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Posts Tagged ‘hospitality’

Welcome carpet

Who is inviting whom inside? Traditionally, we think of our commitment to the Christ as inviting Presence into ourselves, much like Martha opened her home to Jesus. But what if we are missing something critical in the transaction?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. [Luke 10:38, NIV] Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. [John 15:4, NIV]

Yesterday, I re-discovered a wonderful podcast called “Pray As You Go,” and the question was presented about whose hospitality? For you see, in actuality, it is a two-way street. The Holy Spirit dwells in me and I, in turn, am invited to dwell within the Holy Spirit. I am invited into mutuality.

I am not saying we are equal, not at all. That kind of thinking can get a person into trouble, imagining herself as a God, capable of rendering miracles much like Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty.

Instead, it’s another way of thinking about the “secret place,” but more literally, within the heart of God. Because of Jesus’s humanity and godhood, it is possible to indwell Spirit. I am invited. The door is open. And in the same way, I am asked to keep my own doors open to God on earth, the Holy Spirit of Jesus. And the more we spend time within, the more we become one.

I think I may have misunderstood along the way that this oneness was automatic at my transformation, my first “welcome, please come in” acceptance of Jesus. But more and more, I am convinced that it’s a process of living together, like an old married couple. Sure, we’re committed and it’s forever, but the nuances of relationship and “knowing” come over the years.

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Culture, culture, culture. Is there any doubt that Paul is writing out of his time and place? In these verses, Paul lays out some very specific parameters and rules in order to be on the “widow list.” What did they get for being in this list?

I Timothy 5:9-10
No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband [dead or alive], and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

According to the Amplified translation, the list or roll was for those women who would, from that day forward (assuming they could stay on the list), would receive church support. They would be cared for and loved. God forbid if a woman was 59 or 58. Would they bend the rules? What is her husband was an abusive clod? What if her children, despite her efforts, ended up in jail? Who decides what is hospitable?

If there are women out there who met all of Paul’s rules, I doubt very seriously that they would need to be on the widow list because individuals would be reaching out to them for all their good deeds, help, and foot washing [personal service]. Outside of money, the women on Paul’s list seem to be strong, healthy, and full of spiritual insight. They would be loved and appreciated already.

Sorry, but I think the women on the widow list might need to be different in today’s world: homeless, abused, neglected, lonely, shamed, lost, addicted, sick, or hungry. They need strategies for survival and recovery. They need patience and forbearance. They need unconditional love and wisdom.

The widow list is not like Santa’s list, where only the “good kids” get the stuff. Like the movie, Cider House Rules, where the list was made by people who had never walked or understood the shoes of those who lived in the Cider House, so are Paul’s Widow List Rules. I find him insensitive and downright clueless.

But perhaps the really sad thing is that we all make “Widow lists.” We judge the ones around us and compare their circumstances to the list in our heads. Is this person deserving? Should I give this homeless person a dollar or will he/she squander it away?

I wish I could remember her name, but there is an amazing British woman who has served in China for many years as a missionary. I will never forget one of her teachings that chided us well-meaning helpers saying that Jesus only asked that we give and serve the poor, not second-guess what will be done with with the gift. Such an idea goes against everything we assume: shouldn’t I be a steward for what I give? I don’t know the answer to that.

But today, I’d like to throw out my lists and see what happens.

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This should be a no-brainer. Of course I should practice hospitality . . . except when I haven’t mopped the floors or gone to the grocery store or finished that novel or walked the dog or put the dishes in the dishwasher. Oh yeah, clearly, I’ve missed the practice part.

Romans 12:13
Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

A quick definition of practice is “to repeat an action to improve.” And clearly, I need to improve. It’s not that I don’t love being around people. I do. But bringing them home seems to take more and more energy. It’s unfortunate that having people over has turned into the requisite dinner party or the gathering has to be for a clear purpose/event. Whatever happened to just getting together?

When Mike and I were newly married and living in Atlanta, there was rarely a Sunday that went by that one family or another wouldn’t invite us over for dinner after church, unplanned. They didn’t call us the week before or even the night before. It was on the moment, “Come share a meal with us.” And it wasn’t a special meal picked out for us because we were guests. We were just enveloped into family that day.

Hospitality is not just providing food, drink, and clean sheets for an overnight stay. It’s an invitation into who I really am. When I am hospitable, I am inviting the person to share in my “real.” I am opening a door to my private self. I am giving permission for the guest to know me.

Funny. I think about Jesus who didn’t have a place to invite people to visit. Instead, he made himself the guest in a variety of places and homes. He was giving them opportunity to know him in reverse. He was teaching them how to practice.

I understand why the first churches were house churches and why they are becoming such a phenomenon today. Home is one of the few safety nets most people still have. And if they don’t, they need one. Home: where the door swings wide and one enters into a wide embrace.

Practicing hospitality means practicing an open heart. Welcome is the first word toward koinonia.

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