Ministry of Hospitality
"My experience as an outsider within has clearly led me to question the rigid clergy line that divides our church communities and increases hierarchy and competition for power in our denomination. At the same time, it has led me to focus on a theology of hospitality that emphasizes the calling of the church as a witness to God's intention to mend the creation by bringing about a world of justice, peace, and integrity of the natural world. There are a lot of 'missing persons' in our world today whose situation of poverty, injustice, and suffering makes God weep. These missing persons are not strangers to God, for God already has reached out to care for them. Yet they are strangers in the world who need to know God cares through the witness of a church that practices a ministry of hospitality and justice on their behalf.
"What do we mean by hospitality? In the church we often think of hospitality as what the women offer after the worship service on Sunday. We do not think of this as a form of ministry but rather assume it means 'tea and crumpets.' In other contexts, the idea of hospitality is reduced to sexual services offered by 'ladies of the night.'
"Although hospitality is a form of Christian spirituality and is basic to the biblical message, the practice of the biblical injunction for hospitality has fallen into disuse in our churches and society. Hospitality is the practice of God's welcome by reaching across difference to participate in God's actions bringing justice and healing to our world in crisis. Such action is not easy. Yet the biblical witness is clear: The unexpected presence of God and Christ in and through actions of hospitality is seen in Abraham and Sarah's hospitality to divine messengers at the oaks of Mamre and the discovery of the risen Christ in the breaking of bread in Emmaus (Gen. 18:1-15; Luke 24:13-35). Hebrews 13:2 reminds us, 'Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.' The many injunctions to practice hospitality to the widow, the orphan, and the stranger, in thanksgiving for Israel's deliverance from bondage and for God's gifts, remind us that we have been strangers who are welcomed by God and are to welcome others in return (Exod. 23:9). This practice of hospitality is the ministry of all the members of a congregation and not just church women's groups, welcoming committees, or clergy.
"In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus promises to be with those who offer hospitality to the least of our brothers and sisters. From this it would seem that hospitality can be understood as solidarity with strangers, a mutual relationship of care and trust in which we share in the struggle for empowerment, dignity, and fullness of life. The word for hospitality in the Greek New Testament is philoxenia, love of the stranger. Its opposite is xenophobia, hatred of the stranger. The ministry of the church is to be partners with strangers, to welcome those whom Christ welcomed, and thus learn to be a community in which people are made one in Jesus Christ in spite of their different classes, religious backgrounds, genders, races, and ethnic groups. Our koinonia or partnership in Christ is a gift of our baptism and not a result of being of one class, race, or sexual orientation. It is a gift that transcends real differences through participation in the mission and ministry of the church on behalf of healing the brokenness of the world, beginning with ourselves."