“What happened to ALL my pans?” I still remember my mom’s flabbergasted question to my family after returning from an early January trip.
She was about to prepare dinner and brought us all into the kitchen to give an account for the damage.
My older sister and I looked sheepishly at each other and said, “Dad said it was ok.”
While my mom was away, our dad had let my sister and I invite over most of our high school for a New Year’s Eve party. And what better way to ring in the New Year, than to take every pot and pan in our home and beat on them with spoons in the street with our friends!
Hospitality comes with a cost.
Our mom forgave us (and I think forgave our dad J), because they believed that having people in our home and creating space for relational love and investment was more important than pans.
The word “hospitality” is close to the Greek word philoxenia or “love of the stranger.”
It sees people as “friends we haven’t met yet” and seeks others’ good, regardless of relational history.
In our current cultural moment, hospitality may enable us to live as Great Commandment Christians (Matt. 22:36-40) like never before.
Paul’s Galatians’ application is particularly fitting as we consider what it means to “love God and neighbor as self” in quarantine. Paul argues that we must bend our freedom in Christ into service and love for others, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14).
As gathering restrictions lift, strategies to serve and love our neighbors must pre-occupy our minds, not simply our own personal comforts or freedoms.
The earliest allowable groups may be small in size, but they can be gigantic in Kingdom-advancing impact if we lean into God’s heart of hospitality.
Where we live is not coincidence. God puts neighbors in our lives “for such a time as this.” And not just to invite them to church, but to invite them into our lives. Just as Jesus took on human form to “pitch his tent” with us on life’s journey (John 1:14), we incarnate the capital “C” Church to our neighbors when we love, live, and serve like him in our neighborhoods.
Who we invite over and how we engage them tells a lot about our love for and trust in Jesus.
At the COVID-level, there are ongoing concerns and anxieties around physical safety that we would be unloving to ignore. The well-known insurance company jingle has morphed into a message that epitomizes our approach to neighbor: “State Farm – Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there” has changed to “Stay Far – Like a good neighbor, stay over there.” As Christians, could we tweak it to say, “Like a good neighbor, show that we care?”
Physical safety aside, other fears keep many Christians from engaging their neighbors with hospitable hearts. “Bad company corrupts good character” might be generally helpful advice for high school friend groups. But Jesus did not fear this danger when eating with neighbors who needed his love. And as a general rule, neither should we.
As New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg explains, “Jesus’ model of ministering to people of all backgrounds challenges us to cross the culture-gap between the Christian sub-culture of cozy meetings and holy talk and the pagan culture of our local community. The task of identification with and incarnation into our contemporary paganism, of all kinds, is one of the biggest tasks confronting the church. If Jesus was right, and the prevailing view in ancient Judaism wrong, so that holiness can be more contagious than impurity, then we need not fear such activity.” (Contagious Holiness: Jesus’ Meals with Sinners, 173).
As we’ve all been driven indoors over the past months and forced to relate to one another through digital means, our collective hunger for connection grows. As we make baby steps back to relating more face-to-face, let’s nurture our new-found neighbor relationships. The mailbox exchange or neighborhood walk conversations can move to porch drinks, back deck barbeques, and even dinners together indoors.
We must not rush past these newly strengthened neighborhood connections to old friends, family friends, or Christian friends alone. What a great time to invite our geographically quarantined “bunker buddies” into relationship with our established Kingdom “siblings” over table fellowship.
Rosaria Butterfield calls this radically ordinary hospitality, or “Using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God. It brings glory to God, serves others, and lives out the gospel in word and deed” (The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World, Rosaria Butterfield, 31).
Throughout her book, Butterfield argues that the purpose of radically ordinary hospitality is to “build, focus, deepen and strengthen the family of God, point others to the Bible-believing local church, and being earthly and spiritual good to everyone we know.” (31)
As we calibrate towards a “new normal” of social relationship as Christians, let’s not miss the gift God has placed before us. Rather than pine for our pre-COVID Christian cliques, let’s bring God-appointed variety to our table fellowships. What would it mean for the cause of Christ and his Kingdom if our daily meals looked closer to a Thanksgiving mix of old friends and across-the-street acquaintances?
When we re-convene our Life Groups on those familiar couches, how could God break in to our established communities through a new face or two because of the mysterious “relational stimulus package” God sent us all this season?
As Christians, may we be known by our radical love (John 13:35) and may our hospitable tables and gatherings prove it.