If you’re like me, you tend to gravitate to your comfort zone – to the people, places, customs and practices with which you are most familiar. Certainly, we tend to do that as a church; many of our churches are made up of people who think and act and are a lot alike. And, for many of us, IF we practice hospitality, it is to people more or less like us.
But Biblical hospitality is almost always talked of in terms of hospitality to strangers. The word “hospitality” itself is from the same root word that gives us both “host” and “hostile.” Biblical hospitality is about entering into relationship with the “other,” the stranger, in the bold promise that it is in those relationships that God is present. (Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for in so doing some of you have entertained angels unaware. Hebrews 13:2)
Some of the most transformational moments in the Bible come by way of stranger. Think of the three men who visited Abram and Sarai. Think of the two disheartened followers of Jesus heading back to Emmaus who are joined by a stranger. Think of Mary’s reception of the messenger that changed her life and the life of the world forever. Biblical hospitality, to which the church is called, is not just giving a church visitor a loaf of bread as they leave or even giving a homeless person a loaf of bread. It is forging companionships (which literally means “with bread”) with people who are not like us. It is a meaningful encounter that begins to tear down the walls that divide us and opens us to the Spirit of God.
Here’s one exciting example of that kind of radical hospitality facilitated by one of the churches of Macedonian Ministry in the LA Cohort – City Church, Los Angeles. Alarmed and dismayed by the streak of police/civilian violence this past year, City Church in LA teamed up with other churches to bring people together – Skid Row Residents, business owners, homeless members of the community, loft dwellers and LAPD officers to a provide safe space and process to share their stories, listen to one another and discuss issues of policing, race and mental health issues – in short, to encounter the stranger. As one participant put it, “I think we mended a part of the broken fabric of Shalom in our community through listening to one another last Saturday.”
And then the King will say to the sheep, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world.”