Middle Eastern hospitality always involves a warm welcome, laughter and good food.
Understanding this helps us to understand the culture of the bible, and the significance of many verses.
A life among different cultures
For most of my adult life I have lived in multi-cultural settings. I thought you might be interested in some of the places I've lived.
When I was eighteen, I went to Kibutha, a Kikuyu village in Muranga District of Kenya. I taught there for a year. I then moved to Devon, UK for over 7 years and became a qualified teacher.
My third teaching job was in Bradford, West Yorkshire which has the nickname of Bradistan, because of its sizeable immigrant populations from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Ten years and three children later, we moved to North East England. At first it seemed very white to me, but soon we found the refugee communities there and helped found a charity for refugees and asylum seekers called Open Door NE.
When our children grew up, we decided to leave the nest and relocated to Turkey. Our church here is a wonderful mix of Turk, Arab, Persian, Kurd, Armenian, Chaldean, Assyrian, Korean and a few Westerners.
It is easy for us to misunderstand each other, and so it can be challenging. It’s not just language, culture and attitudes - our very world view is different, but I am so happy to have brothers from many different countries and to have found sisters worldwide, who have become friends.
My life has been enriched immeasurably, and I have learnt so many lessons from seeing a different perspective on the world.
As a Westerner, I can easily miss much of the depth of meaning in the bible, because it is essentially an Eastern book, which reflects the Middle Eastern culture in which it was written.
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!
So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Revelation 3 v 14 - 22
Today I want to look at an example: hospitality.
We joke here in Turkey, that in Britain, if you visit our home, we will give you a cup of tea, and if you are lucky a biscuit – but only one biscuit.
But don’t come during a mealtime, because it’s considered rude. However, in Kenya, a Kikuyu mother would give a guest food off her plate, even if she didn’t have enough for her own family. I have experienced this for myself.
When Brits say - Make yourself at home, don’t believe us.
We don’t know what we are saying.
Iranians would never ask a guest how long they are staying for, even if they have been visiting for months, but it's the first thing Brits ask a visitor who is planning on staying overnight.
Turks are delighted if we use the shower to wash our children – without asking – because it shows we are making ourselves at home. (This happened to a Swedish friend of mine.)
Arabic hospitality is world famous.
How can you do business with someone unless you have at least drunk tea together?
When someone visits you in The Middle East they are honouring you – and saying you have more status than them. The one who has the lesser status in society visits the one who is of a higher status.
When you visit someone else's home, you are honouring them.
We understand that if the Queen were to visit us, she would be honouring us.
How much more so, if the King of Kings calls on us and knocks at our door?
That was a revelation to me. I've heard these verses before, but I hadn't seen the significance. I should be going to Jesus Christ's door. I shouldn't expect Him to come to mine. He is honouring me, by coming and knocking on my door.
If we invite Jesus in, we are in reality saying, that our home - our heart - is his.
As we eat with him, and he with us, we are expressing something about our relationship.
That it's intimate, significant, trusting, loving, friendly, like family.
Eating together has deep significance in the Middle East.
Jesus says to you today,
Behold I stand at the door and knock.
Will you open the door?
If you do, I will come in, and we will eat together.
Revelation Song in many different languages
A taste of heaven, where there will be people from every tribe, language and nation worshipping the Lamb who sits upon the throne. Revelation song was written by Jennie Lee Riddle in 1999 in America. As she says, 'Immersed in scriptures from Ezekiel and Revelation, the Lord helped me to paint what I was seeing through those passages.' Today, it has become a much-loved chorus in hundreds of churches, throughout the world.
I want to acknowledge the influence of the excellent book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E Bailey. Highly recommended