Hospitality is a practice to be cultivated for God’s glory, our good and the flourishing of others. It’s an invitation to worship the One who invites us in, feeds us, listens to us, knows us, and provides for our needs.
I must have started this post at least ten times. Is there really anything left to be said about hospitality (both Biblical and non) that hasn’t already been said in numerous ways by boatloads of people more clever and more hospitable than me? (Case in point, my current read, The Gospel Comes With a House Key by Rosario Butterfield. Wow. Check it out.) I thought to myself maybe I should just keep this short and simply say, “my goodness, we all must eat, let’s obey our Bibles (Romans 12:13b) and do it with others; family, neighbor, stranger.” Then add a short blurb and a link to grab our amazing new meal planner and send you on your merry way. But, then I felt that familiar nudge, but wait … what about your story? Right. Maybe the only thing new I have to add to this conversation is my own story.
Much of my life has been lived around the table in one way or another. Family dinners as a child; my papa presiding over meat, potatoes and a stack of white bread. My brother and I sitting across the kitchen table from one another, our bowls of cereal between us, laughing while milk sprayed from our mouths. Gathered around my parents’ table set with enough food to feed three times as many people. Meals cooked for friends in high school, then college, and later as a wife and mom for my own family. Waitress, prep cook, caterer. Hundreds of shared meals with friends, neighbors, and strangers. Often my first thought when meeting someone new is, “how soon can I have them to dinner?” my mind already flipping through my mental cookbook contemplating what meal they might like.
As a former professional caterer, what’s on the table always reigned supreme. Vast quantities of food precisely prepared (albeit sometimes on a wing and a prayer) and laid out for luncheons, parties, and events. Buffets that fed bodies, minds, and hearts as guests gathered in groups around all manner of tables to share a meal, catch up or make a new friend. In those days, I had a habit of finding an unnoticed corner of the room during the meal so I could observe the crowd. The breaking of bread, the pursuit of the stranger, the fellowship of the saints. The food, no matter how good, always takes a back seat to the goodness, the fullness and even at times, tensions and awkwardness of meals shared. Humanity and grace colliding.
What We Bring to the Table
Now, whether it’s gathering neighbors for Saturday waffles or family and friends for a celebration or a just-because dinner around my kitchen table, I know the most important thing isn’t the food. Rather it’s what each person brings to the meal. Ourselves. My friend Donald Zimmerman often says that the most life-giving thing we have to offer other people is our transformed and transforming presence. That the ways Jesus has changed our hearts and lives to more closely reflect who God has made us to be, is what offers that same kind of transformative power to others. Other than hope in Jesus, that’s the most important thing we bring to the table.
I want my table to create space for others. Space for people to rest up, catch their breath, hear some Good News, and be known. Jesus modeled this for us; much of his ministry happened “at table.” (Matthew 9:10; 26:7,20, Mark 14, Luke 24:30, John 12:2) Do I want to feed and nourish bodies too? Yes! I want the food prepared by myself and others to be a taste of God’s lavish and kind provision. But, even more than that, I want guests and strangers to come to know Jesus. To see Him in the person they’re bumping elbows with or in the conversation from across the table they can just barely hear over the laughter and kids complaining; “I don’t like that red stuff.”
Hospitality is a practice to be cultivated for God’s glory, our good and the flourishing of others. It’s an invitation to worship the One who invites us in, feeds us, listens to us, knows us, and provides for our needs. It is an opportunity to receive the Kingdom and then to pass a taste of it along to those bellied up to our tables.
How has your community used the table to bring the Kingdom to bear amongst friends and neighbors?
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