Radical Hospitality – A Biblical Narrative

Radical Hospitality – A Biblical Narrative

Sunday 10th June – 9am Worship

Sermon Series: Radical Hospitality

Theme: Radical Hospitality – A Biblical Narrative

Bible Readings: Genesis 18:1-10

Preacher: Rev Phil Swain


We are spending a few weeks looking at this phrase called “Radical Hospitality”.  During our mission planning process we were challenged to be a fruitful congregation and to grow five practices within our church life – one of these being “radical hospitality”

Two weeks ago, we watched a video that expressed the idea that Hospitality is a core practice of Christians and that hospitality is open experienced around the table … and we had that experience!  We gathered around tables, we opened up with each other, prayed with each other and shared communion with each other.  It was a special time.

The video also hinted at the idea that hospitality is a major theme throughout the bible … and that is what I would like to do today.  Take the “around the table” experience we had two weeks and show you that this concept is one of the overarching
themes found within Scripture … from Genesis to Revelation.

Are you up for this?

Let’s start in Genesis with our Bible reading for today.  It involves the Father of our Faith … Abraham.  Abraham was standing near his tent in the heat of the day when three men walking past … strangers in a strange land.  What does Abraham do?  He immediately hurries over to them and offers them hospitality.  Offers water for their feet, rest under the tree and food to refresh them.

What would make Abraham offer hospitality to these people?  Why would he be so open to being kind to the stranger?

Because Abraham knew what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land.  Back in Genesis 12 God told Abraham to leave his country, people and father’s household and go to the land where God would direct him too.  Abraham had already lived that journey of travelling in the heat of the day, of not knowing anyone, and probably appreciated all the hospitality shown to him … so when he saw these three men, there was no hesitation … he offered them hospitality.  But not just normal hospitality, he was extravagantly generous … fine flour, the choice tender calf.  He didn’t hold back on his generosity but gave his best to be the most hospitable he could be.

This example of a generous hospitality is repeated over and over again through the Old and New Testament.  For example in 1 Kings 17 the prophet Elijah asked a widow for bread and she used the last of her flour and oil to make it (well sort of … her flour and oil miraculously lasted another 40 days).

Or what about this passage from 2 Kings 4

One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. She said to her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”

Note that hospitality in the Old Testament was often focused on the alien or stranger in need. The plight of those people who were away from their land was desperate. They felt like they didn’t belong and as an alienated person or as a traveller often needed immediate food and lodging.

Widows, orphans, the poor, or sojourners from other lands lacked family support or the means of making a living, and protection. In the ancient world the practice of hospitality meant graciously receiving these people into one’s land, home, or community and providing directly for that person’s needs.

This was doubly important for the Israelites because of their experience in Egypt.  In Deut 24:21-22 God commands the Israelites to look after the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Why?  As God said … “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.”  Just like Abraham … the Israelites as a nation knew what it was like to be strangers in a strange land … and so that defined how they too would care for those who were vulnerable.

As we move into the New Testament – there seemed to be some decline in the way society as a whole offered hospitality.  It was not a strong element of either the Greek or Roman thinking.  That is why the hospitality teachings of Jesus and the practice of the Early Church stood out.

Jesus actions and teaching encouraged the idea that we should be hospitable to all people.   Think of examples such as the woman at the well or Zacchaeus up the tree as well as teaching such as the Good Samaritan.   The Early Church had at its foundation its welcome and care for each other (Acts 2:42-44) and its leaders were to be judged on their hospitality (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:8).

In the bible we find a number of different ways that Hospitality is expressed.

We have already looked at the idea of graciously receiving travellers into one’s home for food, lodging, and protection ( Gen 18:2-8 ; 19:1-8 ; Job 31:16-23 Job 31:31-32 ), but it also included permitting the alienated person to harvest the corners of one’s fields ( Lev 19:9-10 ; Deut 24:19-22 ; Ruth 2:2-17 ), clothing the naked ( Isa 58:7 ; Ezekiel 18:7 Ezekiel 18:16 ), tithing food for the needy ( Deut 14:28-29 ; 26:1-11 ), and including the those not in your religion in your religious celebrations ( Exod 12:48-49 ; Deut 16:10-14 ).

Last week we look at the idea of hospitality being around the table and sharing a communal meal.  In the ancient world, to share food with someone was to share life.

So like Abraham in our reading, we find countless examples of people sharing a meal together in the bible.

Any examples come to mind?

  • Jesus eating with sinners
  • Zacchaeus
  • Jesus’ beach BBQ
  • Peter eating with the gentiles.
  • And of course … the Last Supper.


But this image is even more powerful because the bible uses this same imagery to talk about our relationship with God.  That God wants to meet with us and share the intimacy and closeness of sharing a meal with us.

Have a look at this interesting passage from Exodus 24:1-11

This passage is at Mt Sinai, Moses has already been up and got the 10 Commandments, and now God invites Moses and the 70 elders of Israel to come up to the mountain and meat with God.  In verse 11 we find this amazing line, “… they saw God, and they ate and drank.”  God invites them up the mountain and they … ate together?

As we look across scripture we find these images of us receiving the hospitality of God through our relationship with God.  Psalm 23 … The Lord is my shepherd.  What is the ending of it?  “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  My Cup overflows”

We can go right through to the book of Revelation and the well-known verse Revelation 3:20.  Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

Can you see … this idea of hospitality is one that God uses to describe his relationship with us … that hospitality is a central part of God’s character?

Jesus built upon this with his teaching that when we are hospitable we are doing something that is godly, divine.  In Matthew 25, Jesus says that when we invite the stranger in, or feed the hungry, or give water to the thirsty, or clothe the naked, or visit the prisoner … not only are we blessing them with hospitality but it is like we are being hospitable to Jesus himself.

And then there are countless stories in the bible where people are hospitable to angels, divine beings and even to God without even realising it.  (Hebrews 13:2, Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.)  In our Bible reading, the writer keeps switching between Abraham serving 3 men … or that the visitor was God himself.

I wanted to draw a diagram of this but it doesn’t really work.  Because there are verses that talk about how God is the hospitable host – the one who provides food and clothing (“Consider the lilies” Luke 12:22-30) and yet we are also the ones called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  Jesus is portrayed at the host at the last supper and heavenly banquet and yet calls us to open the doors of our lives and be host to him.  And if that is not confusing enough Jesus is not only host and guest but also the meal itself “I am the bread of life”.  If I was drawing a diagram it would have arrows heading backward and forwards all over the place.

I guess that is the point.  Whether it is God or Jesus or us being the giver or receiver … the bible seems to be saving that hospitality should be so much part of our lives, of our communities and of our societies that giving and receiving hospitality is just part of our DNA … we just do it without even thinking.  That is radical hospitality.

I feel that I am still just scratching the surface of a biblical perspective of hospitality.  So next week I am going to continue but look at the biblical text from a much more practical perspective.  What does this actually mean in practice – to be hospitable to the stranger, to the needy.

To finish with, I want us to go back to the challenge we had before.  I don’t think that radical hospitality is one off really out there examples of generous giving but rather developing a lifestyle where you are always open to sharing with those around you and with those in need.

At the beginning of the service I got you to think about one thing you could do to be more “welcoming” or hospitable over the next month.  You don’t need to think too big.   Think about how you can have a meal with someone, bless someone who is without, encourage someone with your focus and love.

Have you all got an idea on your bit of paper?  Because I am going to ask you to do one more thing.  What is one idea that we as a church, as a faith community to grow this idea of radical hospitality.    Maybe write it on the back.

A mash of verses to conclude:

  • When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. (Romans 12:13)
  • Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:9)
  • And do not forget to do good to all and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)