They are everywhere… cafés; restaurants; Uber Eats deliveries; takeaways; fast food chains; coffee machines in the local supermarket and garage, and pop up coffee stations. They are there because hospitality is very big business with over 70,000 jobs dependent on it here.
Sadly, however, many businesses are under serious and even terminal strain – as seen in recent weeks by the announcements of closure because of rising costs.
Yet a personal level, hospitality is a God given privilege, and one that I sense is under serious threat. I want to make an unambiguous plea for us to recover and practice the Bible teaches on ‘hospitality’ as a normal part of living for Christ. There is an increasing need in our highly individualistic society to offer hospitality to young families, singles, widows and widowers, the lonely, the visitor, the distressed, the energetic… whoever and in whatever circumstances they find themselves.
I do so for two reasons. Firstly, it is explicitly part of the Bible’s pattern and guidance for Christian living. ‘Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality’. (Romans 12.13) ‘Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling’. (1 Peter 4.9)
The call to hospitality also extends to those outside of the church: Galatians 6.9 tells us ‘… as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…’ Also, in a fascinating passage in Luke 7, Simon the Pharisee appears to have held an ‘open house’, since the woman who anointed Jesus was simply accepted as someone circulating among the guests.
Secondly, some of the circumstances in the New Testament are clearly just as real today as they were then. For example, the increasing material need, shown today by the ongoing and rapid rise in the use of food banks, including by those who are in work. Add the loneliness, isolation, pressure and distress that afflict so many ‘ordinary’ people, and it is abundantly clear that hospitality, decent conversation, a listening ear and companionship go together and that there is a wonderful ministry of hospitality calling out to us all the time.
It is also important to see hospitality not as a burden, but as a joy. It is a real work of grace, since it is a response to the generosity and grace of God in salvation. It is no accident that the Easter story starts with Jesus sharing a meal with his disciples (Luke 14).
Of course, none of us can do everything for everyone who could be blessed by hospitality. Hospitality can, and should, come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, to encourage everyone to practice it! Some of us like to cook meals at home (I do). Others are excellent at inviting friends to coffee in our homes or a local café. Some have a particular ministry of preparing meals for those in need or under pressure (for whatever reason), and taking it round to them.
And there are new and creative ways to bless others with good food. If we are on our travels, what about contacting some folks who live around there, and suggesting you meet for coffee and a catch-up chat?
I am of course very aware that the cost-of-living crisis is affecting us all to a greater or lesser extent. Yet we are still unambiguously called by Jesus to take the initiative and love our neighbours as a very practical out-working of our love and commitment to him. Simply looking after ourselves is not an option for God’s people. It never has been, for the Bible is very clear that caring for those outside our own circles is crucially important. Indeed, it will count not just now, but at the final judgement (Matthew 25.31-46).
I am increasingly troubled that the importance of warm supportive relationships is constantly being eroded, even in churches. Meeting on Zoom has not been a substitute for proper fellowship. It really is time to put the sharing of food back on the menu of support and fellowship.
So – anyone for coffee? And if you want to take me up on it – please do. You can respond to this blog…see below. I will buy.
Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton is a retired Presbyterian minister, former Moderator of the General Assembly, and Chair of Contemporary Christianity.
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.