In the Beginning . . .
There is an old, well-worn, and often repeated poem by James Weldon Johnson titled “The Creation.” Written in the style of an old African American sermon, the poem retells the first chapter of Genesis from God’s perspective. The poem begins, “And God stepped out onto space, and he looked around and said, ‘I’m lonely. I’ll make me a world.’” After surveying the creation of the sun, moon, stars, plants, and animals, God looks at the world he has created and pronounces, “I’m lonely still.”
It’s then that Johnson draws God into himself. “Then God sat down on the side of a hill where he could think. By a deep, wide river, he sat down with his head in his hands. God thought and thought until he thought, ‘I’ll make me a man!’”
My theology tells me that God is self-sufficient; my understanding of the nature and being of God tells me that he lacks nothing and needs for nothing. And yet, I love this sermon for what it teaches us about ourselves. Somewhere within the image of God locked inside each of us is the cry, “I’m lonely.” Created in his image together, our heart’s longing is for companionship. Unlike our Creator, we are not self-sufficient, and we only find our completion in relationship with one another.
The word we translate as “hospitality” in the New Testament means “love of strangers.” To love a stranger, though, must be a fleeting thing. Implied within that love is the transformation from stranger to friend. Hospitality is the first step in meeting the greatest need in our divine nature. It confronts the loneliness within us all with the power of our own creation—our ability to create relationships.
“Whatever else the creation story might mean, it must mean this: God made room for us.” –Bret Hammond
Whatever else Genesis one tells us, it must mean this: that God has made room for us. He who had no need for anything else created space for us to live, breathe, know him, and know each other. Creation overflows with hospitality. When we look closely enough at what God makes on those six days, we see that in his likeness, we make room for others, even strangers.
Let There Be Hospitality
I’ve committed to preaching about hospitality on the first Sunday of each month this summer. I began with a sermon from Hebrews 13, continued on Independence Day with the call to care for strangers from Leviticus 19. This month’s message took us back to the beginning with the image of God literally creating space for us.
So, How Did it Go?
Juxtaposing the grandeur of creation with simple and practical ways to make space for guests worked well. I was a little nervous about asking them to free up the back rows. The last time I mentioned it, they were right back there again the next week! Why our people love to crowd the back row is beyond me; I don’t stink, and I can’t spit past the second row!
This time they listened, and I believe they saw the seriousness of making room for guests. Unfortunately, we’ve suffered some big losses due to deaths in the past few years, and COVID-19 has drastically reduced the number of first-time guests. So we’re going to have to develop a lot more intentionality about our outreach.
After church, one lady said, “I told the people that sit with me next week I’m moving up two rows. If they want to sit with me, they’ll have to join me up there!”
They’ll definitely be joining her!