When Hospitality Is More Than Potlucks

by Sandra Marie Van Opstal

: “the love of stranger”
Xenophobia: “the fear of…”

Foster parenting classes bring to life the deep need for biblical hospitality. The past months of preparing to foster have been a spiritually-forming experience for me.

It isn’t only the fact that we are confronted with the 17,920 children that are in need of homes in the state of Illinois. It isn’t even the awareness that many of the reasons they ended up there are due to the marginalization of certain communities.

What makes it really painful are the practical questions we are asked in class each week that really penetrate my heart. This week, we spent the entire time talking about ways we can affirm the ethnic and racial backgrounds of the children we may foster.

Among the many helpful, yet simplistic answers were: buy books and toys that reflect their background, learn to cook food they would enjoy, and take them to museums and festivals where they can celebrate their community. The solutions trouble me because,

  • No one said anything about having relationships with people of that particular group.
  • No one said anything about advocating for the causes that affect people in that community.
  • The solutions were not costly or uncomfortable.
  • The solutions did not move beyond a cognitive level.

Hospitality is also often approached with helpful, but simplistic solutions. Scripture, however, invites us to a deeper image and practice of hospitality that testifies of God’s goodness and power. Luke 14 tells a story of rich hospitality:

A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.” But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.” Another said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.” Still another said, “I just got married, so I can’t come.” The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”

“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.” Then the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.”

This story illustrates that the nature of the master is to extend hospitality to all, including those who are typically not at the party—people who make us uncomfortable, who remind us of our brokenness.

Truth be told, this party includes people we wish the master had not invited. In this story, the master confirms that all have been invited to the multiethnic, multigenerational, multiclass feast. Everyone is at the table, and those who come to be with the master, must be willing to eat together. This party he is throwing is vibrant, exciting, and offensive all at the same time.

The story of this master reminds us that God calls all people to Himself, and equally important, God calls His people to one another. If you’re at the table, you’re called to get along. This is a powerful invitation that reeks of the goodness of God. It is consistent with the character of God and the life of Jesus.

This truth is compelling to those who are on the margins, and more and more to a younger generation of Christians who desire a more vibrant witness from the Church.

In reality, the hospitality we offer is often expressed in coffee and cookies, potlucks and luncheons. It involves food, but doesn’t necessarily cost us anything beyond the Costco bill.

But biblical hospitality is about including those on the margins who are vulnerable in society. If we as individual people of faith and churches are to move beyond potlucks to a hospitality that is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and costly, then the power of the gospel will vibrantly shine on our society.

What if Evangelical Christians, who are seen by the society at large as intolerant and extreme, were to be more inclusive of marginalized communities? What if the 81% of White Evangelicals who supported a U.S. Presidential candidate who had an openly anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic agenda decided to welcome unaccompanied minors from central America, Syrian refugees, and vulnerable children in our urban centers? What might happen to the testimony of the Church?

As I sit in our nation’s capital this week and hear congressmen and women and Christian leaders discuss the future for people of color, Muslims, immigrants, and marginalized people of all kinds, it is frightening.

As we dream about the role the Church can play in the lives of communities who are being targeted by this agenda and hate crimes, it is hopeful. I long for Christians to follow the model of their master, who invites all to the table with love and grace. I long for the goodness and power of God to be seen in the lives of His people.


*For further study on Luke 14 and creating atmospheres of hospitality worship, read The Next Worship:Glorifying God in a Diverse World

Sandra-Vanopstal-2Sandra Maria Van Opstal (@sandravanopstal) pastors at Grace and Peace Community in Chicago, and is the author of The Next Worship. A liturgist and activist, she is passionate about creating atmospheres that mobilize for reconciliation and justice. She frequently consults, speaks, and writes on topics of racial identity and global mission.