Video for July 20th, 2023
Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
Over the last few days we’ve been entertaining a whole variety of people here in a marquee in the Palace Gardens. It’s a biennial opportunity to thank our clergy and lay leaders, civic leaders, back office support staff and this year NHS workers as we celebrate its 75th anniversary. It combines two of my favourite things – entertaining people and spending the Church Commissioners money. They have lot of it, and it supports episcopal ministry. You can rest assured that all this entertaining hasn’t come out of parish contributions! Its only really now that we’ve been able to renew these sorts of events without anxiety following COVID. Seeing people face to face rather than on screen is much better way of interacting.
Hospitality is a theme that runs through the Bible from beginning to end. The people of Israel were instructed to offer hospitality to travellers and especially those who weren’t part of the tribe. In an interesting twist, in Leviticus 25 verse 35, they are told, “if any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger.” Hardly charity begins at home; quite the reverse. Hospitality is one of his characteristics Job commends to God. “No stranger had to spend a night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveller,” he says in Job 31 vs. 32.
The New Testament writers similarly rate hospitality highly as a characteristic both of leaders and the wider church community. Paul encourages the Romans in Chapter 12 verse 13 to practice hospitality. For those who are reluctant Peter writes in his first letter asking the saints to, “offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” Hospitality is a character trait Paul in on the look out for in his other pastoral epistles: a necessity for those called to ministry.
Hospitality builds relational bridges. I think its fair to say that the representatives from the NHS who came here on Sunday night were a little wary initially, but over the course of the evening connections were made, and strangers started the journey to friendship. Ultimately, we are called to be a hospitable people because God is hospitable. He is always reaching out to this broken and hurting world inviting people to connect with him. There is an extraordinary line in John’s Gospel where Jesus addresses his rag tag, disloyal, dense band of disciples just before his crucifixion and says, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends!”
We would wish we were stronger in many areas of church life today, but I observe that our churches rarely lack the gift of hospitality. A number of clergy have done research on things that contribute to the growth and life of local churches, and hospitality comes close to the top of the list. Indeed, for our missional work hospitality is vital. When so many people have no connection with the church, it draws people in and affords the spiritually curious the opportunity to see what goes on in a non-threatening way. It doesn’t have to be hugely expensive, but hospitable churches can act as a focus and convenor of community, building bridges over which the Gospel can travel.
Besides that, these connections can act as a bridge to the divine. The writer to the Hebrews says, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” For many churches the first step to a better missional and evangelistic engagement with their communities will be a review of how well they build relationships and foster the sorts of connections where these encounters can happen. For surely the act of being hospitable, in whatever form it takes is not just about dispensing generosity, but receiving it from others as well, as relationships deepen and grow. I think there have been some of those sorts of encounters in this marquee over the last few days. Sadly, we’ll have to wait until 2025 for the next batch of these events, but there will be plenty of opportunities for us great and small to show little acts of kindness and welcome, each of which in a small way demonstrated something of the extravagant, hospitable love of God.