In Romans 12:13 Paul instructs Christians to “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” So what does it mean to show hospitality, and why is this particular way of both expressing our faith and interacting with our neighbors so overlooked in our day?
On this edition of White Horse Inn, we’ll be talking to Rosaria Butterfield about these issues and more as we engage with her about her book, The Gospel Comes With a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in a Post-Christian World. Join us for this edition of the White Horse Inn.
“My own very messy, very inelegant process of conversion happened in no small part because of the consistent, daily, regular, and open hospitality that Pastor Ken Smith offered to me and countless others 20 years ago in Syracuse, New York. And often over the course of these many beautiful years as a Christian, people will often ask me, “How did you and Ken Smith meet? How did that happen? How did this happen?”
“And so, I’ll explain what it was like to have them, the writer of the domestic partnership policy 20 years ago at Syracuse University which was the forerunner of gay marriage. What it was like to have written a very condemning article in a newspaper about evangelical Christian men. What it was like to receive this strange letter from this pastor. It wasn’t hate mail. It wasn’t fan mail. I didn’t know what to do with it. What it was like to spend weekly dinners at Ken and Floy Smith’s table, learning to love them, learning to read the Bible, but also feeling almost disgusted by some of the things that they believed in. And what it was like to, during those years, read the Bible seven times through, and then go back to a university campus and condemn it and teach thousands of college students to despise it.
“And then, what it was like to eventually, when the Word of God got to be inside me, come to faith, come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, and what it was like then to not necessarily feel like I wasn’t a lesbian, but to know that that couldn’t be my identity and that couldn’t be my sexual practice. And then, what it was like over the course of ensuing painful years to die to the self and to embrace Christ, and to learn that you can learn how to hate your sin without hating yourself, and that’s the only true union with Christ.
“And so, I go through this story and one of the things that people sometimes do is they just say, ‘I like you now, Rosaria. I’d like to have dinner with you now, but I can’t imagine wanting to spend any time with you 20 years ago.’ And so, part of the book is that I’m a radically converted person and I can’t pretend otherwise. I wasn’t raised to be an evangelical Christian and I am here because someone loved me and sought me out, and that same person I, for many years, treated very badly, and that would have been Ken Smith, the pastor. But the other reason was that when my husband—his name is Kent—when Kent and I got married, we both were the only Christians in our families, and the practice of hospitality, the daily practice of hospitality became life-giving for us. It wasn’t just to spread the net widely or to spend time with our church families, but the desire to seek out strangers and make those strangers neighbors, and by God’s grace, watch those neighbors become part of the church, part of the family of God, converted, believing, and repenting. That became very much our deepest desire and our daily practice.”
Term to Learn
The biblical tradition of hospitality is very different from its modern or ancient forms. It is radical and subversive in that it usually transcends boundaries of class, race, or acceptability. It is a direct response to what God is doing and therefore much more radical than popular hospitality or polite tea parties that a concept of hospitality may evoke. Hospitality is the making of room for others in our lives. Food and drink become the means by which we show God’s goodness to others and willingly give ourselves to their needs. This expression of mercy and grace from God to others is done through willing hearts who give without expectancy for reciprocation (Luke 14).
Nevertheless, Christian hospitality assumes that it is not only the host who offers something but that the guest has something to offer as well. Hospitality brings delight and joy to the host by meeting the needs of the guest. In this way it glorifies both parties; for it is to be committed to the flourishing of each other. The assumption behind Christian hospitality is that it is reciprocal, something done for the good of each other, and the glory of God.
(Timothy Blackmon, WHI-1227, “Hospitality & Mission”)