Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. [Leviticus 19:33-34a (NLT)]
When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. [Romans 12: 13 (NLT)]
Hospitality: the act of being friendly and welcoming to guests and visitors
Hospitable: providing good conditions for living or growing [Cambridge Dictionary]
Good news for those who panicked at yesterday’s message about hospitality—Christian hospitality isn’t limited to house guests and dinner parties. While hospitality can include a welcome into our homes, it also can be as simple as a welcome into our lives. It can be as effortless as a “Hello” or “How are you?” and as easy as a handshake, hug or smile.
When in Florida, I take photographs on Sunday mornings for our church’s website. We often have more than a thousand worshippers, many of whom are visitors. The worship setting is out doors in the city park, the dress is casual, dogs are welcome, and the service and music are somewhat unconventional, which all make for some great photo ops. Since I’ve never considered myself a photographer and use a simple point-and-shoot camera, I hesitated to accept the assignment when given to me. God (and a nameless friend), however, would not let me say “No!”
At first, I kept my distance and felt a bit like a voyeur as I shot using just my telephoto lens. Going up to strangers and actually speaking to them, let alone photographing them, took me way out of my comfort zone. God, however, kept nudging me and, instead of shooting people from afar, I started venturing up to them and asking to take a photo. Eventually, I realized that while my name tag identifies me as “photographer” my true job is that of welcomer, answerer of questions, listener, encourager, dog fan, baby admirer, direction giver, and friend. The camera just affords me the opportunity to walk through the park to fulfill those other rolls. I’ve hugged a woman who confided she was too sad to have her photo taken that day, comforted an upset mother, explained to visitors what we do when it rains, invited people to evening communion at the beach, pointed the way to the refreshments and food pantry drop-off, taken photos for people with their cameras, reassured many women my age (and older) of their beauty, thanked people for their service, and prayed with strangers. In short, I’ve practiced hospitality and love. I now understand that the number of photos taken is nowhere near as important as the number of people greeted.
Welcoming people into my home and at my table is something I enjoy and do well. Not all of us, however, have homes, resources, family situations and time that allow for home hospitality. Nevertheless, we are all called to practice hospitality and are given numerous opportunities to do that outside of our homes. While they may not be like the foreigners mentioned in Leviticus, there always are people who need a welcoming smile or a kind word. This sort of hospitality, this way of showing love, has proved a challenge for me, but it has been a tremendously rewarding one. I now understand that God’s purpose in having me take pictures has less to do with the church website and a great deal more to do with teaching me about love and service. Hospitality is simply servanthood at its basic level: treating everyone as you would like to be treated and loving others as you love yourself. Whether we are gifted with hospitality or not, we all can be hospitable!
Thank you, God, for the teaching tasks of life. Keep them coming; there is much I still need to learn!
And he will answer, “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life. [Matthew 25:45-46 (NLT)]
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