This year, as one of our New Year’s resolutions, Pam and I have determined to read a book together. Each night we read a chapter, taking turns reading out loud. We’ve chosen a book by Don Everts titled “The Spiritually Vibrant Home: The Power of Messy Prayers, Loud Tables, and Open Doors.” It’s been a good read so far, and I am sure some of my posts during these 30 Days of Prayer and Purpose will pull from my reading of Evert’s book.
One thought in particular has stuck with me. Everts writes about discipleship. Discipleship is literally the process of how we are formed as God’s people. Everts asks, “Where has God most consistently formed my character, healed my heart, and taught me the values of His kingdom? And the answer is obvious: “In my home, through marriage, parenting, hospitality, close friendships, chores, routines and tragedies and parties and unhurried conversations and inviting people over for a meal.” In a Christian home all of these normal activities give me the chance to hear, learn and apply God’s word and grace. (page 22).
Evert’s bases much of his book on recent research done by collaboration between Lutheran Hour Ministries and Barna Group in a study on households in America. The research shows that the most spiritually vibrant households are those that “regularly participate in applying spiritual disciplines, engaging in spiritual conversations and extending hospitality” (page 72).
Now as a pastor, I find the whole study of households fascinating because I think it applies as much to my own household as it could to St. Paul (our church). Hopefully Christian households in America and Christian churches are at least attempting to incorporate spiritual disciplines and spiritual conversations into our regular “family” life together. Of course, I am well aware that there are many studies that indicate that very few Christian families actually do. Even very few church families are good at this if you consider how few church-going people attend Bible Study or Sunday School on a regular basis. But I know that there is one area that ALL households of faith—both nuclear family households and churches– could do better at: Practicing hospitality.
Everts notes how in the Old Testament, before the Children of Israel entered the Promised Land, God commanded many times how they were to treat people—even strangers. One example is Leviticus 19:33-34.
When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
How strange that later in New Testament, Jesus has to fight against the Jewish cultural disdain for groups like Samaritans and Gentiles. Many Jews wouldn’t even eat with a Gentile. But Jesus break with this in the most taboo of ways—fellowshipping not just with Gentiles and Samaritans but even with tax collectors, sinners, and lepers. He takes special note of the needy and widowed, the sick, hurting and blind.
“It’s no wonder that fellowship became the hallmark of the Christian Church later on. The early church was known for the love, generosity and the welcome they showed to those in need. They had open doors. This habit of hospitality didn’t just happen, it was a central part of their understanding of the Christian life. For example, consider how the author of the Hebrews expressed the call to Christian hospitality: ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2).
It is interesting to note that the Greek word here in Hebrews 13 that we translate as hospitality is philoxenia. It comes from two Greek roots: philos (loving) and xenos (a stranger). Indeed, the call to Christian hospitality (love of strangers) was unambiguous: ‘Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality’ (Romans 12:13). ‘Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling’(1 Peter 4:8-9).” [selected quotes from pages 149-150]
Some questions for reflection:
- How would you define hospitality? How does your family show hospitality?
- Consider the term “intentional hospitality.” How could this term help shape the way you live out your faith and share Jesus with others?
- How can WE improve hospitality at St. Paul? How can YOU improve hospitality at St. Paul?
A prayer starter:
O MERCIFUL And faithful God, You have designed that each person should have a certain calling and faithfully attend to it. You see and know all my responsibilities, O Lord, and that without Your grace, strength and blessing I am not able to do anything whatsoever that is good and noble and right. My thoughts and motives are so often self-centered and trite. You know this and all my shortcomings. I pray that You would give me wisdom and strength, a courageous and fearless spirit, patience and a kinder, gentler heart so that I may act prudently, overcome all obstacles and temptations, and be Your witness toward others. Show my Your ways and teach me Your paths. Just as You have graciously turned Your love and attention toward me, help me to show the same toward others. Open my eyes and ears that I might listen more carefully to what my neighbor has to say and help me slow down enough to see and have compassion upon my neighbors in the midst of all the cares and sorrows that they carry. In Jesus name, I pray. Amen.