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The ‘Hospitality’ badge is the only Brownies badge I managed to complete. I had to quit Brownies soon after because it clashed with Dallas on TV each week and one of them had to go. Even at 8 years old, it seemed more worthwhile and uplifting finding out about life on the ranch than colouring my teeth pink and wearing my sister’s hand-me-down frock when she was 2 metres shorter than me.
Anyway, hospitality is a funny word that conjures up old dears, tea sets and doilies in my mind, as well as the Brownies saga.
But actually it seems to be powerfully talked about and encouraged in the bible from beginning to end- up there with lists of gifts to be desired and sought and involved in stories where the miraculous has taken place.
I am in a church where my leaders, Betsy and Andrew have always given substantial and on-going teaching on hospitality and being otherly. Just this week, we had a discussion regarding hospitality and its place in church. It is part of who God has called us to be as a church. And currently, Betsy is unpacking the role we have as Christians to see others and respond to see justice established as we accept our role in representing everything God is to a damaged, hurting world.
There is so much in the Bible about giving ourselves for others; giving our time, energy, resources, love – sharing what we have, being like Jesus to others, serving them not knowing who they are, remembering others, not forgetting the needy.
Showing ‘unusual kindness’ (as described in Acts 28) is how we are to represent Jesus and something that we will naturally-supernaturally flow in, when we understand we are made in God’s image and are surrendered to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
A couple of months ago, I felt God start to challenge me regarding how this works in church life. Of course, church is an outward-looking body and part of its values, at least in our church, is to see lives healed and people knowing Jesus in our local communities and beyond.
But there is also a great need for this kind of awareness of others and loving within the church family too. It’s not that this doesn’t happen already in our church or other churches- only the other day I heard another story of someone with a new baby whose midwife knew they must be from our church due to their fortnight’s worth of meals being delivered! This is what I felt like God said:
Let me talk to you about the Love that I long to see present in my house. A burning of hearts for each other as brothers and sister expressed through welcoming, encouraging and doing life together. Not because interests are shared but because hearts long to see others PROCEED and ENGAGE with me, whoever they are. Bringing love and peace to one another. Searching the crowd for the individual, the lost. Putting oneself and ones relationships to one side to NURTURE others and build relationships with outstretched arms. Show people to NURTURE each other. Pray for spiritual gifts that allow you to do this with ease not exhaustion. Carrying the timid, weary, and awkward. Walking alongside the busy. Caring for the infrequent faces. Challenging with love. Recognising when they’re not there. Sensitively discerning. Loving, really loving. Not a fake ought-to love but a desperate urge to see My church and all its people flourish. Come, I’ll increase that love inside of you so you burn brighter and lovingly in my house. That love replaces impatience, desperation, despair, heals hurt, silences judgment and adds peace to many. A house glowing with compassion and depth of relationship. Replenished and restored.
Maybe this is something God is opening our eyes to,-maybe again, maybe more than before, to enable us to strengthen each other in His house?
The bible talks on every level about caring for others in the church; looking after the widows who don’t have others to care for them; lifting up, praying and caring for our leaders; recognising and offering hospitality ‘worthy of the saints’ to those who are doing God’s work, meeting need, noticing. After all, Jesus continuously did this. You don’t bother to feed thousands of people who you’re taking the time to teach if you first haven’t noticed their need and been urged to respond.
There is something about the very simple act of noticing those whose faces we see each week at church, putting their needs above our own, going out of our way to bless someone that is totally interlinked with the much bigger picture of seeing nations freed and justice rising up. It begins on the local level of ‘seeing’ those around us.
Just as Betsy preached about speaking up for others in personal, local situations and if that was difficult or impossible for us, there wasn’t much likelihood of us doing it on a wider scale, I wonder the same about meeting need and noticing others, right under our noses.
We can easily ‘do church’ with a specific group of friends or acquaintances without seeing how we are connected to others whose names we don’t know. And yet we are totally connected, reliant on each other to bring something that is part of a particular church’s calling and destiny.
We can easily put our own needs (because we all normally have quite a few) above those of others- even those we call our ‘body’. Noticing others and responding to need will inevitably mean some inconvenience of our behalf, whether it’s dropping a conversation to welcome someone looking awkward or making yet another sausage casserole or driving to collect someone or spending precious free time doing some random project.
We can come to church, totally self absorbed, with no intent of looking out or welcoming someone else. It’s actually funny that we can sit in our seat and be offended that nobody has noticed us, when we haven’t noticed anyone else either!
This is not about one person knowing and responding to the rest of the church’s needs; it isn’t even about a gruelling new mindset that means we stress to see and find a need to meet. It’s just about us seeing, with the Holy Spirit’s help, someone we might be able to encourage, bless, smile at. People can feel disconnected in churches, unknown, even amongst crowds and then stay so on the edge or even leave, that there’s ends up being a missing part to what God is trying to do.
Isaiah 58 states clearly how we are to live a pleasing life before God. Somehow we can dilute this down to opening up our home by offering dinner on a convenient night to someone we like. I know I have on many occasions. Actually isn’t it saying a continuous lifestyle of sharing, opening up our homes, responding generously, showing generosity and kindness? I have, I think, on several occasions, gone out of my way to fulfil some of these instructions, with a sense of ‘ticking the box’, only for God to remind me these are life guidelines, not one-off brownie badge moments!
We are to seek to show hospitality, be generous, be ‘helpers’.
So much of this is seen in action all around us already but maybe God is navigating us further down this road?
If we allow God to nudge us more, to easily notice others, to bring unusual kindness to those around us, how much would that strengthen the church to another level of understanding caring and being cared for – realising how that brings healing and freedom to others and ourselves and then confidently and naturally being able to repeat the process everywhere else? It’s quite a beautiful and exciting thought!
Noticing need. Meeting need. Kingdom building mentality.
“Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke?
“Is it not to divide your bread [c]with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
“Then your light will break out like the dawn, And your recovery will speedily spring forth; And your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
“Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you remove the yoke from your midst, The [d]pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,
And if you [e]give yourself to the hungry And satisfy the [f]desire of the afflicted, Then your light will rise in darkness And your gloom will become like midday.
“And the Lord will continually guide you, And satisfy your [g]desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not [h]fail.
“Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the [i]streets in which to dwell.