The reading for this week is from Matthew 10: 40-42. Here we find an instruction from Jesus to welcome the stranger with radical hospitality.
I remember when I was a child, every Sunday after the morning service, our family was either going to someone else’s home for lunch, or hosting a family our ours. Hospitality was part of the church community culture. We wanted to get to know others in the church. What was interesting however, is that we never invited someone from outside the church to lunch, nor did we invite someone homeless or struggling from the community. It was just people we were comfortable with.
While inviting people we feel comfortable with to lunch isn’t a bad thing, I don’t think it is what Jesus is instructing us to do here.
I continued being committed to church life. I became a youth pastor, worship leader, planted a large Baptist church and completed a degree in Theology. I was someone who was popular in church circles. I was being invited to lunch with people in the church, as I was comfortable.
But throughout my teenage and young adult life I hid a significant part of my life away and I fought to supress and deny my identity. I did not want to acknowledge that I was gay.
It wasn’t until I was 32 and living in England, that I finally accepted who I was, and started to believe that I too was created by God.
When I returned to New Zealand, and to the church community I had left only a few years ago, I discovered what it felt like to be a stranger. I was not ‘out’ as a gay Christian, but this was too uncomfortable for the people who called me friend only a short time ago.
Finding a community who would welcome me into their homes, and build friendships with me, became very difficult. Looking to the church community I was so used to finding refuge in, felt so hard to find acceptance. Where I did find acceptance was from within the LGBTQ community. There I was welcomed, listened to and accepted, even as a fairly conservative Christian with strong moral values.
The LGBTQ community is great at welcoming and showing hospitality to strangers. They understand rejection all too well.
When I looked for a community that was both LGBTQ and Christian, I found lots of websites and videos telling me that I needed to change, but nothing that connected me with others – people like me – or taught me how to live my new life.
So in 2016, I created a website and online community for LGBTQ Christians to meet and connect. This group is called Diverse Church and our mission is to advocate for inclusivity in churches and connect and support LGBTQ Christians throughout the country.
We created an annual gathering and conference, in which so many LGBTQ people have reconnected with God and found connection and community. In March this year (2023), Durham Street Methodist partnered with Diverse Church and hosted our 4th Awaken Conference.
One of the things that overwhelmed me about this church was just how hospitable you are.
To welcome the LGBTQ community and the homeless community through your doors, is an incredible testament to the leadership your church has, and the love your people have for the community. Many of us (LGBTQ people) still feel like strangers in churches, but this church rolled out the red carpet and set out the finest crockery to welcome us, into your church.
This ‘welcoming hospitality’ shows this church understands and models ‘Radical Hospitality’.
The bible is full of verses that make it clear that hospitality is a core part of being a Christian or follower of Jesus.
Romans 12:13 simply states “Practice Hospitality!”
1 Peter 4:8-9: Above all, love each other deeply… Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. (I like this reminder that we should do this with a joyful heart even when it is inconvenient for us).
Hebrew 13:2: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
And in Matthew 10, Jesus is speaking to his disciples. His followers. So, this is an instruction for his followers – for US!! This isn’t a good idea or a casual conversation around the lunch, this is an instruction, something Jesus wants us to know is an important part of the Christian ministry.
The word hospitality comes from the Greek word – Philoxenia.
This word literally means “to love strangers through generous hospitality”.
Philoxenia is an ancient moral code and something our faith calls us all to do.
We can also link hospitality to our own indigenous people, as hospitality is an important Māori principle.
Manaakitanga is a Māori word that has become familiar to many Pākehā New Zealanders in recent times. Often manaakitanga conjures images of pōwhiri (welcoming ceremonies) and a meal shared between tangata whenua (people of the land) and manuhiri (guests) on the marae.
Manaakitanga can be broken down in order to find its meaning. Manaaki speaks of support and care, while tanga changes a verb to a noun. Then breaking down Manaaki, we get mana and aki.
Mana, which is commonly known, speaks of power, force and authority of a person, place or object, which in Māori culture is believed to have been passed down from the atua (God) or ancestors. Aki means to encourage or urge on.
Together as manaaki, the words mean your hospitality is encouraging, growing the mana of others and urging the same from them.
Therefore a group sharing a meal, is embodying manaakitanga or hospitality.
This introduces the idea of reciprocity. When we invite people into our homes, we give them hospitality and uplift their mana, and in return, they respect our customs and homes and enhance our mana in return.
A long time ago, while I was the youth pastor at a large church, I went to Sydney Australia to attend a large Pentecostal conference with 25,000 others. I went to a workshop for worship leaders and heard a pastor present how we plan or host a church service, like we plan or host someone to dinner.
When we host a guest to dinner we will usually take some time to ensure the environment is right for them. We will ask for their dietary requirements and make sure to cook food they can eat and enjoy. We might put some music on that we know will help them feel comfortable. We will go to the door and welcome them in and show them where the bathroom is. We will take their coat and make them feel at ease. We will make sure the temperature is comfortable. Not too hot, and not too cold. We offer them a drink and we will prepare options for them. Then we ask them how they are, and start easy conversation that creates that relationship and trust.
This same model can be applied to a church service. We might have people welcoming people into the carpark or doors of the church. We make sure the room and atmosphere is comfortable. When we lead worship we should aim to include everyone, and sing songs that are not too wordy and easy to learn. This way a new person can follow along and maybe even join in. I learnt to limit the number of new songs I would sing and sing songs in a range that everyone could sing and not only those that had that American Idol vocal range.
I came to see welcoming people to church and welcoming them into worship as hospitality. By framing my thinking toward loving strangers, it changed my priorities and changed the way I led.
Another example of welcoming strangers, was something I experienced when I first moved to England for my OE.
I grew up in the wake of 11 September 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. Until this time, I had never met or even knew what a Muslim person was, but because of the media and the impact these events had on the world, I associate Muslim people with terrorism.
On my first day in London, I arrived at a busy intersection with thousands of people commuting to work, and I spotted in the crowd a woman wearing a full burqa. Within a matter of 2 or 3 seconds, my brain had formed the connection with this person and a terrorist, and my immediate reaction was that I was about to die.
When the woman walked straight past me and I didn’t die, I understood that I had something wrong. I had made an incorrect assumption about a group of people that was based on false or inaccurate information. The Muslim community was a stranger to me.
During my time in London, I sought out the Muslim community and made friends with a colleague from my work. During Ramadan, the time when Muslims fast from sun rise to sun set to focus on prayer, I was invited to their feasts and family gatherings they had at night. Families would gather in the streets and bring food for sharing and everyone was welcome. Even a conservate Baptist, who only a few months ago had assumed all their people were terrorists. I was the stranger and they welcomed me. This simple act of hospitality broke down all the barriers I had built, all my preconceptions and ideas of this religion and helped me to understand their values, and ways of life.
Rosaria Butterfield is an author, researcher and part of the LGBTQ community. She wrote a paper stating that Bible-believing Christians are the worst at welcoming and loving strangers, particularly those in the LGBTQ community.
A local pastor read her paper and invited her to dinner with his wife, to simply chat about some of the things that Rosaria was discovering in her findings. These regular dinner and conversations continued for some time and both the pastor and Rosaria’s perspectives of each other groups changed. Rosaria even became a Christian.
In Rosaria’s book she writes that the LGBT community does a way better job of welcoming strangers than the church and we need to recapture this ancient practice as a mainstream idea for everyone and not only those who are extroverted, as it is core to following Jesus.
Rosa finds the core to hospitality is “turning strangers into neighbours, and neighbours into family”.
Those who live out radically ordinary hospitality see their homes not as theirs at all but as God’s gift to use for the furtherance of his kingdom. They open doors; they seek out the underprivileged.
So for us, as Jesus’ disciples, hearing the instruction to be hospitable to strangers, raises some questions I think we should all be asking ourselves.
Who are the people who may see as ‘strangers’ in our lives? Are there groups we don’t understand or struggle to have conservation with. This might be a person who gender doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth. It might be someone who is pro or anti-abortion. It might be someone who has a polygamous marriage. Who are the people we don’t know or don’t understand?
Jesus is calling us to show radical hospitality to these people.
Radical Hospitality changes both our lives and the lives of those we show hospitality to.