“Hospitality is a way of life fundamental to Christian identity. Its mysteries, riches, and difficulties are revealed most fully as it is practiced.” — Christine Pohl
“Hospitality means inviting the stranger into our private space, whether that be the space of our own home or the space of our personal awareness and concern. And when we do so, some important transformations occur. Our private space is suddenly enlarged; no longer tight and cramped and restricted, but open and expansive and free.” — Parker Palmer
Creating community is not something that just happens. Placing a group of people of different gender, cultures, language, theological beliefs and interests into a building, hoping there will be some interaction like molecules in a test tube in which the final product is community...is a pipe dream. It's nothing more than a gathering, like-particles, people with the same interests may attract one another forming a bond and stick, while at the end, the rest disperse into space.
For real community to happen, hospitality...must be a living reality. Hospitality must be a value that is spliced into the DNA of the community. I would even go as far as saying...you can't have one with out the other.
Years ago, Paul Roberts said something that has always stuck with me, " you can tell the size of a person's Christianity by the size of their table." After almost 20 years I have not been able to shake that thought, not a week goes by that I don't think about it.
There is something very revealing in these words of Jesus, "Those who receive you receive me, and those who receive me receive the One who sent me.” — Matthew 10:40
There is a profound element of divine mystery in hospitality. It's not " me "...I just make myself available and participate in God's hospitality. God loves the weary traveler and provides for the vulnerable. God gives the lonely a home and offers all the misfits, the righteous, the sinner, the thief, the traitor, the poor, the oppressed and the unloved a place at an abundant table. Hospitality has to do with a disposition of Love and Grace. It has far more to do with a heart that is overflowing with generosity and gratefulness...than the quality of the space, and quantity of food.
It is difficult to read the gospels and miss how " table hospitality " is weaved through out. From the opening pages, when Jesus ate at Matthews house with the other tax collectors in which the Pharisees asked the disciples why Jesus ate with the likes of tax collectors and sinners...to the two followers he ate with in Emmaus after his resurrection...to cooking fish on a beach campfire after the boys decided to go back to their old jobs. In the table hospitality that Jesus lived out, he challenged cultural assumptions about who is welcome, giving a glimpse to the reality of His Kingdom. All to often our hospitality is something else, comfort and coziness...inviting the friends we like...who may just return the invitation. Jesus seemed to stretch the size of the table telling us to invite those least like us, the ones who seem least likely to reciprocate. Because we are outside our comfort zone, table hospitality means first, inviting the Spirit of God into the mix. We discover what table hospitality looks like when we " dwell in the life of Jesus."
Food, people, conversation...and the Spirit of God that hovers over the table as in the beginning of creation...something mysterious happens. Listening is always involved in hospitality. The most gracious attempts we can muster are meaningless if we do not actually hear the stranger. Listening is the core meaning of hospitality. It is something we can give anyone and everyone, including ourselves. It takes only a few minutes to really listen.
Hospitality is a way to counter the thousands of times another human being has felt less than human because others didn’t listen. Listening is the power of hospitality; it is what makes hospitality the life-giving thing it is.
Stories, life's journeys and struggles, weaving our story into God's story and just the struggles of being a stumbling pilgrim on a journey of faith provide a context into which the reality of real community is formed.
Each individual in a community needs to relocate themselves into the holistic practice of hospitality. It is to easy to opt out and default to the idea that it is a special gift given only to a special few. The real life depends on a community that embodies hospitality as its deepest commitment and value.
Are there strangers in your community...not sure. Look around after the gathering on Sunday or mid-week, and see who leaves without talking to no one. I know, it's easy to assume well maybe they don't want to talk to anyone. But try asking them for lunch, dinner, breakfast...or even coffee. We must understand that our seemingly small efforts are apart of God's larger work. Community must be grounded in the wisdom of hospitality...of not randomly bumping into one another...but of living alongside, lives connected together.
Look at hospitality as that little mustard seed of faith...it is something we do in small increments of daily faithfulness. Hospitality is much less about grandiose and dramatic gestures than it is about...Love, Grace, Prayer...and the Spirit of God moving in the midst of it all. How often in the divine mystery of hospitality we find blessing for both host and guest.