When I was growing up on military bases my parents would host parties for the young military personnel during the holiday seasons… Thanksgivings and Christmases would be spent with dozens of 20-somethings who were called to remain on-base and yet still needed that sense of home. The food was always rich and filling as were the conversations and the games we played. Those acts of hospitality left an indelible mark on my life about how families should treat those without families.
A few years ago, Jules and I felt called to do the same and threw a Thanksgiving dinner party for those without close families in our former church. We thought maybe a couple of dozen people would be interested, only to have more than 75 respond; it was such a larger number that we had to move the event to the church building to accommodate everyone. It was a true blessing to see my wife and mother-in-law in action in the kitchen as Caleb and I greeted the widows, the single parents, the elderly couples, and families who couldn’t provide a Thanksgiving meal for themselves.
Every week, sometimes numerous times during the week, churches everywhere host people who have needs. As a family members of congregations, we invite people into the church house for worship services, Wednesday night dinners, children’s and youth events, and there are guests in our midst… guests who may be lonely, widows, people estranged from family, folks who are financially down-trodden, people facing health crises, and they come hoping to find the warmth only a family can give.
Imagine if at one of those parties my parents threw for the military men and women my family had only talked amongst itself. What if my siblings and I played in our rooms and my parents had exclusively private conversations. Imagine if, at the Thanksgiving dinner, Jules and I had only talked to her mom or tended to Caleb. How would the guests respond?
In Hebrews 13:2 we read, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
Often, when we read that verse we get hung up on the “angels” part of it, but the focus of the verse is on the word hospitality, or philoxenias in the Greek… which literally means love of strangers. The idea is that when we show love to those we do not know good things happen. Hospitality was to be a mark of the early Church, and it was the love of strangers during the Roman Empire – especially toward those who were outcasts – that helped spread the gospel of Jesus so quickly.
When we show up on Sunday morning for a worship service and Sunday School there is a temptation to head for the donuts and coffee, greet the people we know, and put blinders on to the people we do not know. I have been part of some great churches, full of wonderful, godly people. The goal of every congregation should be to find those “strangers” in our midst and extend to them the warmest hospitality we have.
God has called us to act as though we are throwing a dinner party for those who need to feel the goodness of his love in the presence of his people, and we all can be great hosts for The Lord!