W HEN THE FAMILY sat at the table in their favorite restaurant, they did what they always did as a family. They held hands to offer a prayer before their meal. This time, though, as they were about to start, the server came to check on their meal.
In an instant of radical hospitality, the mom asked the server if she had anything she’d like for them to pray for. As a matter of fact, she did. Feeling comfortable with this family, she briefly shared a current struggle in her life. There in the restaurant, they all prayed together, lifting her up to God and his goodness. The server left the table with tears in her eyes wondering how they knew she needed prayer.
The physical, financial, and mental health of hospitality professionals is higher than usual. This Christian family was a breath of fresh air. The family followed up their prayer with an extravagantly generous tip.
This radical hospitality was possible because this family saw their server as a person, they saw someone most people overlook, or barely notice.
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WHEN WE SPEAK of Christian hospitality, generally we think of Sunday worship. Speak to people when they come in. But that’s just the beginning. Someone enters. We welcome them. Introduce them to others. Perhaps sit with them/Invite them to lunch when we’re not COVID-concerned.
Follow-up during the next week also shows a hospitable spirit.
I thank Al who last week offered his large umbrella to shelter people going to their car during the downpour following worship.
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BUT RADICAL HOSPITALITY is not confined to the church property. In fact, radical hospitality extends into our lives and into our homes.
Ethel (not her real name) lives in an assisted living facility in Fairhope. Currently, she is a rehab patient of Lisa’s in Pensacola. In a conversation this week, Ethel spoke of how she needed to get back to her facility. She said, “God has a purpose for me there.”
You see, Ethel is a good Methodist, and she practices radical hospitality though helping others who also live at the ALF. Ethel shared with Lisa how a new resident moved in. This resident repeated herself in conversation. The healthier residents stayed away from her because they grew tired of hearing the same stories again and again. But not Ethel. Ethel sat with her at meals. Ethel shared stories and listened to repeated stories.
Ethel talked to the other women and chastised them for their exclusive attitude. Ethel uses where she is, in this assisted living facility, to represent Christ to others. She takes seriously the verse for today:
“Welcome one another therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
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HOSPITALITY INCLUDES the yearning to be sent by Christ into the lives of others. To share the gracious love of Christ in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
Hospitality is a recurring theme in Scripture. In Deuteronomy, God reminds the people of Israel to welcome the foreigner, the stranger, the wanderer. Why? Because they once were in that same position in Egypt.
We, too, were estranged from God, strangers to the faith, residing outside the community where we now find rich resources of meaning, grace, hope, friendship, and service. We belong to the body of Christ because of someone’s hospitality toward us.
The disciples wanted to draw boundaries to keep people at a distance from Jesus. They had a thousand reasons to thwart people from getting close to Jesus. Some are too young, too sick, too sinful, too Roman, too blind, too Gentile to deserve his attention. Jesus radically challenged the disciples’ expectations. He overstepped boundaries. He invited people to come to him.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me.”
In Matthew, Jesus proclaims that the righteous welcome him whenever we welcome the stranger. “I was a stranger and you invited me in,” he says.
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THE TRUTH IS, in our culture today, many people, despite our prayerful encouragement and invitation, will never visit a church or attend a worship service with us.
To offer the grace of Christ to people as Christ did, we must engage them where they are rather than expecting them to come to us.
And another truth is this: We don’t do it. We don’t make the effort to know our neighbors. We might recognize their car or see them walking their dog, or exchange pleasantries at the mailbox, but we don’t know them, or try to know them.
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AN OLDER COUPLE started their day by shopping, then going to a restaurant for lunch. While there, she had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. The chaplain was called to the emergency room, where he found the confused and fearful husband. What began as a normal day ended in tragedy. While the chaplain was with the man, a doctor entered and announced the wife had died. The doctor handed the chaplain an envelope containing her wedding ring, necklace, and eyeglasses.
The chaplain offered to call the grief-stricken man’s pastor. He does not have a church. What about a relative? Family is scattered across the country, hundreds of miles away. Maybe a coworker could be with him? They both retired several years ago from work in another city.
What about a neighbor? He said he and his wife don’t know any of the others in the apartment complex because they had only lived there three years.
It’s sad — for three years they had made no effort to know their neighbors. It’s damning that for three years their Christian neighbors made no effort to know them.
The chaplain helped him with the paperwork, held his hand as they prayed, handed him the envelope with the jewelry and walked him to the exit.
The man walked away alone to cope with the shocking news of the day — all on his own.
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PEOPLE YOU KNOW have no pastor to contact when unexpected grief strikes. Your coworkers have friends but do not know the grace a faith community offers.
Families around you at the sports complex or band concert; most of the students you sit by in school; most of the people who repair your car, who serve you in restaurants, who check out your groceries, do not have a community where they can learn peace, justice, genuine repentance, forgiveness, love, and unmerited grace.
Most will not come to the church to find it.
But you, you and I, are already present with them in our daily lives. You and I are with them to extend radical hospitality for the glory of God.
(Some ideas and stories come from “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Revised and Updated,” by Robert Schnase.)