November 15, 2018

Hospitality Is More Than Being Nice to People You Like

We go to great lengths to welcome people in our homes - but those folks we invite all too often are people that we know and love already. Most folks who come to my house know me, and understand my worldview, and we probably get along socially.

And I think too often we do the same thing with our congregations?

That’s being nice; that’s not hospitality.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

The New Testament word for “hospitality” (Greek: philoxenia) comes from a compound of “love” and “stranger.” Hospitality has its origin, literally, in love for strangers. Love for those different from us.

In Hebrews 13:1-3, the writer first cautions us to let “mutual love” (philadelphia) continue, but that we shouldn’t neglect the love of others (philoxenia). We then are given an example of how this might look when we’re immediately told to remember those in prison or those being tortured.

Jesus gives us an example as well. In Luke, we’re told that sinners and tax collectors (outsiders, strangers) were coming to Jesus to listen to him, and the religious leaders didn’t seem to like it: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2).

We like to say “the Episcopal Church welcomes you!” It’s a nice thought, but is it accurate for all of the people that “you” might represent in that slogan? Or do we too often welcome those we want to welcome, while preferring that others keep on driving past our building? Do we welcome those who don’t dress like us, or those that aren’t as educated as us, or those that have a different theological position than us, or (especially now) those that don’t vote like us?

I pray that we do, and I know many congregations that strive to be welcoming and hospitable to all! But we’re human. We invite our friends over to our house for dinner, and we invite our friends to church.

That’s evangelism, to a point. And that’s hospitality, to a point. But we are called to more. We are called to offer hospitality, to offer philoxenia (the opposite of which is xenophobia…).

How do you, and your congregation, practice loving those different than you?