They spread a mat on the concrete floor of their two room apartment in South Asia. We ate rice with our hands from cardboard plates that were wrapped in aluminum foil. She cooked chicken. An extravagant dish for their home, intended for celebrations. When we came though, she always cooked chicken to show us honor. South Asian hospitality is overwhelmingly generous. In their culture, having guest eat in your home is considered a tremendous honor. It humbled me every time we would eat with them. It reminded me of the way that the gospel levels all the socio-economic barriers and brings us, rich, poor and in between, as servants together of the King. When we share a meal together, we share a little of our lives with one another.
Recently, I have been learning more about sacrifices through a study on the book of Hebrews. This past year, we moved from a country where people still offer animal sacrifices at certain times of the year. Throngs of goats were herded into our city each year and sacrificed, their blood running into the streets. The provision of Jesus as a final sacrifice, the blood better than all the former sacrifices that were offered year after year, is breathtaking in that context. The original readers of the New Testament would have understood it far more potently than we do.
In the final chapter of Hebrews, showing hospitality to strangers is listed as among the sacrifices that are now pleasing to God. Jesus spills His blood for us, makes the final sacrifice, and sits down at God’s right hand. The work is done, the New Covenant of grace takes root and the sacrifice is finished for those who believe. And then, God instructs us to be hospitable? To be honest, a call to hospitality seems a startling contrast at the end of such a book. Changing bedsheets and shredding chicken for a casserole don’t seem particularly holy on most days for me. Hospitality with little people might mean watermelon juice spilt on the floor right after you’ve mopped. Yet, the Word calls it a pleasing sacrifice.
This past week, my husband was with a group of believers in another city. After five days at home alone with my three boys, the group returned to spend the night at our house. Needless to write, I spent that day cleaning bathrooms, changing sheets, and prepping a dinner that I could serve whenever they arrived. Most certainly they would pull in at what many mothers affectionately call the bewitching hour – right before bed. In the midst of the work, at the end of an already exhausting week, I admit that scrubbing toilets and setting the table did not feel like a sacrifice of worship to God. The truth of Scripture kept running through my mind though. God, in His wisdom, called hospitality a pleasing sacrifice. He knew it would include tending bathrooms and dicing tomatoes. He understood that hospitality is costly and time consuming. Yet He wisely tucked the call to be hospitable into all sorts of prominent places in His Word.
Gathering at the table together has been a mark of the church since the church began. In the book of Acts, when the followers of the ascended Christ are first learning to be the church, you find them eating together. In those early books of doctrinal instruction, the list of qualifications for a leader inevitably includes the word, “hospitable.” And in the book of Revelation, we are promised that there will be a family supper together in heaven.
My husband returned with the guests, and only by God’s grace, the house was in decent order to receive them, the dinner was waiting and the beds were made. I even set the table, with candles. I breathed a sigh of relief. After dinner though, my 7-year-old dropped a pin from his watchband into the sofa cushions. I had not cleaned under the sofa cushions. I have not cleaned under those sofa cushions for months. I watched as one of my guests lifted up the cushions to dig down and search for the pin. There were three-month-old popcorn kernels and lego pieces to dig through. That wasn’t really the place I’d expected a guest to look. The humility of hospitality was left burning in my heart, like a good gift from God.
Genuine hospitality humbles all of us. It says, “Come and eat at my table. I gladly give you what I have.” Hospitality is a part of loving the world around us. It’s bringing out the candles and setting the table. Or sometimes just offering the popsicles that are left in the freezer. It means that someone might just stick their fingers down into your popcorn laden couch cushions. It invites them into the real life together, where there is laughter and food and shouting babies at the dinner table. It opens wide the doors into real life with real people. There’s just no way to pretend you have it all together when some is looking under your couch cushions. This is Christian hospitality, not entertaining so that others can marvel at your home.
Be hospitable now, even in seasons when someone might find popcorn kernels shoved in unlikely places. Open your home as one who does so as a pleasing sacrifice to God. Don’t let your outdated wallpaper stop you. Don’t let your sticky floors hold you back. Don’t let glimpses of Instagram keep you from real. Don’t shrink from the hard work that is inevitably a part of loving others well. Offer it up as a sacrifice to God. A fragrant aroma to the One who gave Himself as a sacrifice so that we are cleansed once and for all.
Set your tables, sisters. It is a pleasing sacrifice to God.