We come to a passage in Genesis 18 that highlights the openness, readiness, and intentionality of true hospitality. Last time as we considered the biblical call to hospitality, we saw that true hospitality begins with our heart’s disposition to trust in Christ first and foremost, who has shown us hospitality. That trust frees us up to shift off of ourselves and onto others. It frees us to shift from suspicion to space for the stranger. It clears the noise and clutter in our minds and hearts so that we can truly see, hear, and welcome the stranger.
What does it look like then to put this kind of hospitality into practice? Let’s allow scripture to illustrate for us. On the heals of Abraham having chosen to trust in God’s promises by receiving circumcision at the end of Genesis 17, we find him at the begin of chapter 18 ready to receive others. Take a look at these verses:
And the Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. 2 He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth 3 and said, “O Lord, if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant. 4 Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree, 5 while I bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.” 6 And Abraham went quickly into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick! Three seahs of fine flour! Knead it, and make cakes.” 7 And Abraham ran to the herd and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to a young man, who prepared it quickly. 8 Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them. And he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
Notice the openness, readiness, and intentionality of Abraham to show hospitality. He is at his tent door looking out. As he sees the three men, he goes to them rather than waiting for them to come to him. He invites them to be refreshed. He goes to Sarah asking her to prepare some cakes. He has a calf processed, and brings all this to these men. Let’s take note of a few things: 1) Abraham and Sarah didn’t have this dinner invite for these three men planned three weeks ahead of time. 2) Abraham and Sarah didn’t debate over whether the tent was clean enough for guests. 3) Abraham and Sarah didn’t discuss how this impromptu hospitality would mess with the plans or “to do” lists they had for the day. Abraham and Sarah had “un-busy” hearts. That doesn’t mean their lives weren’t busy. It meant their heart’s weren’t full of anxious noise that prevented them from seeing an opportunity to disrupt their plans for the sake of others.
What is the Lord teaching us? My life is busy. How about yours? How can we be so ready for spontaneous hospitality in our day-to-day lives? Must I clear my schedule? Must I stop doing all that I do? That’s usually not possible. So how then can we practice spontaneous hospitality as we go? Perhaps it is similar to the call to make disciples “as you go” (Matt. 28:19). Perhaps it’s a shift in how we view the ordinary dailyness of our lives. In 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 Paul reminds us that “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God…just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” Perhaps hospitality is practiced “as we go” about our lives. It’s a daily expectancy to be given opportunities to invite others into our lives. As author Rosaria Butterfield says, “A truly hospitable heart anticipates everyday, Christ-centered table fellowship and guests who are genuinely in need. Such a heart seeks opportunities to serve. Radically ordinary hospitality doesn’t keep fussy lists or make a big deal about invitations. Invitations are open.” So maybe it’s a trip to the park or library with the kids that turns into meeting another parent and their child and bringing them back home for lunch because you’ve got to eat anyways. Maybe it’s a daily openness to have a few extra image bearers of God at the table. Rosaria again says, “Practicing radically ordinary hospitality necessitates building margin time into the day, time where regular routines can be disrupted but not destroyed. This margin stays open for the Lord to fill—to take an older neighbor to the doctor, to babysit on the fly, to make room for a family displaced by a flood or a worldwide refugee crisis.”
Now we might be tempted to say that Abraham practiced hospitality because the LORD was his guest. It is easy to offer hospitality to those who we want to associate with, who can do something for us or return the favor. Actually, we aren’t told that Abraham recognized the LORD, but rather that he saw “three men” as he looked out from his tent. The author of Hebrews reminds us to “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Christ himself tells us that as we are welcoming the least of these, we are welcoming him (See Matthew 25:35-40). As we see strangers as image bearers of God, they stop being strangers and begin to be guests in our lives. As we see our homes less as our own personal castles, and more as gifts from God for disciple-making through hospitality, we become less anxious about it and protective of it.
I do not write as one who has it all figured out, but as one who invites you to join me in heeding the gospel call to practice hospitality out of a heart of daily expectancy. Daily expecting to have Christ fill our day with opportunities to welcome the stranger in need into our lives as we go. After all…Christ welcomed us as strangers in need.