Another Seat at the Table - The Spiritual Practice of Hospitality


Reading: Matthew 25:31-46

When was the last time you went to a dinner party or hosted one?

What did you eat?

Who was there sitting at the table with you?

What’s happening when we eat together, why is it something that as humans we love to do together?

There are lots of ways of thinking about eating and drinking together.

1) One way to think about it is the mentality that “food is fuel.” Calories in, calories out. Food then is a simple transaction. I have a friend who views food very much like this. He told me it was because he was so busy when studying at medical school that he learned to treat food this way – as simple sustenance. The fact that we are together when we eat is in this view merely a convenience about shared distribution of calories.

2) Another way to think about food is to think about it as “entertainment”. If you’re channel surfing this week it won’t take you long at all to find a TV show about food. “The Great Kiwi Bake Off”, “Master Chef”, “My Kitchen Rules”, “Chef’s Table.” The list goes on. In these shows people compete to make the tastiest and the most impressive food to be judged by critics. It’s about presentation, flavour, and above all entertainment.

3) We might think the table is important because it is a space for conversation. As we eat and drink together it brings us around a shared space to chat with each other. Eating together is one of the most powerful ways to build relationships. There’s something that happens around the table that brings people closer together. Many of our most memorable conversations will be over a meal.

But do we think of eating and drinking as a spiritual discipline? Do we think about the table as a place of worship?

Over the past few weeks we have been looking at spiritual practices that bring us into deeper relationship with God and one another and this morning we are looking at the practice of hospitality.

One Jewish Rabbi has said that “hospitality is one form of worship.”

A crucial story to a Jewish understanding of hospitality is the story of Abraham and Sarah entertaining three angelic strangers. (Genesis 18).

In this story we see model hospitality as Abraham and Sarah go out of their way to provide food, drink, and a place to stay for their guests. In this story as they do this, they encounter God in their midst.

At the heart of Christian worship there is a table.

Week in and week out we gather, and we share a meal. We break bread, and we drink wine.

This comes from Jesus’ command to do this in remembrance of him.

The early church’s most significant meeting wasn’t church as we know it but rather a shared meal.

The earliest disciples followed the example of Jesus in this.

We see Jesus do lots of things in the Gospel. Jesus prays, teaches, heals, and he spends a lot of time eating. He invites himself to meals with all kinds of people.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus talks about hospitality. He uses the image of the banquet table as a picture of God’s kingdom. All are invited to come and sit at the table.

On one occasion Jesus says this:

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbours, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14:12-14)

I think here that we see Jesus’ central understanding of hospitality.

When we have a dinner party who are we inclined to have it with?

Our friends, right? Then in return, they might have us over for dinner in reciprocal fashion.

Who are our friends? Most often they are people that are just like us. They are the people we agree with, get along with, share views about life with. Our friends are often the people we feel most comfortable with.

But Jesus says, don’t just have dinner with your friends. Don’t just limit hospitality to those who will share it with you.

Jesus says: “open the table up.”

Biblical hospitality is not about entertaining friends but rather it’s about serving strangers and in doing so encountering God.

One pastor, Tim Chester, puts it this way:

“The focus of entertaining is impressing others; the focus of true hospitality is serving others.”

What’s hospitality about then? It’s about serving others and in doing so we encounter God’s love in our midst.

This week many of us have undertaken the World Vision Matthew 25 challenge.

This challenge reminds us that today we live in a global village. We live in a world where some tables are abundant with food, laden with every kind of delight and other tables are practically empty.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 invite us to see the opportunity to offer hospitality. Matthew 25 makes the point that to be a truly spiritual person, to be a faithful follower of Jesus is to be a hospitable person.

Matthew 25 gives us a picture of the day of judgement in which Jesus will say: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

True worship is presented here as showing hospitality.

One early church father put it this way:

“Lift up and stretch out your hands, not to heaven but to the poor; for if you stretch out your hands to the poor, you have reached the summit of heaven. But if you lift up your hands in prayer without sharing with the poor, it is worth nothing ... Every family should have a room where Christ is welcomed in the person of the hungry and thirsty stranger. The poor are a greater temple than the sanctuary; this altar the poor, you can raise up anywhere, on any street, and offer the liturgy at any hour." - St John Chrysostom

In the Western church in general our tables are overflowing with abundance. I believe that according to the teachings of Jesus around hospitality we are called to share.

The image of the table is a beautiful one because it is not just about giving food. It is about sharing in relationship. It is an invitation to get to know the poor in our midst, to share food, conversation, and prayer.

Biblically, to give and to receive hospitality is to enter into relationship.

This morning we have been issued an invitation.

We are invited to show hospitality to one another and particularly to the poor.

We have an opportunity to make room at our table for at least one more. Sponsoring a child is a tangible and immediate way we can show hospitality to those in need globally, and we may think too this morning of someone we know personally who could benefit from sharing a meal.

This morning may we open up our tables. May we practice hospitality and in doing so may our relationships be deepened – with God and with our neighbours who are deeply loved by Him and made in His image. Amen.

Anna Brenssell