Lesson 12: Hospitality

Vietnam Peace MarchersI first read the Benedictine Rule at the very beginning of my ministry. I remember being impressed that the porter was to treat every one who knocked at the monastery’s door as if they might be Christ himself and that special attention was to be given to the poor and the pilgrim.

Two weeks later, I learned a harsh lesson about hospitality in our modern society. I received a phone call from the chaplain at the college asking if my congregation would provide overnight lodging for peace marchers on their way to Washington to protest the Viet Nam war. The officers at the college said the chaplain could not welcome them, because their insurance company would not allow it. When I asked about the seminary, he said they were the ones who called him, because they were unable for the same reason.

This incident took place at the same time these institutions closed their public areas such as swimming pools and recreation rooms to outsiders. Business decided it was too dangerous to be hospitable, which is another way of saying business decided it was too dangerous to be religious.

Hospitality is the foundation of all three western religions. Abraham, the father of them all, was able to participate in the beginning of the reconciliation between God and humanity, because he welcomed three travelers. Genesis 18:1-15 speaks of them as three men, three angels, and God himself at various places. Remember, the three were headed to Sodom and Gomorrah to carry out a mission reminiscent of the Great Flood. God was out to destroy the evil that was corrupting his good creation. The story illustrates that evil is the absence of hospitality, preferring to rape rather than feed strangers.

Abraham is blessed for his hospitality and told his family will become the means by which all the other families of the creation will be blessed as well. This is the beginning of the redemption of the creation. Jesus makes clear it will remain a hallmark of salvation when he says the Last Judgment will include whether we welcome the stranger. The book of Hebrews reminds us a primary command is to show hospitality to strangers, because some have entertained angels doing so.

In chapter 10, Chittister observes that our modern gated communities prevent us from being enriched by outsiders, because all of our neighbors think like we do. She also remarks this disconnects us from reality for self-evaluation.

As I read her words, I considered how much the evening our people welcomed the peace marchers remains for me one of the best examples of what Christianity is all about. I stood in admiration as my people fed and cared for strangers. It was the only time I have ever witnessed practical foot washing as people bathed the tired and torn feet of the marchers. I also was bewildered, because one of my people took my arm with the words, “Don’t worry, pastor, I am carrying a gun. I’ll protect you if these guys get out of hand.” I, in no way, needed the kind of protection he was offering.

It is critical that we realize when our leaders claim we must build walls because some who cross our borders are rapists and drug dealers, that we must deport all aliens who live among us because they include criminals and illegals, that we must ban all immigrants because one of them might be a terrorist; they use the logic of the Egyptian Pharaoh and King Herod. The Pharaoh practiced genocide because the children of God were growing in number. Herod killed all children under two in order to get the one dangerous baby. And, as we all know, that dangerous child was the Son of God who becomes a refugee because of the business and politics of that time.

The Adult Sunday School room of the church in which I grew up had a huge painting of Christ knocking at a door behind the speaker’s platform. We were told it represented Christ knocking at the door of our hearts, hoping to be let into our lives. In our day, Christ might well be pictured as a refugee, an immigrant, or the next person who knocks at my door.

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