Risky Business

This Sunday at Holston View United Methodist Church, the sermon will draw from Mark 12:38-44, where Jesus again causes us to think about our spiritual relationship with money. If you cannot join us in person, join us online at 11 a.m., or watch a recording later.

Today’s Preparatory Text:  1 John 3:16-24 (NLT)


By Chuck Griffin

When preaching, I occasionally reference the biblical concept of hospitality. As we prepare for this Sunday’s sermon, I want us to further explore this tame-sounding idea that actually is quite radical.

In the letter of 1 John, we hear what real love is, our eyes drawn to the death of Jesus on the cross. This is the same author who wrote in the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Later in the Gospel of John, in the 15th chapter, he also quoted Jesus as saying this: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

With the idea in mind that we might need to die for each other, it’s no stretch to say that living the Christian life requires us to take risks. We should never be foolish with our lives, but it’s possible our lives could be endangered as we work on behalf of our savior and the world around us. It takes spiritual courage not to pull away when such risks arise.

In my opinion, American Christians can be a little short on this kind of courage, in part because we are so affluent compared to the rest of the world. When you have stuff, you get used to guarding your stuff from others who might want it.

Our concern for our stuff makes our tolerance for risky interactions with others low. I’m generalizing, of course, but I feel comfortable that I just described our group average, and I acknowledge I often am more a part of the problem than the solution. A risk-averse people have difficulty solving many of the social problems around them simply because they cannot, as a group, step up and do the hard work that has to be done.

For an example, let’s look at helping the homeless. This kind of hospitality ministry invites us to make sacrifices in our own lives so we can dramatically impact the lives of others. Individually, some Christians go so far as to maintain “Elisha rooms,” creating simple spaces for people in need. (The Bible story behind the name is in 2 Kings 4:8-17.)

Again, there is risk, particularly when we engage with people we don’t know that well, and with risk comes fear. But when we dwell in a Holy Spirit-inspired community, we can help each other with hospitality, reducing risk and fear.

Sometimes the solution is as simple as modifying our church spaces with hospitality in mind. At my first appointment out of seminary, the church was expanding its facilities. The church leaders plopped the blueprints down in front of me one day and asked if I had any input.

“Just one,” I said. “Maybe a shower somewhere? Then if people in the community have an emergency, we could use the building for short-term housing.”

The church members liked the idea so much they put in two shower facilities. They now regularly house and feed homeless guests through a program providing temporary help to displaced families.

Sadly, not enough American churches have a hospitable mindset. Many churches, perhaps most churches, have yet to embrace this very scriptural work. They even are willing to pass that responsibility on to the government, distancing themselves from the powerful call God places upon us in Scripture.

Where do we get the spiritual strength to take radical risks as we make ourselves more hospitable? Well, we begin with small, communally shared risks, and we grow in strength over time.

It is my prayer that one day the American church, regardless of its denominational lines, will fully be the hospitable church described in the Bible. When that happens, the government’s intractable problems will prove to be no problem for God and his people.

Lord, take us down paths requiring courage, filling us with your Holy Spirit as we go. Amen.

Most Hospitable

2 Kings 4:8-17 (NRSV)

One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. She said to her husband, “Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”

One day when he came there, he went up to the chamber and lay down there. He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite woman.” When he had called her, she stood before him. He said to him, “Say to her, Since you have taken all this trouble for us, what may be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?” She answered, “I live among my own people.” He said, “What then may be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” He said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood at the door. He said, “At this season, in due time, you shall embrace a son.” She replied, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant.”

The woman conceived and bore a son at that season, in due time, as Elisha had declared to her.


One of my favorite seminary classes was on the subject of hospitality. Hospitality is much more than setting out tea and cookies—it is a powerful theological concept.

Today’s story wonderfully illustrates scriptural hospitality. Simple acts of caring and concern tap into the ever-flowing grace of God, and lives are changed for the better.

And yes, “simple” is an important part of godly hospitality. Note that the wealthy woman didn’t build a house for Elisha after she saw him passing through her town regularly. She began by feeding him, and then she moved on to establishing for him a small rooftop shelter furnished with just a few basic items.

Keeping hospitality simple takes away the pressures that so often can keep us from being open and welcoming to others. Hospitality is much easier when we’re not worried about our stuff or how our actions will be judged.

Hospitality also makes possible new relationships where remarkable events can happen. There is no indication the wealthy Shunammite woman thought she might gain something from her hospitality, but out of it came a blessing money could not buy, the child she and her husband wanted.

The blessings from such encounters aren’t always so dramatic, but they can be uplifting. A few years ago, I was traveling alone to Indianapolis, and I checked the Airbnb listings. I wound up renting the most modest arrangement available—what was essentially a walk-in closet with a cot, and access to a bathroom, for $30 a night. I thought of Elisha’s little room as I lay there.

The room may have been tiny, but I got to know a couple of wonderful Indiana University grad students, one of whom owned the old house, which he was renovating. Both students were from other countries and wanted to know about me, and I got to hear about the research they were doing.

One was studying music’s effects on brain waves, with a possible benefit for autistic children, and I heard a miniature concert of the work he had done. The other was exploring third-world economic policies. I think I enjoyed my brief time with them more than the convention I attended. I felt I was in the presence of two young adults who could change the world for the better.

Hospitality is about new relationships and the hope they bring, and what church doesn’t want those? I’ve barely touched on the subject here. For those wanting to explore the concept further, a great place to start is Dr. Christine Pohl’s “Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition.

Studying hospitality now will ready us for the day when the pandemic is behind us. People are craving simple, genuine relationships and the blessings that flow from them.

Lord, guide us in our understanding of how to reach out to others, making ourselves available through acts of kindness and openness. Amen.

The Abortion Solution

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Ephesians 5:2: “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”

The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will undoubtedly renew the debate about abortion in this nation. Her replacement may very well tip the balance of power on the high court to the point where legally available abortion could be severely restricted or even vanish.

Most theologically conservative Christians would cheer such a development, and I personally find the idea of abortion abhorrent. But simultaneously, I am deeply concerned the conservative church is about to get so caught up in a renewed political fight that we will continue to miss the obvious role we should be playing to make abortions unnecessary.

As a reporter in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I spent a lot of time covering protests near abortion clinics in Knoxville, Tenn. and Atlanta. It quickly became obvious the opposing sides had no political middle ground, with one group shouting for women’s rights and the other declaring life begins at conception. Inevitably, I thought, secular politics would leave one group or the other feeling disenfranchised and powerless.

About the same time, a theologian named Stanley Hauerwas wrote an essay that demonstrated how hospitality, properly understood and practiced by the church, offers a solution that could make the demand for abortion subside regardless of the political environment.

The essay, entitled “Abortion, Theologically Understood,” makes some startling assertions, at least if you’re a typical American Christian.  When we become Christians, Hauerwas says, we should stop thinking in terms of rights and instead begin thinking in terms of responsibilities.

For Christians, what the state has to say about abortion should be relatively unimportant. What’s important for us is whether we function so well as Christ’s community that the need for abortion becomes irrelevant.

In the essay, Hauerwas embeds a sermon from one of his former students, the Rev. Terry Hamilton, and it is there we see examples of the church truly being hospitable. There is the story of a community church where the people welcome a pregnant teenager into their midst, placing her and ultimately her baby with an older couple so both mother and child can have full lives and hope.

In a different church, a divorced Sunday school teacher becomes pregnant, and rather than finding herself ostracized, she is instead cared for and even financially supported by the church. In both cases, the temptation to abortion is eliminated by a community offering love, and the babies in effect become “children of the parish.”

Theologically conservative churches need to ask themselves some basic questions if they want to engage with the world over abortion, treating it as a serious problem.

  • What are we doing to eliminate the fears of mothers around us so they will drop abortion as an option?
  • As a church, are we willing to put the time and money in place to help poor mothers rear their children or find others willing to do so?
  • Have we made it clear in our community we are willing to help?
  • Can we make these mothers and their children part of the family of Christ, setting aside judgment of their circumstances and offering love?

Let’s also not forget our need to reach out to women who have undergone an abortion. Many pastors understand what I am talking about, having counseled women who remain troubled and even broken years after the fact. These women need to know that the church is a place of forgiveness and healing, and that they have a perspective younger women need to hear.

Regardless of the political climate, Christians always have great power to make a difference on any issue, abortion included. Sure, we have the right to enter a voting booth, petition legislators and march around buildings, just like everyone else. But we do our most effective work when we offer sacrificial love to others.

Lord, as our culture becomes more contentious, may we be more centered on your word, offering loving, holy answers that can come only from you. Amen.