Be Great at Hospitality
In our beautiful region, brimming with diversity, where our paths often intersect with strangers from lands far and wide, there is a sacred and universal practice that transcends cultural boundaries. It’s a practice that beckons us to open our hearts and tables to those whose paths intertwine with our own. It is the timeless art of hospitality. Today, on this World Communion Sunday, we gather as a part of a global tapestry, celebrating the profound significance of hospitality in the tapestry of our faith.
Hospitality in Scripture
Did you know in the scriptures, the theme of hospitality is woven into the fabric of our faith, appearing in various verses and stories more than 200 times? That’s right, over 200 times, we are reminded of the significance of opening our hearts to strangers.
Our passage from Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it,” reminds us to build this concept into our lives as it recalls how we find the story of Abraham in the Old Testament, who welcomed three strangers into his camp, unaware that he was entertaining angels in disguise. We might find ourselves in a holy and transformative moment when we open our hearts to others.
In scripture, hospitality is a measure of our moral character. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah serves as a cautionary tale, where the refusal to show hospitality led to a tragic downfall. It teaches us that when we close our doors and hearts to those in need, we risk losing our way, forsaking something of the essence of our humanity.
In the New Testament, we see the embodiment of radical hospitality in the life and teachings of Jesus. He didn’t just value hospitality; he lived it. Jesus, the one who dined with tax collectors and sinners, offered living water to a Samaritan woman at a well, told the Good Samaritan parable, and welcomed children with open arms, modeled for us the essence of hospitality.
Jesus didn’t discriminate based on social status, race, or religious background. He extended grace to strangers and outsiders, reminding us that God’s love knows no borders. He broke bread with his disciples and welcomed them to his table, foreshadowing the communion we celebrate today—a sacred meal embodying the essence of hospitality and unity.
The practice of hospitality is not an abstract ideal but a divine call. It’s an invitation to open our hearts, our homes, and our lives to the strangers who cross our paths, for in doing so, we may find that we are entertaining angels unaware.
Other cultures and religions emphasize hospitality, too.
The call to welcome and embrace strangers as honored guests is not unique to our Christian tradition. Hospitality is a universal virtue, a common thread woven into the fabric of countless cultures and religions worldwide.
In most cultures, hospitality is regarded as a sacred duty, a cornerstone of community life. In almost every culture, sharing food is at the heart of hospitality. Some cultures have elaborate tea or coffee ceremonies where guests are welcomed and honored. Don’t you wonder how much better things would be if we started honoring others instead of treating them as suspicious or dismissing them altogether?
- The Bedouin Hospitality of the Arabian Desert: Imagine traversing the vast, unforgiving Arabian Desert with nothing but endless dunes as far as the eye can see. In this harsh environment, the Bedouin people have perfected the art of hospitality. They believe every stranger is a gift from God, sent to test their generosity. When a Bedouin family welcomes you into their tent, you become an honored guest, and they will go to great lengths to ensure your comfort and safety. They share their meager resources, offering food, shelter, and companionship. In doing so, they fulfill their sacred duty and strengthen the bonds of trust within their community.
- Japanese Omotenashi: In Japan, hospitality takes a different form, known as “omotenashi.” It’s a concept deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, emphasizing the utmost care and consideration for guests. When you enter a traditional Japanese ryokan, or inn, you are met with a profound sense of grace and courtesy. Shoes are left at the door, and you’re given a traditional robe to wear during your stay. Every detail, from the arrangement of the room to the presentation of meals, is meticulously crafted to provide a sense of tranquility and well-being. Omotenashi is about making guests feel truly welcome, respected, and valued.
These examples underscore hospitality’s power to build trust, make bonds, hear someone’s story and perspective, foster connections, and extend kindness to remind ourselves of our common humanity.
So, what can we take away from these diverse expressions of hospitality?
Firstly, we can be inspired to broaden our understanding of hospitality beyond our comfort zones. May we challenge ourselves to see strangers not as threats but as opportunities for connection and growth.
Secondly, we can take a cue from the attention to detail exhibited in these practices. Whether it’s the simple act of offering a warm greeting, inviting someone for a meal, or creating an inviting atmosphere, these gestures demonstrate a deep respect for the dignity of each individual.
Third, let us remember that hospitality is not solely about material provision but also about the warmth of our welcome, the openness of our hearts, and the depth of our empathy. It’s a universal language that transcends borders, a shared value that can unite us as we strive to be better hosts and guests in this interconnected world.
In embracing these lessons, we enrich our practice of hospitality and, in doing so, discover the beauty of connecting with strangers as fellow children of God.
Hospitality is a two-way street.
Several years ago, I had the privilege of embarking on Justin Rudd’s mission trip to Kenya. As we journeyed through the lush landscapes and arrived at the humble dwelling of the family, we intended to give needed food and supplies and prayerful support. We were met with a warmth and generosity that humbled us.
It was a surprise visit, yet before we left, they offered us a basket of eggs. The impulse was to politely decline because we were there to help them. We didn’t need their eggs or want to take anything so precious from them. But it was important to them to show us hospitality and assert their dignity by offering something to us. It would have been wrong to refuse them.
Hospitality and charity are two-way streets. It’s not just about the giver providing for the receiver’s needs; it’s about the mutual exchange of love, respect, and connection. When the family offered us those eggs, they weren’t merely sharing a meal but inviting us into a sacred bond of fellowship.
In accepting the eggs, we allowed the lines that often divide the giver and receiver to blur, making way for a beautiful dance of human connection. Our hearts were humbled, and we were reminded that, no matter where we come from or our circumstances, we all have something valuable to offer one another—a smile, a kind word, or even a simple gift of eggs.
May we open our hearts to both giving and receiving hospitality, for in embracing this sacred practice, we find the truest expression of our faith and the deepest connections with our fellow human beings.
Open-table communion is a practice of hospitality.
As we continue to explore the theme of hospitality, let’s turn our attention to a table that stands as a powerful symbol of God’s unwavering hospitality—the communion table.
At Bay Shore Church, we believe that the communion table is not ours but Christ’s table. It is a table that transcends human boundaries, prejudices, and litmus tests of belief. It is a table to which all are invited, not because of who we are or what we have done, but because of who Christ is—our gracious host who extends an open invitation to all, without exception.
This belief finds its roots in the very life and teachings of Jesus. He modeled this radical approach to hospitality most profoundly at the Last Supper. Picture the scene: Jesus, the embodiment of divine love, gathered with his disciples, including Judas, whom he knew was set to betray him.
In that moment, as they reclined around the table, Jesus did not turn Judas away. He did not question his loyalty or his beliefs. Instead, he extended the bread and the cup to Judas, offering him the same gift of grace and inclusion that he offered to all of us.
From Jesus’ example, we learn that God’s hospitality knows no bounds. It is a hospitality that is not contingent upon our worthiness or perfection. It is a hospitality that embraces the broken, the doubting, and the flawed just as readily as it welcomes the faithful and the righteous.
It means that as we gather around the communion table, we are invited to emulate Christ’s example of radical hospitality. We are called to set aside our judgments, biases, and litmus tests and see each person who approaches this table as a beloved child of God.
It means we are to extend the same grace and inclusion to others Christ has extended to us. We are to welcome the stranger, the doubter, and the seeker with open arms, just as we welcome the faithful and the steadfast.
In embracing this inclusive vision of Christ’s table, we reaffirm our commitment to a hospitality that mirrors the boundless love of our Creator. We declare that there is room for all at this table, that there are no outsiders in God’s family, and that our call to hospitality extends far beyond the walls of this sanctuary.
Steps to becoming better at hospitality.
Hospitality rests on the premise of doing something to make people feel special. In an episode of the Hulu series, The Bear, there is a wonderful episode where a guy who works at a restaurant trying to become more upscale, but he has no idea of what it takes so he flounders. His boss sends him to a Michelin Star restaurant to learn. They make him polish forks for his first week–that’s all he did. Pay attention to details, no water spots allowed!
Later he got examples of hospitality. Management learned from social media that two guests that evening were teachers and had saved up to eat at their restaurant. The manager told the staff to give VIP treatment, including champagne and caviar, and the bill was on the house. Later, they overheard a diner say that her only regret to her trip to Chicago was she didn’t get any deep-dish pizza. Behind the scenes, they rushed to get some deep dish and the head chef transformed it into a gourmet dish. The man learned through these examples how much pleasure you can give someone by going above and beyond expectations. He also found such delight in doing that he made it his life’s new purpose.
What if we made our church a place where everyone got better than they could dream of?
As we’ve explored today, hospitality is not merely a concept to contemplate but a practice to embody. It’s a living expression of our faith and a core value of the United Church of Christ. So, how can we take this beautiful concept of extravagant hospitality into a daily reality at home and in our church community?
1. Start with a Gracious Welcome:
- At Church: Greet newcomers and regulars with warm smiles and open hearts. Make it a point to introduce yourself and genuinely inquire about their well-being.
- At Home: Extend hospitality to friends, family, and strangers who may cross your doorstep. Offer a welcoming greeting and make them feel at ease. My Filipino stepmother is always collecting things that would be nice to give someone who enters her home.
2. Active Listening:
- At Church: Take time to truly listen to others during fellowship gatherings or meetings. Show genuine interest in their stories and experiences.
- At Home: Practice active listening with your loved ones. Create space for open, honest conversations and foster an atmosphere of trust and understanding.
3. Inclusive Language and Actions:
- At Church: Use inclusive language that embraces diversity in all aspects of church life, from worship to communication.
- At Home: Encourage inclusivity in your home, respecting the unique identities and experiences of those you share your space with.
4. Generosity of Spirit:
- At Church: Encourage a spirit of generosity in your congregation by supporting outreach programs, food drives, and initiatives that benefit those in need.
- At Home: Embrace a generous spirit in your daily life by offering your time, resources, and talents to those who could benefit from them.
5. Breaking Bread Together:
- At Church: Share meals as a community whenever possible, fostering connections and strengthening the bonds of fellowship.
- At Home: Invite friends, neighbors, or fellow church members to your table. Sharing a meal is one of the most ancient and profound expressions of hospitality.
6. Extend Hospitality Beyond Our Walls:
- At Church: Engage in community outreach and service projects, demonstrating Christ’s love to those outside our congregation.
- At Home: Look for ways to serve your local community, showing kindness and hospitality to neighbors and those in need.
In the United Church of Christ, extravagant hospitality is not just a concept; it’s a living commitment. It’s a recognition that God’s love knows no bounds and that we are called to mirror that love in our lives. By actively practicing hospitality, we enrich our faith journey and extend Christ’s invitation to all, just as we see in the example of the communion table.
Let us be a community known for our extravagant hospitality, where everyone, regardless of their background or beliefs, feels welcome, valued, and loved. In doing so, we carry forward the rich tradition of our faith and become beacons of God’s inclusive love in an often divided world. Amen.