Holiness in Extending Welcome

Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” I’ve been thinking about this verse, because I have so appreciated the warm welcomes and hospitality I’ve received as a newcomer to this area. I am the new pastor at Orfordville Lutheran Church and the newest addition to “The Pastor’s Corner.” Since moving here, people have invited us into their homes, fed us, shown us around, and shared their stories. As a stranger to these parts, I am so thankful for this kindness.

Now, to be clear, I am not confusing myself for an angel (by no means!) as in this verse from Hebrews, but I do believe something holy is at work when we extend welcome to people we do not know and to those who are different from ourselves. Something holy happens when strangers are transformed into friends.

Instead, we are often taught to fear the stranger and those who are different from ourselves. We begin dividing the world into us and them, theirs and ours, insider and outsider. We can fall into the trap of surrounding ourselves only with people who look like us, think like us, and share the same experiences as us. For example, according to a 2013 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 75% of white Americans do not have any close friends who are people of color. Divided by race or economic class or life experience, we remain strangers. Also, in our politically divided country and state, we seem to have ceased listening to one another across party lines. If we choose, we can surround ourselves only with those people and media outlets that share our political views. Instead of listening to the story and experience of a stranger, we stick to our own.

The biblical value of hospitality stands in stark contrast to this fear. Throughout the Bible, God calls us to show hospitality beyond our friends, family, and national boundaries. In Deuteronomy 10:19, for example, God commands, “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” When we remember those times where we’ve been outsiders ourselves, we may find compassion for those on the edges of our communities. In the New Testament, Jesus says that whenever we welcome the stranger it is as if we are welcoming him (Matthew 25: 31-40).

What do we miss when we neglect to show hospitality to strangers, when we stick only to what’s comfortable? We might miss a holy encounter. God calls us beyond our fears into daring hospitality. In the process, we might entertain angels unknowingly or encounter the presence of Christ in the face of another. As a recent newcomer, I know the power of feeling welcomed, and I feel challenged to extend that welcome to others. I truly look forward to getting to know the people and communities of our new home.

Note: This post originally appeared in the Brodhead Free Press and the Independent Register as part of their weekly “Pastor’s Corner” column.