Hospitality in Context, Part 2

When our society speaks of hospitality today, we do not normally think of a kinship love for strangers, which is the meaning of philoxenia, the biblical Greek word usually translated as “hospitality.” We live in a culture of xenophobia—a fear of strangers—while as Christ followers we are called to philoxenia—a kinship of love strangers. So, our dilemma is that our culture of xenophobia pushes back against our gospel-summons to make room for strangers with a welcoming embrace.

Unlike today, the early mothers and fathers of the Christian faith practiced a way of being that welcomed others, including strangers and those incapable of paying them back, with generous and relational embrace. In fact, hospitality was more than just a practice for the early Church; it was a way of being. It encompassed the whole person as it addressed the social, emotional, cognitive, physical and spiritual dimensions of personhood. To early Christian writers, hospitality was a moral obligation that came with God’s in-breaking kingdom. It was a fundamental expression of the gospel, and vital for faithful Christian witness.1 So much so, in fact, that the early Church mothers and fathers considered sharing meals, homes, and worship with people of different backgrounds to be a significant identity marker of the Christian faith.2 

For the people of ancient Israel, a significant part of what it meant to be the people of God was understanding themselves to be sojourners with a responsibility to care for the vulnerable strangers in their midst. Jesus, who was dependent on the hospitality of others during much of his time on earth, also served as a gracious host in his words and in his actions. Those who turned to him found welcome and rest and the promise of reception into the Kingdom. He urged his hosts to follow his example by opening their tables to more than family and friends who could reciprocate and by giving generous welcome to the poor and sick who had little to offer in return. In fact, Jesus even promised that welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry person, and visiting the sick were acts of personal kindness to the Son of Man Himself. 

Hospitality begins in creation. In the Genesis narrative, we see God making room in his infinite and always-present life for a finite and limited creation, including us. He did so not stoically or out of obligation but instead in love and out of desire. As a “homemaking God who creates a world for inhabitation,” he welcomes us into his life to share in all that he is and all that he has, including his good creation.3

Our God is a homemaking, hospitable God, and hospitality is central to his triune being.

I have more to say, but that is for the next post. Until then, think about the image of God as a homemaker. Sit with it.

The home we all long for can be found with God.

1 Shepherd of Hermas, Mandate 8:8–10. See also John Chrysostom, Homily 45 on Acts; Homily 14 on 1 Timothy; and Homily 66 on Matthew. 

2 Christine D. Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 4. 

3 Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian J. Walsh, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 14. I owe the language of “homemaking God” to the authors of this insightful work. 

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Hospitality in Context: Introduction

A few years ago our Church eldership publicly denounced what was, at the time, the refusal to offer due process for asylum seekers. After listening to many in the WCC fam we registered with a few regional organizations to sponsor an asylum seeking family in their transition.

A local neighbor visiting WCC off-and-on (not a member) sent me a private message on Facebook that Sunday afternoon. They shared their concerns with the decision. They denounced my teaching (which wasn’t new to WCC). I replied in the hope that we could reason through the Scriptures together. In the end, ideology won. I’ll never forget what the neighbor said to me. It echoes in my heart (and I saved it in a phone note so I’d never forget). They said, “Pastor Fred, it’s deplorable that you would willingly put your own family at risk and encourage the Church to do the same by welcoming foreigners like these into our country. I will no longer attend the Church. You are a dangerous man.”

There’s much I could say about why I think the neighbor responded this way, but it wouldn’t be helpful. In the end, what I understood about the gospel then I still believe today: the people of Christ are committed to hospitality, because Christ is committed to us.

I’ll offer more in the next post. For now I just want to sit with that simple conviction.

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Awaken to Your Beauty

“The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny follower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”
~ Therese of Lisieux

Beloved, be who you are today, from the top of your head to the soles of your feet, inside and out. Please do not allow others to convince you that any form of social blindness is good—color blindness, sexuality blindness, body blindness, or whatever. Instead, be conscious of who you are, because the God who formed you is fully conscious of who you are. You are seen. Live seen and awaken to your beauty.

As for those who want to bury their minds in some form of social blindness, pray for them that one day they too will awaken to beauty.

These are the flowers my wife and son gave me for my birthday. I love flowers. They tell many stories of beauty and mystery.
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Only Love Creates

“Hatred is not a creative force. Love alone creates. Suffering will not prevail…it only melts us down and strengthens us.”
~ Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941)

Kolbe, a Polish priest, died in the place of another man in the German death camp of Auschwitz. Franciszek Gajowniczek was chosen for the starvation bunker. When he lamented, “My wife! My children!” Kolbe was moved with compassion and volunteered to take his place. Kolbe survived the two week sentence and was put to death by lethal injection. It is reported that he calmly raised his arm for injection.

The hatred of others stirred Kolbe’s soul and awakened him to the evil around him. The love of Christ that he held deep within his soul created life for another. The love of God became his courage and the presence of Christ became his strength. Even in chains Kolbe was free.

Hatred may awaken us, whether it comes from others or from our own hearts. But hatred does not offer solutions. Only love can do that. Love alone creates. Love alone liberates.

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I love the rain. It reminds me that if the ground needs rest and to be refreshed, so do I. It also reminds me of some of my favorite childhood memories with my Grandma Liggin, taking walks in the rain barefoot to catch raindrops in our hands, pausing along the way to sit on the curb and make mud pies.

I know that for some, rain brings dreariness. For me, rain brings memories of joy and and invitation to pause and rest.

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