What is Christian Hospitality all about?
It’s not about entertaining and it’s not about patronage. It is about meeting people where they are in their particular life situation and reaching out in love to them in that place.
This practice of hospitality is one of the oldest and most foundational ethical mandates of our faith heritage. It is one of those things that defined the identity of our Hebrew ancestors and were codified in the Holiness Code found in Leviticus. Because I am God and you are my people, set apart and holy, you are to love the alien in your midst as you love yourselves... remember, you were strangers and aliens once yourself.
Jesus said, "Whoever welcomes another in my name, welcomes me...and insofar as you do something for the least of these, you do it to me. When Paul writes to the church in Rome he reminds them that one of the marks of true Christians is that they extend hospitality to strangers.
Yet we are all called to discipleship. So, today Jesus reminds us that something as simple and fundamental as hospitality, is an important and deeply significant act of discipleship that any of us can practice. He understood it as a sign of the breaking in of God’s Kingdom into our everyday reality.
That is why hospitality is not only important but is foundational for genuine spirituality. In an uncaring world, a world where many receive only rebuke and rejection, your little, unspectacular acts of kindness and open generosity can make all the difference, and just may be the only sign of the love of Christ that some other person experiences that day, that week, or ever.
Imagine how different life would be if each of us, in our own families, cultivated the practice of Christian hospitality. If we made a conscious effort everyday to look at the people across the dinner table and say to ourselves...these are the people God loves and for whom Christ died. As stubborn or ornery or misguided as they may be at times, remembering that puts family relationships in a whole new perspective. Or how about the workplace... or in your next encounter with that surly salesperson...learning to see them as people deserving hospitality... reaching out to them with the literal or figurative cup of cold water.
Krister Stendahl, the great Swedish theologian once said, "Whenever, wherever, however the Kingdom manifests itself, it is in welcome."
The practice of hospitality, welcome to the stranger in all sorts of ways, is fundamental to our identity as Christians. One of the primary ways of living out the gospel in our daily lives is to welcome Jesus as he comes to us in his distressing disguise.
The Definition of Hospitality
Hospitality is a willingness to share, with discernment, what God has given us, including our family, home, finances, and food. It is an attitude of stewardship, where we do not own anything because we are merely the caretaker for the real owner, God. He desires that we share His stuff and His love, and we comply out of reverence and gratitude to Him. In relationships, it is honoring the boundaries of others, and sharing all we have without strings attached. In the church, it is to be welcoming, regardless how we may feel.
The first thing we all must ask ourselves is this:
Is the Character of Hospitality working in me?
We need to ask this before we undertake this ministry. If not, we will not be good at this at all! We will be the noise of 1 Corinthians 13:1, instead of the love of 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8. We have to be willing to take a look under our hood (Galatians 2:20-21; 6: 3-5), the hood of how we come across to others—our personality, disposition, and our attitude. So, when we hand out that cup of coffee, it is handed on a saucer of love and care, not a saucer of obligation or pretentiousness. This is critical stuff! When we get ourselves right in our character to the best of our ability (as none of us will be perfect, Romans 3), and in a growing fashion, we then can better serve Him with real, authentic passion and conviction.