I am not in the habit of bowing to the earth like Abraham when guests come over for dinner, but I do like to run out my front door and greet guests in the yard. I also like to stand in my driveway at the end of a visit and wave goodbye as their taillights blink out of sight. Perhaps it is an overliteral interpretation of the apostle Paul’s exhortation to “seek to show hospitality” (Rom. 12:13), but I consider it a privilege to welcome people — neighbors and sojourners alike — into my home.
Not everyone thrills to it the same as I do, but showing hospitality remains a good, salutary practice in the life of the Christian. I remember a beloved seminary professor’s widow saying to a roomful of us seminary wives, “Do not let your husbands neglect hospitality in the home.” Her advice came after decades of practical experience, but it also came after decades of living by God’s Word. My now-pastor husband reminds me that every New Testament command to extend hospitality appears in the midst of a lengthy instruction on love, so to be hospitable is to be loving.
I suspect that my own fascination with hospitality comes from my barrenness. All of my children in the faith live outside of my home, and so I am eager to usher them inside of it. I also find the notion of entertaining “angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2) romantic, but regardless of my own personal motivations, hospitality is an act of love that can bless both the lover and the loved.
Perhaps you are someone who shivers at the thought of hosting the appetizer course for your church’s annual progressive dinner, or maybe you would rather hide behind a church bulletin than serve as a greeter on Sunday morning. If the more traditional methods of offering hospitality cause you to break out in hives, it may be time to think outside the narthex. Below are a few humble suggestions, inspired by my own barren, inside-out lifestyle, of ways to heed St. Peter’s call to “show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9) to the neighbors and angels God puts in your own life:
Front Porch Living — The next time you sit outside to read a book or enjoy a nightcap, choose the front porch rather than the back patio, and when your neighbors walk their dogs past your driveway, wave to them and say hello. Or, better yet, get up and meet them on the sidewalk. Ask them about their day. Tell them about yours. Maybe even invite them onto your porch for a glass of lemonade (chilled mint tea if you walk by our house) and a chat. Offering hospitality to your neighbors doesn’t have to be a big event. It can be a small, spontaneous visit. It is the sincerity of your hospitality that matters, not the length of it.
PrayerBnB — When that kid from carpool needs to come home with you because his parents got their lines crossed about who was to pick up whom and when, don’t just feed him supper. Feed him the Word. Keep him through evening prayers and invite him into the rich, satisfying practice of turning his eyes toward Jesus, the Author and Perfector of faith.
Hot-Dish-To-Go — If you struggle with inviting people into your dining room, then deliver your dining room to them. Stock up on boxes of aluminum foil and packages of disposable 9” by 13” pans and get busy making your Aunt Jan’s casserole with the tater tots and cheese for the shut-ins at your church as well as the family down the street whose father lost a job. And while you’re at it, you might as well put one in the oven for your pastor’s family and your neighbor with the newborn and …
Pew Squatting — You really can sit in the same pew as that family with all of those young children or the solitary widow whose adult children no longer attend church or the visitor trying to follow both the Propers in the bulletin and the Ordinary in the hymnal for the first time. Sharing your bulletin with the widow or leading the visitor through the Divine Service can remind both of them that they are not alone in the Body of Christ. And when it comes to the family with children (and if the parents nod their heads yes), pull a young child onto your lap. Help the child make the sign of the cross during the Invocation, follow each line of every hymn stanza with your finger, and lift the child high enough to see the pastor consecrating the elements. Draw the child into your own pious practices week after week, and not only will you be reinforcing the good work of those parents who are “suffering the little children to come unto me” (Matt. 19:14), but you will also be showing the child that you believe they belong in church even though false prophets outside (and maybe even inside) the nave may be shouting that they don’t.
Nestlé Nestling — Let us not underestimate the important and revitalizing hospitality that is shown in delivering a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies to new mothers, sleepless fathers, hospitalized children, ailing neighbors, pastors’ wives and VBS volunteers alike.
Holy Kisses — Crying babies need their mothers, but sleepless mothers sometimes need a break from their crying babies. Another way to show hospitality (if the mother nods her head yes) is to take that baby into your arms and greet her red, hot cheeks with holy kisses. Walk the narthex, sway around the parish hall or rest in the rocking chair in the nursery. But wherever you traverse and however you snuggle and soothe, remember that humming “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb” provides the perfect harmony to crying.
Dueling Laptops — At this very moment, a college student from our congregation is sitting across my table, drinking some of that homegrown mint tea and working on a project while I write. It is a blessing to provide her a home-away-from-home during the sojourning years of her life, and the hospitality so many of these displaced children crave is a quiet, welcoming, safe space to study, practice, work, chat or simply rest.
Yard Extroversion — If conversation comes hard for you, let your yard be extroverted in your place. Plant zinnias along the sidewalk or curb, and let their color and beauty be a cheerful emissary of your goodwill toward men. Keep watch from your windows, and as butterflies, hummingbirds and humans stop to admire God’s beautiful creation, ask the Creator of heaven and earth for strength to step out your door and offer a cheerful smile of your own. You might find that a “Hello” and “How are you?” are quick to follow.
Vacation Station — When that missionary family your congregation supports is on furlough, offer your home as a place for them to rest and nest for a week or two. Or if your pocketbook is bigger than your guest room, pay for a hotel suite or an apartment they can occupy comfortably during their stay. And if neither your home nor your pocketbook is up to the task, make some calls on the family’s behalf and find someone in your congregation who can do the hosting.
Table It — This one is obvious, but its importance bears repeating. Whether single or married, barren or quiver-full, introvert or extrovert, it is good to follow your father Abraham’s generous example and refresh the sojourner at your own table. For “‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Because of his faith and hospitality a son was given to him in his old age.” It was also through hospitality that Lot was saved from the judgment of Sodom and Rahab from destruction at the hand of the leader of her land. It is through Christ Jesus’ hospitality extended to us in His Holy Supper that we, too, are saved. Thus refreshed, how can we not show hospitality to others?
 Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 39-41.
3 thoughts on “Seek to Show Hospitality”
A truly lovely article! And now I have a theological reason to have a front porch!
I love all the books you wrote and I enjoy the stories in The Lutheran Witness. Miss your singingtogether with Pastor Moore and others at the Right to Life banquets in Altamont.
This is a beautifully written encouragement. I grew up in a home where inviting visitors home to Sunday dinner after church was an every week event. Only God knows how my Mother stretched meals to fit the changing crowd, but she did it. She started preparing on Saturday. By Sunday supper, my Dad was in charge of pancakes or grilled cheese and she was stretched out on the couch. If you can’t cook or open your home, you can still invite someone to join you at a local spot for lunch, or pick up some deli sandwiches or chicken at the store and have a picnic. It’s about the fellowship more than the food. I love it.