Friday, August 30, 2013

Christian Hospitality



            Because the end of all things is near, we must have our wits about us and have a determined focus on prayer, love, and hospitality (1 Peter 4:7-11).  The word “hospitality” is literally “love of the stranger.”  In other words, we invite another into our home that we do not know very well, and befriend them.  This is what Jesus did for us.  Through sin and disobedience, humanity became estranged from God – we were on the outside.  But because of God’s great love, he sent his Son, the Lord Jesus, to come a dwell among us.  Jesus invited us into the life of God.  He is now standing at the door and knocking, and we are to invite Jesus in (Revelation 3:20).  Jesus has so closely identified with his people that when we invite others into our homes and lives, we are inviting Jesus in. 

            Inviting another person into our lives, into our homes and our hearts will cost us time and effort.  So, we must practice it without grumbling.  In an ideal world we always receive something back for our work of hospitality – an invitation from the other person, or, at least, a simple thank you.  But that does not always happen, and it cannot be the driving reason why we practice hospitality.  Hospitality must be a work of love that comes from a heart that has been touched by the hospitality of God.  Our earthly hospitality is to be a form of saying “thank you” to God for his great grace to us.  Complaining comes when we expect to receive and don’t get it.  If you receive another person as though he were Christ himself, you will not complain but will rejoice in your service.  But if we do not receive another into our lives as if he/she were Christ, we will not receive Christ either because Jesus said “whoever receives you, receives me” (Matthew 10:40).

            In ancient Christianity, a concrete expression of love to other believers in Jesus was providing food and shelter for Christians traveling throughout the Roman Empire.  Many times the traveling strangers were itinerant evangelists spreading the message of the gospel from place to place (3 John).  At other times, believers were deprived of some of their basic necessities due to the occasional waves of persecution that broke out. They were often poor and needy because of their situation of being different; the townspeople were not typically hospitable.  So, Christians had to rely on the love and hospitality of those believers they could connect with who had the means to help.

            Hospitality, then, was an important means of providing love to fellow Christians.  Paul made it clear to the Roman Christians:  Share with God’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality (Romans 12:13).  One of the qualifications for church leadership is that they are hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2).  Our default mode as Christians is to invite each other into our lives.  It is to happen by opening both our homes and opening our hearts to one another.



            There is a great need for hospitality in our world.  Many Americans’ circle of friends is shrinking.  According to one study the number of people who said they had no one to talk to about important matters has more than doubled in the past 10 years.  32 million Americans now live alone (which is 28% of all households).  Hospitality cuts both ways for us.  We are to invite the lonely into our hearts and homes; and, the lonely are to invite others into their hearts and homes, instead of waiting for somebody to just show up.

            Food is to hospitality what weightlifting is to bodybuilders; you really need food, meals, and the sharing that goes with it in order to experience genuine hospitality that makes a difference in another’s life.  In biblical times, eating a meal together was a sacred affair.  To have another person in your house, sitting around your table, communicated much more than simply providing food.  It communicated acceptance, care, and friendship.  This is why the Pharisees and teachers of the law had such difficulty with Jesus eating with ‘sinners;’ by eating with outsiders Jesus was clearly communicating his love and acceptance of such persons.

            I want us to think the thought that our dining room tables are little mission stations.  When my wife and I were new believers, there was a Christian couple who often had us into their home.  Both of us had grown up in families where we had experienced some unhealthy ways of relating.  Here we were, not really knowing what a Christian family should look like.  Through hospitality, eating together and sharing around the table, we began to learn how a family dedicated to Christ lives.  We learned life lessons that we probably could not have learned in any other way.

            When we think about our world, it can be a sad place.  Can people of different races live in peace?  Can Democrats find common ground with Republicans?  Can a Christian family carry on a civil friendship with a gay or lesbian couple down the street?  Can people who are very different from each other get along?  The early church did.  And they did it without all the stuff we have – sanctuaries, church buildings, programs.  Those early believers did it through the message of the cross, and the simplest tool of the home.  Not everyone can serve on the foreign mission field, or serve in a professional ministry position; but each one of us can be hospitable.  Something happens at a dinner table that does not happen in a church sanctuary.  In church we see the backs of heads – around the table you see faces.  In church you hear the preacher – around the table everyone has a voice.  A church service is on the clock – around the table we have time to talk.  Hospitality, inviting others into our hearts and homes, opens the door to true community.


            Jesus, on the night that he enjoying a meal with his disciples, said: “Take and eat.  This is my body given for you.”  One of the things Jesus meant by that statement is that eating and ingesting the elements of bread and wine, serve as a very tangible way of understanding what life is to be like.  We are to take Jesus into the depths of our lives; we are to ingest him, that is, to engage in a very close and intimate relationship with him to the degree that the two of us cannot ever be separated.  The same is to be true of our relationship with one another in the Body of Christ, the Church.  We are to do life together.  We are to enjoy eating and drinking together.  We are to share with each other not only our resources, but our hearts. Let your heart and your home be open today.

2 comments:

  1. Tim,
    Your blog entry on Christian Hospitality resonated with me in a big way. I am currently taking a graduate course, Theology of Ministry at Fordham University. We have discussed ministry in light of scripture, the institutional church, and our own personal visions of ministry. As we know, the foundation for our ministries is the message and work of Jesus. It is common for churches to offer hospitality after a Mass or service. Of course, there is food involved. However, at times, I am concerned that the food is hospitality period.
    What I found particularly helpful about your blog was the ways in which you connected hospitality with Jesus and the contemporary world. It is easy to simply offer a cup of coffee and a piece of cake to someone. It is another to enter into real hospitality as “love of the stranger.” Jesus’ disciples depended on the hospitality of strangers for food and shelter in their travels to bring people the Good News. As you note, the townspeople were not always welcoming because they perceived strangers as being different. Like our current world, there was intolerance of people who were different. An example would be the treatment of the Samaritans as outcasts.
    In reflecting on the sorry state of our world, I tend to think that many of our problems inclusive of addictions, suicide, violence, etc. are symptoms of the alienation of each of us from one another. Your statement that “Americans’ circle of friends is shrinking” is disturbing but quite true. When I was a child in the 1960’s, neighbors would visit one another unannounced and were welcomed with someplace to sit and something to eat. People would stop on the street and have impromptu conversations. I find myself not calling friends because I am concerned that they may be too busy. I would never consider showing up on someone’s doorstep unexpectedly. This is typical behavior in the area in which I live in the Northeast.
    As I consider my parish, I think a first step would be to exercise the true meaning of hospitality by welcoming newcomers into the church. Ministries could extend invitations personally to individuals to join them. Something even simpler would be to just introduce ourselves to people that we do not know and have a conversation with them. If we allowed ourselves to get to know one another, hopefully, we would embrace our commonality and set aside our differences. If we, as a society, could do that, we may solve some of the world’s problems.
    My wish for this Christmas is that we can each learn to open our hearts and homes to other people, as exemplified by Jesus. As is written in the Scriptures, Jesus is present whenever two or more are gathered in his name.

    Peace and blessings this Advent Season,
    Joan Sweeney
    Hauppauge, NY

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  2. Well said, Joan. I appreciate the simple sage steps of hospitality. May your tribe increase!

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