Like many things in life we have made (or at least tried to make) the act of hospitality an industry and commodity, but for most of human existence hospitality has been a practice of individuals, households, and communities. Hospitality is ultimately a cordial and generous reception of guests, in other words a warm welcome. Hospitality has a long history among the cultures of the Bible and the expectations of the people of God as recorded in scripture.
Isaiah 58:6-7 (NIV) says,
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:..
…Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
The prophet lays out the expectation of God for God’s people, that is an expectation of hospitality, of welcome, of care. It doesn’t matter if they are hungry, in need of shelter, or without clothing, nor does it matter if they are a stranger or family. Welcome is expected regardless.
The New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter 13:2 (NIV) also names God’s expectation of hospitality and welcome when it says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” In fact this passage takes the act of welcome a step further by saying that in showing hospitality to a stranger you may in fact be welcoming an angel. The author of Hebrews could be referencing the story from Genesis where Abraham and Sarah welcome 3 strangers who turn out to be messengers of God, one of whom was not just angel, but actually the Lord God. Both of these passages, along with others like Jesus teaching in Matthew 25, go so far as to connect our hospitality, care, and welcome of others with our welcome of God. Thus elevating the act of hospitality and welcome to one of holy and spiritual importance. We cannot separate how we welcome and treat other people from how we welcome and treat God, for the two acts are indeed one.
If this isn’t daunting enough, Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel reading for July 2nd adds one more piece to the practice of welcome. Matthew 10:40-42 (NRSV) says:
40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
In this passage we are reminded that not only do we, will we, meet God in others, but others can and will meet God in we who are followers of Jesus. Thus our relationships and interactions with others become the very welcoming of God.
May this reality be our constant companion and meditation in life. That God is present and working in those we meet and those who meet us. It is no small task to treat our interactions with others as the very presence of God, but can we really expect them to be anything less when we are told that God created humanity, each and every person, in the image and likeness of God. To treat every interaction we have, every welcome we offer and are offered, as a holy and divine encounter with both creature and creator is our calling as Christians and people of God.
What a humble blessing it is to meet God in the face of others and to be the face in which others might meet God. Especially when those people are different from us, those in need, and those we don’t yet know.
Our challenge, calling, and blessing is before us and my hope is that our statement of welcome, adopted by the Session over a year ago, will be our reminder.
We strive to love, affirm, and celebrate all who join us, regardless of abilities, age, gender identity, race, or sexual orientation. Please join us with your whole self as we journey with Christ.
Grace and Peace to you all,