Our extended look at “practices of community” concluded Sunday with a practice that is woven throughout all the others: hospitality.
In the broader sense, hospitality might be defined as the “friendly and generous reception of and entertainment of friends, guests, or strangers.” Commercially, there’s an entire hospitality “industry” of hotels, restaurants and other establishments whose business is to receive and entertain. In our homes we each have our own practices and rituals of hospitality: changing the linens, pulling out the fine china, or, as in our house, the relocation of clutter to the back bedroom.
But in the church, hospitality refers to something more expansive. We might think of hospitality as a kind of posture toward others rooted in the biblical mandate to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” It’s a posture of openness, grace, and generosity. It’s from this posture that we’re able to encounter others as the divine image-bearers we claim they are.
Henry Nouwen writes, “Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
Hospitality as “the creation of free space.” Isn’t the creation of “free space” behind so many of our own rituals of hospitality and welcome at home? The linens, the china, the uncluttered countertops—isn’t it all about creating space for our guests to feel free to be who they are? And perhaps even space for us to feel free to be who we are, or who we want to be?
And when we create and enter fully into this space we find that change, too, is an essential element of hospitality. We can’t fully welcome, receive, and engage others without opening ourselves to the possibility of being changed by them.
Hospitality has been a big part of our conversation as a church over these last few years. It was the key component of our visioning process, and the root of our vision statement to “nurture authentic faith and belonging, love and serve courageously, and affirm the image of God in all people.” This vision is one of hospitality—of generous, purposeful welcome, and the creation of free, sacred space where we can truly encounter each other and our God, and be changed as we do.
Even as this sermon series draws to a close, our emphasis on community continues. My hope this that as we enter into this fall season of committee and deacon nominating, budget and stewardship conversations, missions engagement, and a general return to our normal rhythms after a summer hiatus, we would keep these practices before us. And that hospitality—the generous welcome of friends, neighbors, and God—would be the tie that binds it all.