Friday, January 25, 2008

Christian Hospitality

While the ministries of Heart for God are stated explicitly as “biblical teaching” and “spiritual direction,” my wife and I are both committed to hospitality as an expression of our passion to share spiritual life with others. The Scriptures encourage hospitality (do a word search!). It was an issue of social justice in the Old Testament. It was a context of witness in the Early Church, extending the love of Jesus using one’s home as a tool — and most people have a place called “home.”

My wife and I spoke last evening at a ministry-group gathering based in our congregation. They use a program called “Just Faith” (as in “justice”). The assignment for Libby and me was “simple living” — again, something that has scriptural warrant for Christians, but something that is not easy to do in our consumer culture. A few email conversations today raised in my mind the juxtaposition of hospitality with living simply.

We are having a couple over tonight for dinner, another couple in the morning for brunch, and yet another couple tomorrow evening for dinner. Someone wondered how we could do it (my wife works full-time). The presupposition is that entertaining guests for dinner means, and I quote from one email written to my wife: “a major, major event... cause i feel like i haf’ta do a whole huge dinner (seriously... like fix a whole thanksgiving meal with all the fixin’s or at least always have at least one meat entree, 2 veg. dishes, salad, bread, dessert...) so it's an 'event' that takes at least a whole day of preparing.”

We are having taco soup tonight plus chips, salsa, cheese, and maybe fried tortillas, and there’s some left-over fresh apple cake that might work for dessert if it’s not too dry. If it is, we’ll add walnuts to a box of brownie mix quickly. I will have some of the ingredients cut up and pre-cooked so it’ll be quick and easy to put it all together when my wife gets home. In the morning we’re having baked oatmeal (that has pecans in it) and toast or bagels and some kind of fruit plus juice, coffee, tea. Tomorrow night might be chicken tortilla bake plus broccoli and chips/salsa and maybe fruit plus some kind of dessert. They are all easy meals,

I know there is a legitimate place for lavish celebration. I know there are times when the setting and cuisine are an important part of expressing exorbitant love. I also believe there is another way to show Christian hospitality, and that is to provide an atmosphere of love and servanthood — not dependent on the setting — which models something of the spirit of Jesus. When both the food and the setting are exceptional, it is easy to send a message that these are the things that matter most. Guests may get caught in the trap of feeling like they have to reciprocate, or leaving a lavish host’s home fighting envy or despair because their status is not that of their host.

We can so easily forget that an ample serving of a single simple dish — a stew or a casserole — would be a sign of abundant wealth to millions of people in the world. Our decor does not need to be stunning; all the place settings do not even need to match.

Guests can be pulled into warmth and delight by our taking a genuine interest in them. It is a true gift simply to listen to another’s worries and fears (we all have them). Some people have never heard their names verbally lifted to God in prayer; this is surely a facet of Christian hospitality that any disciple can learn to offer a guest.

Christians are in the world to reflect the love of their Lord. Not everyone has an office in the church; many Christians have no special talent that vaults them to the forefront of notoriety even locally, much less throughout the culture or globally. But most Christians have homes, and any home where Christ is Lord can be the setting for welcoming others in the name of Jesus.

Let’s do it often.

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