When I was a child, my mom, brother, and I started going to a new church. We went at the behest of my brother who had hitherto refused to attend. He had gone with a friend of his to their youth group and then to a Sunday morning service. Mom and I had a church home that we enjoyed very much, but when my brother agreed to go to this new church, we followed him there. It became our new church home initially because of my brother but remained our church home in large part because of the hospitality showed to us. We felt welcomed. I was painfully shy and could not bring myself to go to a new Sunday School class. I’m not sure whether we were late or if it was just the overwhelming anxiety of the unknown, but I sat unmovable on the white wicker couch in the sitting room area of the ladies’ restroom with my mother frozen in fear. A diminutive little lady breezed in and noticed us immediately. She sat with us for some time until she had coaxed me to come with her down to the class that would become mine. I don’t remember her words, I only remember that she listened, comforted and encouraged me. She introduced me to my teacher and the class members, and that was it.
She was the first person Mom and I met there. The next person we met was an older gentleman, small and wiry who stood with his lovely plump wife near the entrance as people were partaking in refreshments in the foyer and leaving after the service. He welcomed us and upon hearing my mother’s Irish accent started a conversation about an Irishman he had been friends with many years prior. He smiled and said, “Éirinn go Brách!” which means “Ireland Forever” in Gaelic(Irish). He greeted us the same way every Sunday afterward and we became great friends. He made an effort to greet her in her own language and to make a connection with her on a personal level. It meant a lot to us. We were not in the majority of Norwegian parishioners, who made up about 98% of the church we first started attending.
If you have ever gone to a place where you were not welcomed, you know how bad it feels. In fact, I have many more stories of that kind. Unfortunately, many of them also occurred in one church or another. I do not, however, want to discuss those at the moment because everyone has felt unwelcome at some point in their lives whether in a small group, their family, or in some other setting. But, God hasn’t called us to be unwelcoming, quite the contrary, he has called us to be hospitable to other believers and more importantly, to those who are not like us so as to be His representative.
In college, I was welcomed again into a small storefront church community. I was invited over to eat and spend time with different families. I was nourished with rides to church, meals afterward, and companionship. More recently, when I became unable to attend church on a regular basis because of my health, I began “attending” an online church with my family. The pastor made a point of speaking to those watching online and doing his best to welcome us from afar. Finally, this Sunday was a good day, and I was able to go to my regular church. It happened to be communion Sunday. Communion has become a bit uncomfortable for me in the past few years because I can only partake in part of it because of my celiac disease. Before church started one of the elders came up to me and asked if I was gluten-free; I nodded in the affirmative and he handed me a tiny sealed plastic bag containing a gluten-free wafer for communion. It was incredibly kind and thoughtful. The last time I had been there for communion, I had been sitting in a different section very near his wife, and she had passed one down to me. It was the first time I had taken a full communion in two years or more.
Hospitality doesn’t necessarily need to be grand gestures, it can be a bathroom chat, a ride, a word in your native tongue, or the forethought to care about someone’s gluten sensitivity. I think many of us have forgotten our commission to be hospitable. In this perilous time, it seems the church should lead the way. We should be welcoming those who are cast down to share the gospel. If you fill the belly of the beggar, you will show him the love of Christ, not just tell him about it.
I saw a viral video not long ago about a pastor who disguised himself as a homeless man and lay outside his church on Sunday. His parishioners walked over, and around him, some were even discourteous and tried to get rid of him. As the service was starting he made his way into the church and began walking up the center aisle, attendees were aghast, and ushers or security tried to stop him, but he broke through and grabbed a microphone. As he spoke, his congregation began to recognize his voice, and everyone fell away from him. Some laughed when they realized his trick. They laughed until he confronted them about how they had behaved as Christians who were supposed to be hospitable. As a child, I heard a number of stories about beggars who had been welcomed into the church and who became great leaders because of it.
It makes me think. Are we welcoming people? I mean really welcoming? Do we truly welcome new faces to our churches regardless of their shade? Do we live a hospitable Christian walk outside the church walls that will encourage non-believers to come to Christ? The next time we see someone sitting alone, someone in need, someone in want of comfort, someone cast aside, will we keep walking or will we stop to chat in a language they can understand?
Romans 12:13-20 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.[a] Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[b] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”[c]
Matthew 25:34-40 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes, and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”
Luke 14:12-14 12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back, and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
1 Peter 4:8-11 8 Above all, love each other deeply because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.