Radical Hospitality – 7-5-24

You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday’s gospel reading is here

Some churches use the term “radical hospitality” to describe their processes for welcoming visitors. In practice, this often means good signage, an alert and well-trained cadre of greeters, easy-to-follow service booklets, and people who are ready to help newcomers navigate the liturgy and escort them personally to coffee hour. On a deeper level, it can mean that a congregation is trained to welcome people who come “as they are,” not to impose its norms upon visitors; to create an atmosphere of warmth and acceptance and openness to the gifts a visitor might bring.

This is the kind of hospitality which Jesus’ disciples were to seek out as they went out in twos on their first mission without Jesus: He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.”
Since he’d already told them not to take any money or extra clothing, it was clear they wouldn’t be bearing hostess gifts. They would be bringing the power to heal, authority over evil spirits, and the Good News of release and wholeness to be found in Jesus Christ. If they found people willing to take them in and care for them under those conditions, they were to remain there, not moving from house to house looking for the best breakfast. The point was to leave their time and energy free for preaching and healing.

And if they couldn’t find that kind of hospitality, or the people in a given town didn’t want to hear their message? Then they should keep moving, and find somewhere more fruitful:  “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”

This might sound harsh to us, but Jesus wasn’t sending his disciples on a Grand Tour. He was sending them to proclaim the Good News and to exert authority over evil. To do that they would  have to become what a New Yorker writer humorously described herself to be: “fiercely dependent” – and discerning about where to spend their energy.

Hospitality that is truly radical allows a wonderful exchange between visitor and host. It does not treat a visitor as a guest, but welcomes her as family the very first time she comes. It does not put all the focus on what we can offer, setting up an “us and them,” or subtly seek to exert power through generosity. We should seek a mutual sharing of gifts when we bring dinner to the homeless shelter as much as when someone joins us for worship, allowing them to help serve, not only to be served.

Truly radical hospitality recognizes that each person may well be an apostle of Jesus Christ, with gifts and a message for us. I wonder how many more church visitors might come a second time if, instead of asking, “What can we do for you?” we asked, “What are the gifts you bring? We welcome them as we welcome you.”

Sometimes radical hospitality is what we’re called to find, and sometimes it’s what we’re called to offer. Both ways, we are called to give and to receive, all at the same time. And in that giving and receiving, community is formed.

© Kate Heichler, 2024. To receive Water Daily by email each morning, subscribe hereHere are the bible readings for next Sunday. Water Daily is also a podcast – subscribe to it here on Apple, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform.

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