Nativity from Duccio’s Maestá, 13th century, a...

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It seems like I should have a light entry before Christmas. Perhaps I should give my conscience a break and reflect upon all the warm fuzzy feelings we are treated to at this time of year. This morning as I was driving to my church office I was surprised to hear a story on NPR about Heifer International. Being a Church of the Brethren member and pastor of a congregation that had members who were sea-going cowboys, I was struck with a sense of pride (which we Brethren are to humble to have), and delight to hear it on the radio. It is interesting how these sorts of stories always make news at this time of year.

It seems like it is always around the holiday season that we hear stories of remarkable hospitality. That is, we hear about the practice of real hospitality. Over the last century or so it seems that we have watered down the definition of hospitality to something like providing drinks, snacks, and a warm welcome. Recently I have been rereading Christine Pohl’s book, Making Room. In it she provides a strong argument for the practice of a biblical hospitality which is a core expression of the Christian faith. She, in fact, argues that hospitality is “the” mark of the church. She says that “it is central to the gospel.”[1]

As I was reflecting upon this central practice, I was struck by the way the western church has minimalized it. It seems that it has become more about the work of a church committee (or pastor depending upon the context) than it is about personal investment. When we think of hospitality our thoughts move toward hosting parties or fellowship gatherings. On the contrary, a biblical expression of hospitality is one of personal investment. It is costly. The believer who practices it must become vulnerable to investing in the life of a stranger. Pohl reminds the reader of Jesus’ parable about the wedding celebration. The father invites the honored guests, who make excuses for not coming, and then sends servants to invite poor and outcasts on the streets.

What is notable in the gospels is that while Jesus always welcomes the outcast sinners to the table, it is also the outcast sinners who welcome him and the kingdom he proclaims. For the church this is a particular challenge because we have an aptitude for attracting those who look, talk, and dress like us, whether we are farmers, professionals, etc. Hospitality is about reaching out and welcoming strangers and aliens (not necessarily from outer-space though I suppose they should be included also). Now the welcoming is not just invitation or greeting, but it is personal involvement in the life of the other. This necessitates getting to know this person who is probably quite different from us.

I must confess, being an introvert by nature, this is especially a scary endeavor. For some reason we like to think of the kingdom of God as a warm fuzzy place where we can all chill. But what I keep finding the more I read the Bible is that it requires work and courage. It is anything but comfortable. I suppose in the end (the time of fulfillment) it will be a place of peace (shalom). But for now, in a broken and dark world it is a scary and costly endeavor to live out the kingdom of God. And at the same time it is a deep blessing to experience the redeeming and healing power of the Holy Spirit in the process of building these new relationships. I suppose when we consider God’s great gift of his son and the hospitality the Great householder has extended to us, that is only appropriate to reconsider this most important practice during this season.

[1][1] Making Room (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 8.


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