What comes to mind when you hear "hospitality?" Is it Martha Stewart or Joanna Gaines? A beautifully decorated home or a well-crafted meal?
Many people feel fear or guilt at the mention of hospitality, believing that it requires us to present beautiful and impressive homes that smell like Yankee Candle and are devoid of unfolded laundry. We desire to impress and delight, and our pride holds us back from inviting others in for fear of what they might think. While we can certainly show hospitality by inviting others into our homes and giving them a good meal, the heart of hospitality is so much more than that. Hospitality is not rooted in a 21st century concept of perfect homemaking but in the good news of the gospel.
On our own, our sin separates us from God. Making us not only strangers, but enemies to God. We have no seat at the table. But in Jesus, God has welcomed us in, treating strangers - and even enemies - as honored guests. Making us family. So how do we respond? We turn to the strangers and guests in our lives and invite them in as well.
In Matthew 25, Jesus is talking to his disciples about what a faithful follower looks like at the end of his life:
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
This is the kind of welcome that Jesus extended to the people he met during his ministry on earth, but it is also what he does for us right now.
Our homes are a great place for this - making space for strangers in our most intimate and comfortable place. However, in a world that longs to impress and delight, we often let pride be the enemy of hospitality by focusing on the presentation rather than the people. I often feel fear when I think of inviting people over, worried that it's not enough. Not well-decorated enough, not large enough, not impressive enough (not to mention that I'm fighting a losing battle with my dog's hair). But all of the anxieties I feel around inviting people into my home only betray my fear of man and what they will think of me. The good news of the gospel tells me that I am loved and accepted by God, so I don't have to worry about what people think of me. The gospel enables us to invite people into our messy and broken lives, without fear of approval or disdain.
Home is often the first place we think of when it comes to hospitality, but there are so many opportunities to make space in our lives for the stranger or the guest. Bethany Jenkins wrote an article about hospitality in the workplace:
[H]ospitality is not just for the private sphere of our lives. It’s for our work, too. God called Israel to leave the edges of the harvest for the sojourner and the poor (Lev. 23:22). The harvest was their work and livelihood. Leaving some harvest for the poor cut into their proceeds. Their hospitality was costly.
Jenkins includes many helpful, practical suggestions in her article about the ways we can use the 40+ hours per week we spend at work to turn strangers into friends. When we separate our lives into distinct and unrelated bubbles, we miss important opportunities to influence our communities with the gospel.
At New City
Hospitality is also an important part of our mindset and preparation for gathered worship on Sundays. Without practice in this, it may seem counter-intuitive. So many of us are used to walking into church on Sunday morning ready to receive - to be welcomed, to be fed, to be encouraged, to be loved. These are beautiful and good things, things that I desire for everyone who walks through our doors. But that only happens when the community of believers is also prepared to offer those things to one another and to the strangers we meet. We build this into our processes each week by organizing volunteers because it is important to us, but it goes so much further than the people who are wearing name tags. Hospitality is a natural response to the gospel, a desire to make others feel welcomed and loved as we have been. If we prepare for Sunday morning by praying for and seeking out those who are new to us, we are much more likely to meet a stranger and welcome them in.
Hospitality is For You
If you've made it this far, it is probably because you have a tendency toward or gift for hospitality and this subject interests you. If that is not the case, I want to encourage you. While there are some who are more readily inclined toward turning strangers into friends, hospitality doesn't require any special skills or abilities. All that it takes for us to show hospitality is a willingness to sacrifice our own comfort to make someone else comfortable. Sometimes that's physical comfort (offering a place in your home), financial comfort (buying a meal), or social comfort (striking up a conversation when you feel awkward). Jenkins writes:
Whatever our particular situations, though, the heart behind hospitality seeks to turn strangers into friends. And it’s amazing how many colleagues are strangers—needy, unseen, relationally disconnected people. Seeking them out for a relationship might be a rare kindness to them.
People are almost always loved, not argued, toward faith. We sometimes think the life of a Christian starts with conversion, then community, then discipleship. In reality, though, it usually starts with community. We first get to know some Christians. Then coming to faith seems plausible—in spite of our initial objections. Sometimes conversion takes years. When we build authentic, hospitable relationships with our colleagues, we begin to embody the truth of the gospel with our lives—even if we don’t immediately share it with our words. In our relationally broken culture, being a true friend is a rare thing.
How can you welcome someone in today? How will you prepare for Sunday?