, we see several strangers/sojourners "join the Assembly" and even undergo circumcisions in order to join in the Passover meal--which was the equivalent of a conversion. And my guess is that the daily, weekly, and seasonal generosity towards them is what them made them open to worshipping YHWH in the first place.
Loving people with generous hospitality is the hard work of ploughing the field for Evangelism.
All of you know that this is also the New Testament way! Can you imagine what would happen if we took the radical principle of loving our neighbor as yourself seriously?
What would happen if we regularly dined and befriended the "sinners" of our church community. Not as a form "volunteerism" or "philanthropy," but as just wanting to get to know them, feed them, and bless them? What would happen if we actually loved our non-Christian husbands, wives, family members, friends and co-workers within our church context in the way the LORD commands us--what do you think would happen if practiced ordinary but radically generous hospitality?
However, my core, fundamental question is where does this 'loving' and 'feeding' happen? Let us always remember this sermon is about the PLACE of Evangelism--the Church, the "Assembly" of God. Just like the sojourners in Israel, let me remind you that this all should be in the context of the church.
If you individually have to do hospitality for everyone in your non-church environment (school, work, non-Christian family etc.), it is impossible. Essentially, it's like a single Japanese person entering into the middle of America, and trying to convince one person at a time to become a Japanese citizen. Do you see you how difficult that is? You need to invite an American to a Japanese community in the US to give them a taste of Japan first.
Evangelism is a team sport.
Evangelism is baseball, not tennis. It's not 1 on 1, but 9 on 1. I think it takes an entire group to bring one person to Christ--with every single person showering that one single person with love after love after love… And obviously, this kind of 'loving' doesn't just happen between 10:45-12pm during the worship service. It happens before and after--the "surrounding" area of the Assembly of God. Essentially, the outside area of the House of the Lord.
Think of your weekly small groups, your home, your fellowship among Christians--THAT is the "front yard" of the House of the Lord. These places are not exactly "the House of the Lord" where you worship the LORD, but it is where Christians gather, love one another, and enjoy the Word of God on a personal and regular basis. Therefore, when non-Christians pass by and are intrigued about what's going on, we are called to invite them in, be hospitable, feed them with love, and show radical generosity to them. It doesn’t matter what they look like, how different they are, or if they'll come back. The calling is to be hospitable no matter what.
Yes! It is incredibly taxing, costly, and burdensome. But think about it this way, when unbelieving family members, friends, colleagues, bosses, and enemies eat the fruit of our hospitality again and again and again, do you think it is possible for them to hate us? It's incredibly costly, but any good investment is always costly at first.
There is a saying in Japanese--人の心をつかむ道は胃袋から. It means that the way to win the heart is first through the stomach. May we first evangelize to the "stomach" first with hospitality, before we preach to the heart.