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Hospital Hospitality and its Lesson for the Church

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My husband Nate serves food at a hospital. He prepares trays of chicken salad, macaroni and cheese, stir fry, or a questionable beverage for those on a “liquid diet.” They call down to the kitchen to order what they want, my husband makes sure it is compatible with their diet, arranges it on a tray, and delivers it with a smile. (And lots of jokes - this is my husband we are talking about.)

He has told me the stories. He never quite knows what he is about to walk into when he knocks on a patient room door. He is bringing sustenance to people at their most vulnerable of times… the mothers in labor, the injured, the sick, the addicted. The elderly. Those who are facing the reality of death. In these very real moments of true vulnerability, it can feel like their dignity has been stripped away from them. Those who once enjoyed freedom and full physical ability now need help going to the bathroom, have to endure intrusive procedures, and deal with pain that leaves many bedridden. Anyone who has spent inpatient time in a hospital knows the emotions that come along with it. It is never a fun time.

For many of these people, seeing Nate walk through their door with a tray of hot food is the highlight of their day. He is the bearer of a good gift, and it always comes with a side of kind words, a smile, and the pure hospitality that my husband exudes from the presence of His Father within him. Nate sees people. Nate sees people in a way that makes them feel special, wanted, and known.

This is hospitality - restoring human dignity to those who have had it stripped away.

Restoring dignity to others has its roots in a drastic reframing of our understanding of who we are as human beings. When God created human beings for the first time, he created them “in His image” (Genesis 1:27). Our value comes from who we are - not what we do - because we represent the One who created us. Hospitality that understands this tells someone: “You matter, because my God created you. He created you to know Him and represent Him to this world.” When we understand each other as “image bearers” of the one and only Creator God, we see no one who cannot be radically touched by the redemptive, restorative work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Of course, someone who doesn’t know Christ is not going to operate from a “image bearer” viewpoint. Sin mars our desires and distorts our lens and slashes each one of us at our core -- we all are without excuse and in desperate need of a Savior. That is the message of the Gospel. Jesus reaches down and plucks us from the grip of our sin. We could never do it. The hope is that only He can. Hospitality seeks to make this reality known to those who have yet to see it and who have yet to put their faith in Jesus Christ.

According to author Rosaria Butterfield, radically ordinary hospitality is living your Christian walk daily that “seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors into the family of God.” I am struck by the profound yet simple implications hospitality creates when coupled with the Gospel. In Butterfield’s book The Gospel Comes with a House Key, she reforms the way we think about missions and sharing the Gospel in our post-Christian world. Missions cannot and will not be successful without it coupled with genuine, biblical hospitality. And furthermore, hospitality means nothing without God’s redemptive plan as the motivating core. The Gospel and hospitality go hand in hand. Hospitality is the Gospel in action, and it provides the very environment for the Gospel to be received. Maybe that is why Jesus ate with sinners.

So ask yourself. When was the last time you invited your non-Christian neighbor to dinner? Do you even know your neighbors?

Do you seek to restore dignity to those you serve in the workforce? Do you serve proverbial meals to your hurting coworkers?

I am asking myself those questions, and I am being convicted. I have been challenged to practice hospitality as an everyday act of Gospel mission. Here I am floundering along, while my husband exemplifies this area with shining colors. It is definitely his spiritual gift. It is definitely not mine. But regardless of whether or not we possess the gift of hospitality, we are all called to offer the hope of Jesus Christ in the form of restoring dignity to our neighbor. So as a wife, how can I best support and serve my hospitable husband as he seeks to serve others? I can serve alongside him!

As a church,  we should be on the front lines of hospitality, serving, and serving those who are being hospitable. Let's be the church that answers this call in obedience. 

Walking with you,