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Reclaiming the Habit of Hospitality

Wow! What a wonderful, joyful first Sunday back after an almost fourteen-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic! For those of you that were able to join us on May 2nd, I am sure that you would agree with me that this will go down as one of the most memorable and meaningful Sunday services in the long history of Central Congregational Church.

That said, there was – and will be for at least a while – one key ingredient missing in our Sunday morning gathering: Fellowship Hour! One of the hallmarks of CCC for the past many years, at least, is the practice of most of the congregation gathering in the Fellowship Hall after service for up to an hour or more of, well, fellowship – and food, always fellowship with food. I am not sure exactly when Fellowship Hour will be reinstituted, but for most of us that are a regular part of the CCC family, Sunday mornings will not be complete until it is back.

In the meantime, might I suggest that the absence of Fellowship Hour on Sunday’s and any kind of consistent interpersonal interaction for many of us since March of last year, could serve to remind us of the value of our life together and help us to reclaim the consistent practice of hospitality? In fact, as followers of Christ that is exactly what the Apostle Paul urges us to do. Look at Paul’s words in Romans 12:13-14: Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Fellowship is a by-product of hospitality. We welcome one another into our homes or around our table on Sunday, we share our food, we share our stories, we open our hearts to each other, and we are all strengthened and encouraged by the experience. And this, according to Paul and the example and teaching of Jesus, should be our consistent practice – a spiritual discipline, if you will – not an afterthought or something to be considered when we have the time or the inclination.

But Christ-like hospitality is even more than this. The Greek word translated, hospitality, in our English Bibles is the word, philoxenia. This word is made up of the Greek words, philos – meaning friend, and xenos – meaning stranger – from which we get the word, xenophobia – the fear of strangers or foreigners. Rather than fearing the person we do not know or who looks or believes differently than we do, we are to proactively welcome them into our fellowship – opening our hearts and homes to them, just has Jesus has done for us. And Paul reminds us of the ultimate act of hospitality when he states in Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

While we are certainly called to use wisdom in our interactions with each other, and especially with those that we do not know, as Christians, we are never allowed to make someone’s otherness or oddness an excuse to ignore or exclude them. Again, just the opposite is true. In the manner of Christ and in the discipline of practicing hospitality, we are to go out of our way to welcome the stranger and to find a place at the table for the foreigner.

Considering the call to practice hospitality and everything that we have discussed regarding a biblical understanding of the word and its implication for our lives, and as we impatiently await the re-convening of CCC’s Fellowship Hour, now is a good time to examine our own hospitableness.  For those of you that are regulars at CCC’s Fellowship Hour, when is the last time you sat at a different table, or welcomed someone new to yours? Whether you are a part of CCC or not, when is the last time you invited someone out to lunch or, heaven forbid, over for dinner after church or during the week? To make us even a bit more uncomfortable, when, if ever, have we looked for a way to connect with our neighbors over a meal – specifically those of a different ethnicity, language, race, religion or political affiliation than ours? Finally, have we ever responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to practice hospitality toward a complete stranger, i.e. The Good Samaritan.

As I bring the article to a close, please know that I am preaching to myself as much as I am to you. And I know that many people have been and continue to be blessed by CCC’s culture of hospitality. But, as Paul says in his first letter to the Thessalonians, we urge you…to do so more and more. I leave you with a prayer from Pastor Pete Greig of 24/7 Prayer International:

Father, I give my front door key to You. My house is Your home.
Bring whoever You want, whenever You want into my private space this week.
Jesus, I relinquish my schedule to You. My days are in Your hands.
Help me to welcome interruptions this week as gifts from You.
Spirit, I surrender my possessions to You. All my stuff belongs to You.
Help me this week to ”share with the Lord’s people who are in need.” (Rom. 12:13)