Sep 25, 2023
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13)
The first week of this new “Together, in Faith” series, we talked about what it meant to be a “waiting community,” that is, a church community that firstly waits on the Lord to work and act. Last week, we began to talk about how that vertical dimension of God’s work, life, and love intersects and motivates our work on the horizontal plane with one another. And now this week, we take a deeper dive into the horizontal plane where our relationships with one another and with the world are worked out. Romans 12 will be our guide.
You’ll notice that here again—the emphasis falls firstly on love: sincere, devoted love. It is a love of the good, a love of one another. But it is also a love that translates very naturally into a string of practices and postures. Love keeps up our passion for serving the Lord who first loved us. Love is a building block upon which other virtues are built and spiritual fruits may grow, like joy, hope, patience, and faithfulness in prayer.
But where we’d like to focus today is particularly on the last two lines: the invitation to share with those in need and to practice hospitality.
As modern people of the 21st century, it is difficult for us to understand just how critically important and universally assumed a culture of personally offering hospitality was to the Old Testament Jews and the New Testament Christians.
The shift away from a culture of hospitality occurred early in church history. Eccentric Christian historian, Ivan Illich, tells the story of the early years of Christianity when “it was customary in a Christian household to have an extra mattress, a bit of a candle, and some dry bread in case the Lord Jesus should knock at the door in the form of a stranger without a roof—a form of behaviour that was utterly foreign to any of the cultures of the Roman Empire.”
However, once Christianity was recognized by Constantine and became part of the empire, “bishops created special houses, financed by the community, that were charged with taking care of people without a home… It was against this idea that the great Church Father John Chrysostom railed… in one of his sermons, he warned against creating this xenodocheia, literally ‘houses for foreigners.’ By assigning the duty to behave in this way to an institution, he said, Christians would lose the habit of reserving a bed and having a piece of bread ready in every home, and their households would cease to be Christian homes.”
Chrysostom thought a ready and willing hospitality was one of the central, indispensable marks of a Christian home. But when we list off the central Christian practices today—we only list Bible reading, prayer, and worship.
While not giving up the support of institutions on the one hand--what might it mean to also take up the Romans 12 challenge of Paul and Chrysostom to have groceries and a bed at the ready with the full expectation of opening our door to someone? It doesn't right away have to be a stranger from the street--perhaps just someone from the church. Whatever you do: take it up as a challenge—see if you can find a way to invite people into your home once a month, or once a week. There's no better way to be Together, in Faith, than by getting together!
So try it! Practice hospitality.