The week we got home from our honeymoon, Chris and I bought a memory foam topper for our bed. We had graduated from our sturdy twin mattresses onto a single California king, and the vision of endless hours of comfortable sleep made us giddy—hands down one of the best purchases we made early on. Over the years that mattress topper bore the weight of multiple pregnancies and children climbing into our bed. It memorized the shape of our bodies and, over time, gently molded to the many iterations of our sleeping patterns. These indentations have somehow become impossible to undo as the years go on, which presents a problem when you find yourself no longer pregnant and sinking into the grooves your body once formed. I think it’s about time we got a new topper.
The other day I mentioned on Instagram how the church needs a renewed theology of hospitality in order to sustain through the moments sacrifice and struggle enter in, which is inevitable. Just like those deep grooves that are impossible to undo in our mattress topper, a theology of hospitality forms deep convictions that inform our patterns and our pleasures, regardless of the circumstances.
So, what is a theology of hospitality?
It begins with understanding who God is. Before anything ever existed, he did. God spoke and creation unfurled before him teeming up as a grand display of his glory. From the moment mankind took its first breath we were guests in God’s world. From the beginning, God has always presented himself as a welcoming host, desiring to feast with his children. Over and over again the theme of invitation and feasting come up in the scriptures and over and over again mankind checks “no” on the RSVP and ops to dine at a different table.
Because of this, mankind was exiled out of the garden and sent to indulge in the feast of destruction, but the Lord has never ceased from desiring us as guests. The Bible is replete with reminders that God always looks at his people fundamentally through the lens of desire. This doesn’t mean his anger doesn’t burn over over sin, but that he also grieves over it. He has always, and still does, desire us as guests.
Greg Thompson points out that the absence of this conviction—the inability to see the world as God’s desired guest—leaves us with no idea what to do with the world. Historically, the church has responded in a few unhealthy ways:
- Treating the world primarily as enemies. With this posture, the church makes its primary posture one of fortifying its walls, policing its boarders, and withdrawing from the culture. This ignores the very heart of God, to welcome his children back to his table.
- Focusing more on accommodation for the sake of peace. With this posture, the church makes its primary vocation one of acceptance. This is problematic because while we do share a lot in common with our neighbors, our neighbors do not yet have a seat at God’s table. This ignores the very heart of God, to call them away from the table of the world and into the true feast and union with him.
- Focusing efforts on domination. With this posture, the church seeks to win. This is problematic because it treats the neighbor as a personal project rather than a welcomed guest.
Instead, the church is not called to hide from, accomodate, or dominate others. We are called to something far more beautiful, to invite them to the banquet of God’s everlasting grace. This is the primary vocation of the church as we take part in the renewal of God’s world through hospitality.
Here’s something worth noting though, while it is an honorable task, it will look incredibly mundane. It will look like dishes piled high in the sink, late nights comforting people in their pain, a million small conversations interrupted by skinned knees and broken toys, and an incredibly unglamourous home-cooked meal. Hospitality is a long seemingly mundane obedience in the same direction for the sake of God’s glory and it is worth every ounce of our care.
Here are some resources worth digging into from people that are far more eloquent and thoughtful than me on the subject.
That talk by Greg Thompson that most of my thoughts were informed by. This is a must watch: The Hospitality of Christ for a Secular Age
If you only have a bit of time, I loved this article by Jen Wilkin: Why Hospitality Beats Entertaining