"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2)
Hospitality is a faith practice. And while some have entertained angels unawares, in showing hospitality to strangers, most have not. In Luke's Sermon on the Plain, Jesus clearly instructs his followers to go beyond common courtesy, beyond common sense in extending hospitality.
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same." (Luke 6: 32-33) Although these words come right after Jesus articulates what we now call "the Golden Rule," ("Do unto others as you would have them do to you."), hospitality according to Jesus is not a quid quo pro. It is not a zero sum game. It is in fact a faith practice that goes far beyond anything Miss Manners would dare advise.
Hospitality is serving the stranger, feeding the hungry, clothing the needy, housing the homeless, visiting the imprisoned. Hospitality is seeing Jesus in the face of the suffering child, the bum on the street, the undocumented immigrant. Hospitality is going way beyond our comfort zone because that's what Jesus did, and that's what Jesus taught. And that's what Jesus lived. And died.
We are regularly reminded of Jesus' radical hospitality in the bread and the wine, his body and blood, given and shed for us. There is no more profound act of hospitality than this-of giving his life for us, and then inviting us to be part of it.
Hospitality means much more than putting a sign in front of our churches that says, "All are welcome." The March (and final) issue of The Lutheran magazine features several stories about what welcome is and isn't. Take a look. Hospitality is deeper than welcome. Hospitality takes off where welcome ends. Hospitality isn't just something we do. It has to be who we are.
Hospitality involves risk-risk of rejection, risk of loss. Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina practices hospitality. When a troubled young man came to their Bible Study, they welcomed him. And when after an hour together he shot and killed the entire group minus a designated witness, they continued their hospitality by publicly forgiving him. It boggles the imagination.
The early church tried to practice hospitality. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes they didn't. Paul had to admonish the Corinthians for their lack of hospitality:
"For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those how have nothing?" (I Corinthians 11: 21-22)
The early church in Rome practiced a kind of hospitality to the sick. When epidemics hit the city, everybody who could leave did so. Christians stayed and cared for the sick. Yes, some of them died. But not all of them. And they got a reputation for what they did. And a tradition of caring for the sick has been carried on to this day.
Today our church practices hospitality in many ways. Some congregations are involved in efforts such as Family Promise, providing hospitality to homeless families. For many congregations it has been a stretch of the imagination-could they really invite homeless people to spend a week in their church? And the answer has been yes.
Our church supports Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, who have been providing hospitality since 1939. We are working with migrant children from Central America. And we are working with refugees from Syria and other war-torn places across the globe. We do this as a whole church. Yet there are many other ways that individuals and groups within our church engage in hospitality that passes all understanding. Thank you.
Radical hospitality. It is what Jesus taught. It is what Jesus lived. And died. So that we might live for others.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA