Home-Based Hospitality and the Mission of God
Imagine that your friends living in another state invite you to stay at their house for a weekend. When you arrive at the door after a long drive, your friends ask you to stand outside for a few minutes while they open up a computer and begin looking for information about your reservation. After a few minutes working on the computer and telling you “sorry, our computer is working slowly today,” your friends then say “We found your reservation. You will be staying with us two nights. In your room you will find a telephone. You can call a restaurant at any time to order a meal. Our staff will pick up your meal from any restaurant within 25 miles of our house and deliver it to you for a service charge of $50. You must pay for your meals over the phone with your credit card. For staying with us two nights the cost will be $375 for each person. Your total bill will be $1500 for your stay. Would you like to pay for that with cash or a credit card?”
If my friends did this to me, I would be horrified. I would probably think they had gone crazy and would not stay with them. But in fact, this imaginary scenario is very similar to the way things are done in what is referred to in the United States as “the hospitality industry.” Hospitality in America is a business consisting of hotels, vacation resorts, restaurants, tourism agencies, airlines, rental car agencies, passenger rail services and other businesses all connected by a staggering array of websites either selling these services or offering you free advice (accompanied by advertisements) on which ones to use. This kind of hospitality is spreading around the world. All this has distorted our sense of what hospitality is.
I want you to think with me about a kind of hospitality that has nothing to do with business. Imagine instead that you arrive at your friends’ home and your friends throw their arms up in delight shouting, “Welcome!” They invite you into their home and ask you to sit down saying “Make yourselves at home! Our house is your house! May we get you something to drink?” They sit with you, talk with you, ask you about your life. They tell you that dinner is cooking in the oven. You can smell the delicious aroma in the air. After chatting for a few minutes, your friends invite you to walk outside to the garden to pick some fresh lettuce, tomatoes and sweet corn that will be prepared with the dinner. You accompany your friends to the garden, enjoy the beautiful flowers and the smell of fresh green plants, then head back into the kitchen where you continue chatting while you help wash the vegetables, make the salad and heat water to cook the corn. When everything is ready, you gather around a beautifully decorated table to thank God for time together with friends and the delicious meal. After cleaning up from dinner you continue talking with your friends, laughing, sharing memories and hopes for the future. When everyone is tired, you go to sleep in the bed your friends have prepared for you. You fall asleep with
a grateful heart and sleep till morning.
This is a different kind of hospitality based in a household, not a business. This is the kind of hospitality we read about in the scriptures. It draws people together into a deep relationship of friendship and joy. It unites people in an ancient bond of human love as they share the good gifts of the earth, of hearth and home. When we experience it, we know it is a wonderful gift from God.
In Hebrews 13:2 we read, “Be ready with a meal or a bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it!” (The Message)
When we open the Bible we quickly find there is a close connection between home-based hospitality and mission. You will find many examples, great and small. I’m going to point out a couple here.
One happened when Jesus and his disciples “were in front of Peter’s house. On entering, Jesus found Peter’s mother-in-law sick in bed, burning up with fever. He touched her hand and the fever was gone. No sooner was she up on her feet than she was fixing dinner for him.” (Matthew 8:14-15, The Message.)
Many people who received healing at the hand of Jesus were eager to join his movement. They wanted to follow Jesus. This is why huge crowds appeared wherever Jesus went. Jesus was a leader who had many followers.
Peter’s mother-in-law did not ask to go out preaching the good news with Jesus and her son-in-law, even though other women did accompany Jesus on his mission. She did not make any statement in words to thank Jesus or to tell him that she wanted to follow him. What she did in response to being healed by Jesus was to get out of bed and fix dinner for him. She showed hospitality. This was her mission. It is a kind of mission so basic and essential that many people overlook it. It should not be overlooked.
Much of what we read about mission emphasizes the heroic, adventurous side of mission and ignores the domestic side. We cannot disregard the home-based side.
Jesus told his disciples that not only big things matter, but little things matter too. “And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” Matthew 10:42
To give a cup of cold water is an act of hospitality, warmth, kindness. It seems like a little thing. It is a little thing. But little things can matter a lot. Whether in big ways or little ways, hospitality is imperative for mission.
In the next posting, I’m going to tell another Bible story that closely ties home-based hospitality with God’s mission.
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