Monday, January 26, 2009

THE GIFT OF HOSPITALITY

This is the third of seven "gifts that keep on giving" in a mid-winter spiritual formation project I'm developing

REASON TO CELEBRATE. I feel like the guy in the Verizon TV commercial who ever-so-sadly pulls the plug on his bright outdoor Christmas decorations. As he does, a neighbor, seeing his gloom, reminds him that there is still something to celebrate. Heartened, the guy smiles and plugs the light display back in. Not ready to let go of the Christmas glow, I conceived of a mid-winter faith exploration series called “7 Gifts that Keep on Giving.”

GIVE AND GIVE AGAIN. Here are the 7: Sacrifice, solitude, hospitality, peace, acceptance, friendship and fellowship. These aren’t gifts that are given to be consumed, or received to be singularly possessed. These are gifts that enrich us even as we give them. Receiving them, we are inspired to offer them to others. And as we practice them, we receive through them more than we ever put into the gift. Such gifts are distinctively Biblical. They are central to Christian life and witness. I’m sure there are more than the seven I’ve chosen to focus on, but these are, to me, striking.

HOSPITALITY IS MAKING ROOM. Offer hospitality and it keeps on giving. When we make room for others with our time, care, space, and faith, we receive more than we give. We are enriched when we include so-called outsiders. A bridge and bond of belonging develops. In the Bible, strangers can be, when welcomed, bearers of God’s gifts for his followers. Hospitality is what God has offered us in Jesus Christ and it is what we are called upon to offer others in reflection of God’s love.

TRANSFORMED BY HOSPITALITY The story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) is, at its core, a story of hospitality. Jesus goes to the house of one of the most despised people in Jericho. The tax collector Zacchaeus is considered a sinner. But Jesus’ very act of hospitality—going to his home and breaking bread with him—brings out the best in Zacchaeus. Jesus never preaches to him or condemns him. But in response to Jesus’ presence in his home, Zacchaeus gives half his possessions to the poor and promises to pay back four times whatever he has taken unjustly from his brethren. I draw five applications for the practice of hospitality from this story:

1. Hospitality helps us overcome barriers of hostility and indifference. Luke 19:1-6 Some barriers will only be overcome when we decide to offer hospitality to someone in spite of the wrong that’s been done or the indifference we or they feel.

2. Hospitality takes us at our worst and brings out our best. Luke 19:7-8 Is there a Zacchaeus that is just waiting to be overwhelmed by a simple act of graciousness and inclusion?

3. Hospitality precedes salvation. Luke 19:5-9 Salvation is not a formula to be agreed to or proposition to be accepted. It is a relationship to be demonstrated, embraced, and developed. Hospitality is the first act of salvation. It is an important sign of the Kingdom to those seduced by the world and lost in its conflicts and pay-to-play “rules.”

4. Hospitality makes restitution and restoration possible. Luke 19:8 Look what happens after Jesus’ act of hospitality with Zacchaeus. He opens his heart…and his wallet! He GETS what the Kingdom is about and does whatever it takes to be part of the future Jesus is bringing near.

5. In hospitality, we share Jesus and welcome Jesus. Luke 5-6; Matthew 25:31-46; Hebrews 13:2-3 This is the mystical part of hospitality: Jesus is present in it. “You did it to me,” he says. Practicing hospitality is being like Jesus and welcoming Jesus at the same time. So, what are we waiting for?

10 STEPS INTO HOSPITALITY. Here are 10 Steps into a More Hospitable Life:
(1) Make room—time, space, budget.
(2) Look up, look out, look beyond, look again.
(3) Develop and “invitational outlook.”
(4) Counter excuses with prayer and courage.
(5) Don’t be so selective, exclusive, or private.
(6) Offer an unexpected gift.
(7) Keep it simple, basic.
(8) Don’t sweat it.
(9) Anticipate God’s presence, God’s grace.
(10) Repeat frequently.

10 SETTINGS FOR HOSPITALITY:
(1) Home, apartment.
(2) Restaurant or coffee shop.
(3) Hospital, assisted-living, prison, etc.
(4) An athletic event, concert, public gathering.
(5) In transit – driving, riding.
(6) Phone, text, e-mail.
(7) Share a walk, prayer walk.
(8) Church gatherings, activities – Coffeehouse, The Underground, SCAMPS opportunities, small groups, etc.
(9) Watching, caring for children.
(10) 5 extra minutes every day.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility. Shalom!

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