1 John 4:19: “We love because God first loved us.” 

3 John 1.8  “We ought to show hospitality to people so that we may work together for the truth”. 

Romans 12:13: “Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.”

1 Peter 4:8–9 says, “Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another.”
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 

Hebrews 13:1–2 “Let brotherly love continue.   Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

Matthew 25: Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” 

Ten years ago, I was preparing a sermon on hospitality for Snoqualmie UMC.  I got on a bus and chose an empty double seat. I put my bag in one seat and begin to read an article about hospitality.  I was so engrossed in sermon preparation and reading about hospitality that I was totally oblivious to the bus filling up, as a man wiggled into the seat where my bag was taking up space. It turned out to be a great sermon illustration about Reading about hospitality, not practicing it!

A group of Protestant women went to a Benedictine monastery on a retreat. They met with the abbot to learn about monastic life. A woman asked – ‘What do you all do here?’ The abbot replied: ‘We pray 5 times a day and we practice hospitality.’ The woman responded, ‘But what is it that you actually DO?’ Again the abbot responded, ‘We pray 5 times a day and we practice hospitality.” Still not satisfied she said – ‘OK, but what do you do with the rest of your time?’ Calmly the abbot held a steady gaze, ‘We pray and we practice hospitality.’ It is what this community was called to be about.

Monasteries that grew up from the 5th century on cultivated the practice of caring for the stranger. The most famous of these was the monastery of St. Benedict. Benedict created a book of rules to live by, now called The Rule of Benedict. One of the Rules: “All guests to the monastery shall be welcomed as Christ, because he will say, ‘I was a stranger, and you took me in.’” Many monasteries today continue to use this Rule. The kind of hospitality encouraged by Benedict is radical hospitality who based his Rule on the teachings of Jesus, encouraging people to walk in the radical footsteps of Jesus.

They were the first to start hospitals. The word “hospital” and “hospice” come from “hospitable.”

From the 5th=11th centuries – the primary focus for worship & religious instruction was the monastery rather than the parish church. It produced a  communal model of ministry. Monasteries were more than places to withdraw for prayer & contemplation. They were often at the crossroads of society – with a constant stream of visitors & pilgrims. The monks were not just concerned with the spiritual well-being of the communities they served but also with their intellectual & physical well being. One of the most demanding & costly tasks undertaken by Celtic monasteries was that of hospitality.  They believed hospitality provided a key into the Kingdom of God. There was always the possibility that in offering hospitality to strangers one might be welcoming angels or even Christ into one’s home.

The hospitality we show strangers is a path to invite God & angels into our lives, even if they look like ordinary people. The Greek word for hospitality: ”philoxenia” means love of foreigners or strangers.   The word “xenos” or “hospes” – can mean 3 things: stranger, guest & host. This time you may be the host, but next time you may be the guest. A reminder that you never know which role you play. When we are genuinely practice hospitality, the two are one: there are no guests–there are no hosts.

For the people of ancient Israel, understanding themselves as strangers and sojourners with responsibility to care for vulnerable strangers, was part of what it meant to be the people of God.  Jesus was dependent on the hospitality of others during his earthly journey, also served as the gracious host in his words and actions. Those who turned to him found welcome and rest.

If we cultivate Hospitality as a spiritual practice, it maybe with us all the days of our lives. Author Kathleen Norris, whose faith journey has been nourished by her experience with a Benedictine monastery, tells a story of an old Benedictine nun with Alzheimer’s “Who every day insists on being placed in her wheelchair at the entrance to the monastery’s nursing home wing so that she can greet everyone who comes.” Norris writes, “She is no longer certain what she is welcoming people to—but hospitality is so deeply engrained in her that it has become her whole life”.

When I was a freshman at PLU 30+ years ago, I learned about Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. At some point his theory became mainstream, and then a required psychology course.  Maslow saw needs arranged like a ladder with the most basic needs, at the bottom. What I’ve learned is that these needs are ALWAYS with us. (1) physical requirements for human survival:  Air, water, Food, shelter, sleep, and sex. (2) safety and Security needs –living in a safe area, medical insurance,  job security,  financial reserves, healthy well-being.  (3) Social Needs: belonging, love, acceptance: affection, friendship, intimacy, family.  (4) Esteem– self-respect, accomplishment, personal worth, social recognition and reputation.  At the top of it all were (6) self-actualizing needs – has to do with personal growth; less concerned with the opinions of others; more interested in fulfilling their potential. Truth, justice, wisdom, meaning.

The foundation of our spiritual community could help with all 6, but I want to focus on the 3rd. The one about belonging and a sense of connection, acceptance.  I remember looking for a new church 20 years ago.  What I wanted: anonymity & connection & belonging. Can’t have both. I had to commit to being seen and known, but it also helps when a church actively practices Hospitality.

A study of visitors who chose to stay at a particular church.  Results:

  1. Because of what the pastor was like as a person.
  2. Because members made me feel welcomed when I attended.
  3. Because it helped me in my attempt to live a Christian life.
  4. Because I especially liked the worship services.
  5. Because it was a place where my children could receive good religious education.
  6. Because the pastor preaches good sermons.
  7. Because I felt that something was missing in my life.

The second highest factor? “Because people made me feel welcomed when I attended.” How people welcomed them was more important than the quality of the sermon. We often undervalue the power of being a genuinely & deeply welcoming community. If you are welcomed warmly in the first encounter, it creates a pathway to commit your life love, acceptance, and a sense of belonging.

Sometimes we forget that church offers something people need. People need to know God loves them, that their life has significance. People need to know that they are not alone – when they face life’s difficulties, they are surrounded by a community of grace- that they don’t have to figure out by themselves how to cope with family tensions, self-doubts, periods of despair, economic downturns. People need to know the peace that runs deeper than an absence of conflict, the hope that sustains them even through the most painful periods of grief, the sense of belonging that blesses them and stretches them and lifts them out of their own preoccupations. People need to learn how to offer and accept forgiveness; how to serve and be served. A place where we learn from one another how to love.

What excuses do we come up with?  Top 10 reasons not to offer hospitality to people in church.

  1. I don’t have enough time
  2. The sermon went too long – I have to get home to fix dinner
  3. If I act nice, I might get stuck talking to this person forever
  4. I won’t have anything to say
  5. I’m too shy
  6. They won’t like me
  7. Too many people to catch up with
  8. I’m new here myself.  I really don’t know anything about this church
  9. What if they aren’t new and I make a fool of myself.
  10. 10)Isn’t that a committee’s job?

A woman was going through a rough time in her personal and professional life; and in her search for connection, hope, and direction, she visited a few churches. Her first two experiences she came alone, sat alone, and left alone without anyone speaking to her or greeting her. Her prayer for her next visit to a church was simply, “I only pray that someone speaks to me today.”  Indictment. Could that happen to visitors here? Have you ever arrived somewhere, and despite your obvious “lostness” and active searching for signs and directions, without anyone offering to help you find your way?

Bishop Sally Dyck, “For the one who is searching, “This Sunday is the only Sunday that counts.”

Radical hospitality begins when we understand that God loves us. “We love because God first loved us.”

Robert Schnase: A congregation changes its culture one person at a time. Radical hospitality begins with a single heart, a growing openness, a prayerful desire for the highest good of a stranger. It begins when one person loves the stranger enough to overcome the internal hesitations to invite that person into the life of the church. Churches that practice radical hospitality genuinely engage people, listen to them, and help them feel accepted, respected, connected, needed, involved, and loved.  People are searching for churches that make them feel welcome, loved, needed, and accepted.

It is a courageous thing to come into a whole group of strangers. As a spiritual community, we could say that it is not only our obligation to be hospitable to visitors but it is also growing our own soul. to be a champion of radical hospitality – less hostility, less loneliness, less fear. can change the world.

Churches are families we choose, not ones we’re born into – intentional communities. Require commitment. If we left a community every time someone in it got on our nerves–or if we told others they had to leave whenever they got on our nerves–no community would last long.

1 Peter 4:8–9 says, “Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another.”  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 

be the kind of people who do it and like to do it! the command to be hospitable is not just to do hospitality. It is a command to be hospitable. (4:10) let your hospitality be an extension or an overflow of God’s hospitality to you.

Kathleen Norris argues that hospitality is life-giving to the recipient and also to the giver; that she and her husband feel refreshed, renewed, enriched, when they have extended hospitality, opened their home, shared food and drink with others.

May God continue to open our eyes, our ears, our hands, our hearts-and, indeed, our very lives-to the strangers among us, so that we might welcome all in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.