The risky practice of hospitality shaped the life of the early church. There are many explicit commands to practice hospitality in Scripture (e.g. Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:1-2; 1 Peter 4:9), but implicitly the practice is evident on almost every page when you start looking. The Jesus movement spread not through evangelistic campaigns but from house to house like a fire as warm welcome was offered to strangers. “Church” itself was simply an expression of hospitality, a (typically wealthier) believer welcoming fellow disciples and inquirers into their home for a meal.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this began with Jesus himself. And one thing that has struck me in the gospel of Mark is that Jesus not only gives hospitality, but he receives it—even from scumbags who probably bought dinner with dirty money (Mark 2:13-15)! Jesus then taught his followers to do likewise, depending utterly on the hospitality of strangers as they traveled about Galilee (Mark 6:7-13).1 I think we can learn something crucial here about how to become a hospitable person.
Back in Bible college and now during my first year of seminary, I’ve had assignments that required me to visit churches of various denominations as well as mosques, synagogues, and centers of justice work such as homeless shelters, political advocacy groups, or crisis pregnancy centers. Each time I’ve had to receive hospitality from strangers, and honestly it hasn’t been easy for me. I especially remember being invited by the receptionist at Congregation Beth Emek to come early to their wine and cheese social that they were having before their Shabbat service. I arrived and literally gripped my steering wheel in a cold sweat for a half hour, unable to get force myself out of the car! Here I am, the guy who stands on stage every week to encourage people to greet newcomers, and yet when I’m not on my “turf” I wait until the service starts so I can hopefully slip in and out anonymously.
Friends, how many people feel that way on a Sunday morning at VCC? And what about your comGroup? For how many would sitting on a pristine couch with a bunch of instagrammable families using insider language be the most terrifying and unsafe place imaginable? Sorry, that was a cheap shot. But seriously, how can we become more hospitable? How can we be the open arms of Jesus whenever we gather?
Here’s a suggestion: once a quarter, go (alone if possible) to another place of worship.2 I’d love to grab coffee or tea with you afterwards and hear about your experience. Maybe you’ll have new ideas for our church community, or maybe you’ll just have new eyes during our gatherings. As my friend Heath says, you’ll learn to have “marginal-eyes.”
In order to truly serve the poor, we must become poor ourselves, as Jesus did. In order to welcome others, we must first be humble enough to be welcomed ourselves.
“Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” – Romans 15:7, ESV
“Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love. Be ready with a meal or bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it!” – Hebrews 13:1-2, The Message
- Oddly enough, as I was writing this I came across this sentence in the book Thin Places by John Huckins: “Jesus was so embedded in deep relationships that others were willingly extending invitations to him.” (p.68) The idea is that if we pursue Jesus’ way of “submerging” himself into his local context, we will naturally find ourselves inviting others into our lives and being invited into theirs.
- Or a place that does justice work, but in that case don’t just go once, dive in!