Recently, as my son Neil and I were returning to New Orleans from visiting my mom in north Alabama, I said, “Let’s try to make church at Eutaw. That’s where Grandpa Henderson grew up.”
We called ahead and found out that their Sunday morning service began at 11 a.m., ideal for us. We walked in at a quarter till, and took our seats.
We had a drive of some 7 hours that day, but I had told Neil, “If anyone other than the pastor invites us to lunch, we’ll say ‘no.’ But if he does, I’d like to do it.”
Anyone who knows me knows my love for pastors. I’m always glad to meet a brother laboring in the Lord’s work.
Not that we knew anyone at that church. But I figured that my son had distant relatives in the congregation, for one thing, and for the other, I know small-town Southern hospitality.
We ate with the pastor that day. Rick Williams assured us his wife had made a great lasagna and salad, and that she and her mother and their adult daughter would not be there, that they were attending some function at a nearby town immediately after church. She had even suggested that he invite us to lunch.
Hospitality. It’s a great concept, particularly if you are away from home and on the road.
In the old days, hospitality was an essential of life. In a time when and in countries where few hotels and restaurants existed, you depended on the kindness of strangers.
Pastor Adrian Rogers was speaking for a week of services in a church I pastored. At one point, he said, “Joe, do you ever get up to Memphis?” I said, “Once in a while.” He said, “Well, my friend, when you come to Memphis, don’t ever worry about a place to stay or a place to eat.”
“We have some of the finest restaurants and hotels you’ve ever seen.”
Great line. Not what I was expecting.
He was just making a funny, but the joke makes a good point: with the hospitality industry (that’s what it’s actually called) occupying such a prominent position in the economic life of this country, we’re no longer dependent on people opening their homes to strangers as in the old days.
That’s good. And yet we’ve lost something.
God said to Israel, “An alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34).
In the New Testament, the word translated “hospitality” is “philoxenia,” literally “love of strangers.”
Our English word “hospitality” is uncomfortably close to “hospital” for good reason: they go back to the same parent, the Latin “hospitalis,” originally a place of rest and entertainment. Other offspring of this parent are “host,” the one extending this welcome treatment, and “hostage,” which formerly meant entertainment. “Hospice” and “hostels” retain some of the original meaning of the Latin word.
Missionaries tell us the concept of hospitality is alive and well in many countries of the world, and constitutes a vital element in their ministry.