Open doors, open hearts: the practice of hospitality

Sunday. The Sabbath. A day traditionally devoted to rest and relaxation. A time to read a book with a cup of tea in hand, watch the Colts game with friends and family, go for a nice afternoon walk ... and invite 20+ friends and neighbors into your home for food and fun.

Sounds relaxing, right?

Three weeks ago, my roommates and I decided to host our first Sunday night dinner. It’s turned into a weekly event, each time with a different theme: chili night, breakfast for dinner, and (my personal favorite) Taco Tuesday on Sunday! We eat together, laugh together, and play games together.

A month ago my Sunday nights were “catch-up nights,” a time to get ready for the week ahead. Let’s just say that is no longer the case.

There are a lot of reasons for us not to host Sunday dinners. For example, we just moved into our house a few months ago. I know that sounds like plenty of time to settle in, but if you’ve moved recently you know that unpacking never seems to end. But instead of stressing over the drawing of radishes hanging on my wall (or beets; we aren’t really sure), I can have funny conversations about the quirky Goodwill purchase that will later be transformed through the magic of Pinterest.

Another reason not to host Sunday night dinner is that I don’t have time. Working two jobs and juggling grad school keeps me pretty busy on a regular basis. On top of that, hosting can be expensive. Despite the fact that I work two jobs, I wouldn’t say I have an overflow of cash to spend regularly.

So why do it then? If there are so many reasons for my roommates and I not to open up our home, why have we chosen to do so every week?

We’ve come to realize that hospitality is key to the Christian life: to loving our families, friends, neighbors, and strangers. Hear these words from Scripture:

  • Be hospitable to one another without complaint. (1 Peter 4:9)
  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor ... contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. (Romans 12:10, 13)
  • Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)

Jesus calls us to love one another (John 13:5). What better way to do this than opening up our homes to others?

However, true Christian hospitality goes beyond opening up our homes to opening up our hearts. This is harder than it seems, especially for “Martha” types like me. Being hospitable is not about having the fanciest foods, dinnerware, furniture, or house. It’s not about creating a 5-star dining experience for guests. It’s not about making others think much of me, but of God.

True Christian hospitality is about creating a space where guests can express and experience the love of Christ. Melissa Kruger says it so well: “Am I willing to put aside my concern of impressing others so that I can focus on house-altering hospitality that points others to Jesus?”

When Mary and Martha welcomed Jesus into their home, Mary was recognized for spending time with her guest rather than being “worried and bothered about so many things” like her sister (Luke 10:41-42). We must let go of the little things that serve our own agendas and focus on the bigger things that point to God. When all is said and done, I know that my guests can feel just as welcomed with a casual potluck dinner served on paper plates as a Thanksgiving feast served on fine china. It’s not the elegance, but the love we share for one another that makes the environment.

So are you ready to begin hosting your own dinner nights with neighbors, friends, and family? Here are a few practical tips to get started:

  • Invite a couple of close friends to host it with you. These are people you can count on every time to come and not only help with food, but also engage with guests.
  • Make it a potluck. People generally enjoy being able to help out. Pick a theme and invite the regular attenders to bring an ingredient or a dish. Invite first-timers just to bring themselves and enjoy getting to know everyone.
  • Use this as an opportunity to get to know people you don’t usually see. The neighbor across the street, the coworker down the hall, the person you just met at church last week ... This is the perfect opportunity to invite them into your community.

Sunday nights are now one of my favorite nights of the week. For any work that we put into Sunday dinners, we gain it back relationally and spiritually a hundredfold. What a beautiful gift from God that he calls us all to live out such a joyful and exciting mission alongside one another!

Image: "Twelfth Night," by Jan Steen (1662); courtesy of wikiart.org