As Christians, we often talk about not letting our Christian worship and devotion be confined to only our Sunday gatherings. As a pastor, it remains one of my jobs to shepherd my people into a vision of taking their Christian life beyond the four walls of a church building and into the streets, workplaces, and homes that mark their Mondays through Saturdays. But the question we often wrestle with is, how? How do we create a sense of continuity between Sunday worship services and the whole of the Christian life? Or, put a different way, how do we battle the sense of discontinuity many Sunday worshippers feel between what happens in sanctuaries on the Lord’s Day and the “ordinariness” of the rest of the week? How do we as ordinary Christians allow the sacred to spill over into the everyday?
One answer lies in the way we view our homes and practice hospitality. The act of hospitality allows the sacredness of Christian worship and the reality of the gospel message to bleed over into the everyday, and it causes us to see many of the domestic duties and routine as places where the ethics of the kingdom of God truly take hold of our hearts and lives.
In a famous passage in Matthew 25, Jesus gives us a picture of what the final judgment will look like. In it, we see Him celebrate and welcome the sheep on his right as those who committed themselves to a fairly basic set of concerns. What is striking about this passage is how radically domestic these concerns are—things like providing food, drink, covering, and company. In fact, four out of the six items Jesus cites would have been traditionally associated almost exclusively with the home.
Cleary Jesus is not saying, “If you do these things, you’ll be saved,” as though salvation was some works-based system of merit. But what is He saying? He shows us that these simple acts of hospitality condition us into not simply believing in the King, but actually being a kingdom-minded people—people that get it, that understand and embody the ethics of this kingdom.
These are the ethics of the kingdom, of course, because these are the ethics of our King. Jesus tells the sheep on His right that this kingdom was “prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” We serve an eternally hospitable King. He thought of us first. He took care of our well-being beforehand. This teaches us something essential to kingdom-minded hospitality.
I’ve recently become aware of a group of people known as “preppers.” These are people who believe that the end of the world as we know it is quickly at hand, and so these people are “prepping” for this doomsday scenario. This means that they are organizing their whole life around the constant looming possibility of a complete and utter societal collapse, and they have prepared themselves with various skills, provisions, weapons, and plans if and when this occurs.
What starts for most as taking a few simple, precautionary steps turns into an all-out obsessive commitment to what is no longer a question of “if” but “when.” For “preppers,” their engagement in the practices associated with “prepping” causes them to experience an increasingly deeper buy-in to this lifestyle, mindset, and doomsday narrative. With each new piece of survival gear they purchase, with every survival skill they hone, with every “go-bag” they pack, they are literally living out the narrative they have banked their lives on, which of course only serves to buttress their commitment to the certainty of the narrative.
What if we approached having a radical sense of kingdom hospitality like this? Jesus describes for us a coming final judgment, and He is seeking a people who embody this kingdom ethic of hospitality. We therefore need to engage in practices that prepare us for this kingdom so that we’re recognizable to our King as He is sorting us out. We need to be “preppers” of a different sort.
As we contemplate the incredible hospitality of our King toward us, and we seek to be a people of kingdom-minded hospitality in the days between Sundays, we need to take on practices and habits that encourage and even require a deeper, more abiding buy-in from us into the lifestyle, mindset, and narrative of the kingdom of God. I’m convinced that the more we take on the practices associated with being hospitable, the more we will embody this kingdom ethic expressed by Jesus in Matthew 25.
What practices am I talking about? What habits and lifestyle changes will condition us and point us toward the hospitality ethic of the kingdom? This is where we get practical.
For starters, we could allot more money to our monthly grocery budgets, cook more meals at home to be eaten around our tables, and buy more foods that accommodate more than just our immediate desires and needs. We need to keep our refrigerators and pantries stocked with “social foods,” foods conducive to bringing people together so that we’re ready at a moment’s notice to host people. We need to begin asking the question of ourselves at every supermarket trip, “Who will we be hosting this week?” and shop accordingly. Our practical changes here will cause a deeper buy-in to the mindset of opening your home and welcoming others into your life.
Next, we need to create space around mealtimes in our schedules. We need to stop being satisfied with merely meeting and congregating at neutral “third places” and start seeing our homes and tables and living rooms as sacred places where the kingdom of God is tasted and seen. We need to take on a godly resilience in the face of awkward moments and conversational lulls, and learn the art of having a genuine interest in others.
Additionally, we need to re-think the arrangements of our homes. Where are the screens positioned in your living spaces? How is the seating arranged? What functions as the “center” or focal point of your furnishings? It never ceases to amaze me when I have people over that within the first five or ten minutes they notice (albeit, uncomfortably) that there is no television in sight, and by the end of night, they’ve expressed a sense of surprised liberation and satisfaction that they were able to fill a whole evening with conversation.
These are just some simple suggestions, and I’m sure many more could be offered. One of the things I hope you’ll note, however, is that this is costly. There is no way around it. Kingdom-minded hospitality does not come cheap. But this is the gospel we’re talking about here. Our God prepared a place for us with Him in His kingdom, and He secured that place for us by sending His Son Jesus to die, remember. The Christian life has always been about God’s hospitality at the expense of something costly, God’s welcoming of stranger-sinners into His house to dine on the broken body and spilt blood of His Son, and God’s consideration of our needs to the neglect of His own. The act of hospitality in so many ways embodies this gospel we profess and believe, and it has the power within it to transform the everyday, ordinary lives we live in our homes into an experience of the kingdom of God.
Image: The Hospitality of Abraham by Lawrence OP on 7/10/13, accessed on Flickr and licensed under Creative Commons
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