Jesus sends his disciples out into the world with this promise:
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.
Hospitality is the mark of the church;
we receive everyone as though they were Christ himself—
it is our business, it’s what we do.
In my house, near the guest rooms, I have placed two framed prints,
sayings I found posted in other places I visited as a guest.
One is from the Mennonite Guest House in Nairobi, Kenya,
where I stayed for a few days on a mission trip;
it reads, first,
Let the guest sojourning here know that in this home our life is simple. What we cannot afford we do not offer, but what good cheer we can give we give gladly.
If we really are going to welcome everyone as Christ,
then it will cost us something.
If you are going to care about the needs of others,
it’s going to take your focus off yourself.
You’ll very likely have less time and resources and comforts
to spend on yourself.
We make no strife for appearance sake.
In other words,
we don’t try to make ourselves look better than we really are;
we don’t hide our faults and foibles here, or our simplicity—
we aren’t perfect, but we are forgiven.
Know also, friend, that we live a life of labor; therefore, if at times we separate ourselves from thee, do ye occupy thyself according to thine heart’s desire.
When we welcome you into our congregations,
we welcome you into our mission.
We live a life of labor for the Lord—
our task is to build a church where everyone is welcome
and the good news of the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord is proclaimed.
Please excuse us if we are consumed with the task
of welcoming yet more others.
We will not defer to thee in opinion or ask thee to defer to us.
What thou thinketh ye shall say, if ye wish, without giving offense.
Which means, we won’t take offense,
even if your opinions are offensive to us.
We recognize we don’t have all the answers,
but we welcome all questions;
“this is a safe place, a place of faith
where it’s okay to bring your questions and doubts.”
What we think, we also say, believing that truth hath many aspects,
and that love is large enough to encompass all.
Which is to say, if you stick around we will witness to you,
we will tell you about the most important thing in our lives.
But we believe that begins with listening,
because God might be speaking to us through you.
The other saying comes from the old guest house
at the Benedictine monastery near Snowmass, Colorado.
It is a selection from The Rule of Saint Benedict,
which governs life in the monastery; it reads:
If a pilgrim monk come from distant parts, if with wish as a guest to stay in the monastery, and will be content with the customs he finds in the place, and do not perchance by his lavishness disturb the monastery, but is simply content with what he finds, he shall be received, for as long a time as he desires. If, indeed, he find fault with anything, or express it, reasonably, and with the humility of charity, the Abbott shall discuss it prudently, lest perchance God sent him for this very purpose.
Even if you come into this community of faith
and complain about everything
and start telling us what we are doing wrong,
we are to listen to you—
the abbott in particular, or in our case, the pastor—
as though it was Christ himself speaking to us.
Paying attention to you keeps us from getting too comfortable
and closing ourselves off from outside influence;
it keeps us open-minded, not only to our guests, but to God.
Probably the most well-known saying of St. Benedict is his admonition to
Welcome everyone as Christ.
Hospitality is what a church does;
we welcome everyone as Christ – it’s our business.
But it won’t do for us to sit back and just wait for guests to show up.
When Jesus says,
Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me,
he’s not suggesting we stay home and clean the house.
He’s sending us out there to look for people
who haven’t heard the good news
of the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So this is also our business as the people of God:
We are to become as good guests in the world
as we are hosts to the world.
If we are to welcome everyone as Christ,
then we are also to bear Christ’s welcome everywhere we go.
When we are a guest, or wherever we live among others,
we are to be Christ to them.
Welcome everyone as Christ, but don’t save it just for your church.
Welcoming is an attitude;
an openness to receive every child of God’s love,
an expectation that Christ is present in you,
going with you to everyone you meet,
…and waiting to meet you in the most unexpected guests.
The great invitation, the welcome Christ gives you,
is to become that kind of person,
the person you may not be by nature,
but that Christ calls you to be by the power of his Spirit.
Welcome everyone in your life as Christ.
© Paul R. Olsen