What place do boundaries have in our Christian world when it comes to hospitality?
In Called to Community, our community group study for this season, Christine D. Pohl writes in chapter 49, “Hospitality” that often times our churches, neighborhoods and occupations create boundaries that shut out most strangers—especially needy ones!
Unfortunately, I find that is so true in my own life. Let me explain: while I wear several hats, the hat I’ve worn the longest is that of a commercial real estate professional. I’ve dealt primarily in management and leasing of office buildings. As a property manager I am, by description, the keeper and enforcer of the building rules and regulations. Therefore, knowing when, how and with whom boundaries are to be upheld, temporarily overlooked or dismissed can be a fine line to walk. In our litigious world, setting a precedent with one person or tenant can cause negative ramifications for the building owners I’ve pledged to represent. Never is this truer than when homeless people or panhandlers windup on one of my properties. I have had one of my downtown buildings set on fire twice when they tried to warm themselves. I’ve had the homeless move into vacant suites, bathe in restrooms and set up tents behind bushes. In every case tenants and potential tenants have been made to feel uneasy about the professionalism of the building and their safety. I quickly learned boundaries must be set and followed and hospitality cannot be extended even for a short time.
Yet scripture seems to teach otherwise.
Romans 12:13 encourages us all to practice hospitality, whether it is our spiritual gift or not. 1 Peter 4:8-10 prescribes, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.”
So how should we look at boundaries when we are discussing hospitality because hospitality by definition means to have an open door policy filled with grace and generosity?
Pohl reminds us that “the wideness of God’s mercy and the generosity of God’s welcome must frame our thinking about limits and boundaries” as we live out of Jesus’ grand notion of hospitality welcoming the poor and those on the margin of society, seeing them as strangers in our midst. Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice in chapter 48, “Interruptions” state we must be ready and willing to adjust ourselves to the constant interruption of the stranger realizing we ourselves are aliens and strangers who have been welcomed into God’s kingdom through his gracious invitation.
Scripture teaches we are to pray for all spiritual gifts. But when we ask for a heart filled with generous acts of hospitality we must realize we will live in tension between the vision of God’s kingdom that is filled to overflowing in abundance and the harsh realities of the world where space and resources can be limited. And the realization that boundaries and guidelines are not often established to welcome the stranger but for the wellbeing of those being served and those within the community.
So how do I make peace with my occupation that has hard and fast boundaries when it comes to vagrants on the property? How do I make peace with my own financial, spatial and emotional limitations? How do we as a church resist boundaries that make it hard to embrace the needy ones?
I personally find solace in knowing I cannot do it all but I am called to do what I can from the resources that are mine to give. So I strive to extend hospitality in my ministry, at church and in my home.
This understanding is summed up beautifully by Edith Schaeffer of L’Abri Fellowship when she states, “When hospitality is not practiced widely in the larger society, or when resources are not distributed fairly or adequately, personal hospitality cannot respond to every need. It can, however, meet some needs; it can be a living demonstration of what is possible when people care.”
May we individually (and as a church too) live beyond the tension of this world’s boundaries as we choose to practice living a kingdom life of generous hospitality in all areas that are ours to give!