Hospitality II: Stranger Danger
When I looked back at our last Thanksgiving holiday and the act of hospitality I experienced, I realized how much making friends usually involves taking some risks. It was just as risky for us to attend as it was for them to invite us.
So I’ve made peace with allowing people to see the mess that is my home and my life. My family regularly makes a practice of inviting people over to share meals with us. But I will be honest that the people we invite are usually people we know and who are a lot like us. Every year my husband and I casually talk about having an open house and inviting the neighbors to attend, but so far we have never done it.
What holds us back? For one thing, it’s timing. Life gets so busy that it seems hard to set a date. The other is the guest list. We’ve lived in our present home for three years, and I don’t know the names of any neighbor more than one house away from me. If I want to get to know them, I’ll have to make the effort. I’ll have to extend the invitation to the elderly couple next door, the single dad at the end of the street, the guy who lets his dog bark all night and the family who won’t mow their lawn. It’s easy to judge people you have never met. But if we truly desire to live like Jesus, we’ll have to get over it.
If there’s a surprising thing we often don’t realize about strangers it’s that they come in pairs. If you are a stranger to me,then I am a stranger to you. Inviting a stranger into your home is just as big a gamble for them as it is for you.
Why all this talk about strangers? Because, the biblical definition for hospitality is “love of strangers.” Not the love of friends. Loving friends is important, easy, and natural, but Jesus does not call us to an easy life. We must do hard things. Things that are uncommon to the world, like inviting strangers into our home, or visiting them in theirs. We may worry that it isn’t safe. We might not hit it off. It requires us to sacrifice a night we might prefer to watch TV.
But, here’s the deal, hospitality is not a suggestion. In story after story, Scripture reveals countless examples of people welcoming others into their homes: from Abraham preparing a fest for three strangers in the wilderness, to the early church providing housing for missionaries. To ignore the stranger is to live in disobedience.
“Love you therefore the stranger: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19).
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:9).
This “love of strangers” is so important that it was used as the litmus test for widows seeking assistance (1 Tim. 5:10), and is listed as a pre-qualifier for people seeking to become elders or overseers in the church (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:8).
When we invite strangers into our homes, we have a chance get to know each other, we make our communities safer, and regardless if they share our faith, we get to commune with Christ.
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 (Matt 25:35).
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2).
Now, I’m not suggesting you invite random people in off the streets (although if that’s your heart then by all means do it). A stranger can be anybody you don’t know well. Thanks to our love of privacy, strangers are everywhere.
Contemporary society puts such a high premium on privacy that even in the heart of a city we can be completely isolated from each other. Today’s homes are equipped with air-conditioning, multiple televisions, and fenced in back yards have replaced front porches. The Internet puts the world at your fingertips, but often it tricks us into thinking the virtual world is the real world. Seeing pictures of the ocean is not the same as smelling it. Reading someone’s Facebook feed is not the same as joining them for a cup of coffee.
Think about groups that you are already a part of. Is there someone at your church, in your small group, your Facebook friends list, your class at the health club, your work place, or a neighbor that you could invite over for a cup of coffee? Strangers are everywhere. Is there someone in your life who you would like to know better? Pray that God will bring someone to mind a stranger that you can show some love to.
It may seem awkward to reach out to someone you don’t know well but just like everything, it gets easier with practice.
“Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13).
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