Pr. John Heins, Cross and Crown, Roscoe
Hospitality is a multi-dimensional element of the faith practices we Christians use to develop the fullness of our lives. Jesus demonstrated warm, personal, and convention-breaking hospitality when he rebuked the disciples for trying to turn away children people brought to him.
“People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.’” (Mark 10:13-14)
As part of his style of living, Jesus welcomed children, the powerless and the vulnerable. Yet Jesus also welcomed those of worldly power and wealth; note Matthew and Zacchaeus the tax collectors.
Jesus demonstrated God’s love of neighbors by his hospitality to people in all walks of life. It is incumbent upon us to offer such hospitality not only in the church narthex, but in our daily life journeys at work, school, or the marketplace. We give a witness to God’s love alive when we bring compassion with a listening ear or encouraging words to those we meet outside the church doors.
Of course, it is so crucial to let hospitality flow wherever our congregation meets in worship, study, fellowship, or service. We church-attenders need to constantly remind ourselves that our words and actions make a witness as we gather together.
Recently our Sunday adult class watched video clips with humorous satire on hospitality: avoiding meeting the eyes of someone with young children as they enter a church, continuing to talk to friends while ignoring a stranger who came in the church door, and exiting worship as rapidly as possible. We laughed. And then we realized that though we remind one another to do just the opposite, we easily fall into old habits. We are called to reach out our hand to a stranger, meet the eyes of someone we don’t know with a smile and friendly greeting, and offer our help to a newcomer with children. Give ourselves time to be a little Christ to strangers and friends present in our church community.
Our discussion on hospitality led me to consider how we might best do hospitality in and around our church building. Let’s start with, “Hi, I’m John, how are you?” Or “Hi, I don’t remember your name.” Allow for a response and share a genuine happiness that they are in our midst. Yes, that is a first step. But hospitality needs to move to invitations – especially for our guests or less active members: “Would you like to sit with me in worship?” “Would you like to go with me to our coffee time?” And then a third step: “Let’s get together. I’d like to get to know you.” Or, “Would you like to join me at our book study next week?” In further conversation, share something you find meaningful in your congregation’s life. And allow them to share their interests what they may be searching for.
I have encouraged our new member sponsors to invite the families preparing to join our congregation for lunch or breakfast – at their home or at a restaurant. Friendships and community grow.
Jesus invited Zacchaeus to dinner, and it changed his life from a lonely man to a person of faith and community. Think of the power you have to invite someone into your life. It’s the power of God’s hospitality.