This is the second guest post from Lynne Baab in our series Hospitality and the Kingdom of God.
Lynne M. Baab is the author of numerous books on Christian spiritual practices. This article is adapted from her 2012 book, Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation. which has a chapter illustrating numerous ways congregations can engage in hospitality together. Lynne’s latest book will be released in June 2014: The Power of Listening: Building Skills for Mission and Ministry, and she would argue listening skills are essential in giving and receiving hospitality.
A handful of books have changed my life, and Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine D. Pohl is one of them. I read it soon after it was released in 1999, and immediately I began to see hospitality as a metaphor for ministry, a metaphor that opened my heart and changed my daily encounters with others.
I was raised by a mother with a distinct and significant gift of hospitality. My childhood memories are full of parties and dinners that my mom hosted. She is an excellent cook, and her extraverted and warm relational style helps people feel welcome in her home. As soon as I moved into my first apartment, I started having people over for meals. When I got married, my husband and I continued that tradition. I deeply enjoy hosting people for meals, and I know I learned that skill and attitude as a child from my very hospitable mother.
Before I read Making Room, the word “hospitality” meant hosting people for meals and having houseguests from time to time. Christine Pohl helped me see hospitality as something bigger, an opportunity to meet the risen Christ in the lives of others, which might involve hosting people for meals or lodging but also means meeting Jesus in conversations and encounters with others in many settings where I am not necessarily the host or a guest. I now believe that every encounter is an opportunity to show hospitality and welcome, and this has shaped my understanding of Christian ministry in all forms.
The Bible is full of commands to be hospitable and models of hospitality. (See my previous post .) However, the biblical invitation to engage in hospitality goes far beyond specific verses that command it or stories that illustrate it. The deepest invitation to engage in acts of hospitality and welcome comes from the sweep of biblical history that shows the actions of a generous and hospitable God. This history began with God’s invitation to Adam and Eve to dwell in the Garden, and to abstain from eating one particular food. Adam and Eve violated this act of hospitality on God’s part, and the rest of biblical history is the account of God’s continual invitation and welcome to the people God created in love. In the incarnation we see Jesus, who came as a stranger to earth, but showed a profound welcome to the people he encountered.
We are sent into the world in the same way Jesus was sent (John 17:18), and this means trying to be receptive to the gift inside each person we meet. To be truly hospitable is to welcome with tenderness and kindness each person we encounter as a precious reflection of the image of God, even in those moments when we need to be forthright about something important to us. Being hospitable means to learn from everyone, growing as a listener and watching for the ways God is transforming us through the lives of the people we meet. Sometimes we meet people over a meal and sometimes in another setting, but wherever it happens, God calls us to extend a warm welcome in the spirit of Jesus Christ.