Here is a picture of the famous icon by Andrei Rubelev, a Russian monk in 15th century. The icon is based on a story from the book of Genesis called Abraham and Sarah’s Hospitality or The Hospitality of Abraham from Genesis 18:1-8. Here we read that Abraham ‘was sitting at the door of his tent in the heat of the day’ by the Oak of Mamre and saw three men standing in front of him, who in the next chapter were revealed as angels. ‘When he saw them, Abraham ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth.’ Abraham ordered a servant-boy to prepare a choice calf, and set curds, milk and the calf before them, waiting on them, under a tree, as they ate. In the background, Rublev painted a house (supposedly Abraham’s house), a tree (the Oak of Mamre), and a mountain (Mount Moriah). The painting is full of symbolism and is interpreted as an icon of the Trinity. But it is essentially a picture of hospitality.
In January, Jim and I were showing a woman we had met through the Reading Christian Network around the Abbey Baptist Church building. She runs a Christian charity and she is hoping to establish a Christian Arts venue somewhere in the town. We shared with her our vision for Abbey Baptist Church to develop as a Community Hub Church seeking strategic partnerships to build a place for ministry and care for the marginalised and needy. We feel that by taking part in the Bed 4 Night Night-Shelter scheme for the homeless in the centre of Reading for the months of January, February and March this year we have taken a step in the right direction. We also shared with her the fact that three other churches also meet on our premises on Sundays for worship and on other evenings for prayer. The lady then turned to us and said that she really felt that God had given Abbey Baptist Church a special Gift of Hospitality.
Hospitality can be defined as the practice of welcoming, sheltering, feeding and caring for those who come to our door. It is about building relationships, in an open, honest and generous way – with no thought of gain for ourselves. Hospitality is simply sharing what we have and who we are with whomever God sends. God sent us another church that we could bless at the end of February. Kharis Church has been planted from a large London congregation and meets at the central Salvation Army. The average age is 16. I met the pastor Rose Sintim at Reading College and at Churches Together in Central Reading. She needed a baptistery to baptise up to 11 young people. We offered her ours at Abbey Baptist Church and some of us had the blessing of witnessing five baptisms. It was a joy to offer this young church our hospitality and a privilege to be part of their embryonic story.
It is after all, as Jesus himself said, more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Jesus modelled perfect hospitality. He did not just seek to meet physical needs, but he moved beyond seeking to meet the deeper needs of those who came to him (Matthew 15:32-39). The Apostle Paul exhorts us to show hospitality to others, Romans 12:13: ‘Share with God’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.’ It is an important Christian virtue (see 1 Peter 4:9; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8).
The most important gift of welcome simply says, I love you, I have prepared a place for you and you are welcome. Whoever anyone is, no matter what they have done, God’s heart is full of compassion for them and by his grace ours can be as well. We can share our hearts and lives with others, and may God touch people through us as we exercise the Gift of Hospitality, he has blessed us with.