Hospitality. It's something all churches think we do well, right? Truthfully, most churches make a decent effort. The church I have the privilege of serving even does a little better than that. They are truly people who care, and I am grateful for them. But what we learned about as we dug more deeply into hospitality and what it truly means is that we have lost so much of what true hospitality truly is. The New Testament uses this word "philoxenia." The first part (philo) means love. That is probably obvious. But the second part (xenia) means "stranger." Oh oh. It's safe to say that in our culture most of our churches have fallen short in loving the stranger. We don't love them holistically like we should. We don't advocate for them. Many times I have to admit I even ignore them. It pains me to admit that, but it's true. It's easy for me as a privileged white male to go about my day and not have to worry about the suffering of others.
It pretty much goes without saying that we should feed, clothe and shelter the stranger. If we don't meet basic needs then we're the same people who didn't give Jesus a place to rest His head and shut Mary and Joseph out of the Inn. That alleviates suffering. But as someone who seeks to follow Jesus, I'm called to more than just alleviating suffering. I'm called to transformation and offering the hope of transformation to all people. No exceptions.
So how does hospitality lead us and others to transformation? It starts with us realizing that the best tool we have to offer people is ourselves. Our true selves. Not the persona we put out to the world. Not the perfect suburban, middle class family. People who are desperate for grace. People who, even if they are suburban and middle/upper class, don't find their identity in that. People who have found so much healing and grace that we put down our societal masks and show our awkward, broken and even redeemed selves.
Here's part of the problem: Us millenials have somehow been ingrained with strong BS monitors. We can see fake, and it isn't something we want to be part of. The church culture, on the other hand, has tried to remain strong and appear to be the good, faithful people they want to be. It's admirable. Many in the older generations have been taught to persevere through incredibly trying circumstances and to not show weakness. Some even want to be strong, good and faithful people for us to look up to them (and we should in many cases) But it's not real. It's not authentic. We all have struggles. We all have times of weakness. And here's the Good News: the world doesn't need people who have it together to offer hospitality. They need people who are real and don't have the perfect house or pristine environment. Hospitality says: This is who God has created me to be, warts and all, and I would love to journey with you and learn how we can help each other grow.
What our postmodern, pluralistic world needs is people who aren't afraid of vulnerability. That doesn't mean we share everything with everyone, but it does mean we can share something with everyone. It means that we are willing to put ourselves out there for the sake of others because we have been given something that we believe should belong to everybody. What we have been given is faith, and faith in Christ isn't something that we keep in isolation. It's who we are, and we share that. Not in an oppressive or forced way, but in a way that furthers the relationship so people see that we aren't a salesperson, but people who are in love with this Jesus guy and know His love is out there for all people.