Table Grace (2): Divine Hospitality

by Timothy Shorey
September 16, 2020

The Original Host

Long ago, before there was time, the Original Host wanted to have a special guest over for fellowship. Having prepared the most lavish hospitality setting ever (by creating a whole new world in Genesis 1), he opened the door (Genesis 2) and welcomed in his new friend. The Host was God. The Guest, Humanity. The Home, Eden. This isn’t an imaginative portrayal of Creation, but a respectful (and joyful) interpretation of Scripture, which consistently presents God as our Host; and us as his guests in his world.

It is impossible to imagine—although it is worth trying—what Adam felt when he was breathed into existence, and first opened his eyes. Like a child at Christmas or me at a smorgasbord, he must have felt wide-eyed wonder as he surveyed the stunning hospitality of his generous Host. The Eden of Genesis 1-2 was literally delight-full, bursting with beauty and bounty. Plant life was laden with fruits, grains, herbs, and nuts (Genesis 1:29). Animals of all sorts enjoyed peaceful (and we can easily conceive, playful) co-existence (Genesis 2:19). Rivers flowed (Genesis 2:10). Goodness filled creation for the sake of human pleasure and gladness (Genesis 1:31; Acts 14:17; 1 Timothy 4:4-5; 6). God even provided a refreshing after dinner zephyr; a breeze to play softly on the skin of his guests (the Hebrew word translated “cool” in Genesis 3:8 means wind). Indeed, God thought of everything, and withheld no good thing in the most lavish welcome ever offered.

Above all, God himself was there—walking in the garden in the cool of the day—to converse with his guest (Genesis 3:8). He was a present personal Host; not a long-distance benefactor or absentee landlord. Divine hospitality was as much a matter of relationship as it was provision. There’s a hint here that should take us far in our own practice of welcome. Table grace is not merely about providing; it’s about communing and loving. Relationship is the reason for hospitality. Perhaps this explains why much later in time, the Church’s sacred meal was called a “communion” (or participation and fellowship) with Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16, 21), and why Jesus likens his relationship with the Church to his coming over for supper (Revelation 3:20). God is not our Benefactor so much as our Father and Friend.

Back to Eden, the Divine Host made sure that his guest did not feel alone (as the only guest) or uncomfortable (as a lone dust-creature in the presence of God Almighty). To that end he invited a second guest; one carefully chosen for the occasion (Genesis 2:18-25). Eve was Adam’s peer, his equal; one he could relate to, and with whom he could share the experience of God’s welcome. Anticipating that his guest’s fellowship with him would be most enjoyable when shared, the Creator provided Adam with the original perfectly suited plus-one.

Finally, God climaxed his hospitality grace by entrusting the house to the guest (Genesis 1:26-30; Genesis 2:15-18)! While still holding title to planet earth, God made Adam and Eve Lord and Lady of the house; intending them to be permanent guests; stewards of all his resources and lasting beneficiaries of all that he has. By this act, God turned the guests into hosts. He opened his heart, hand, and home to Man and Woman that together they might open theirs to the world. So began the sacred hospitality tradition that to one degree or another has marked community life everywhere, ever since.

Vestiges of Eden

We know, of course, that Eden didn’t last, since sin entered the world and ruined everything. However, vestiges of Eden remain; reminders that God is still Host and we are still guests in his house. The Creator is revealed often as the One who hosts and provides for man and beast with lavish kindness and care (Job 38:39-41; Psalm 23:5; 36:7-9; 104:4-18; 107:4-43; 132:15; 146:5-9; Matthew 5:45; 6:25-34; Acts 14:17, etc.). For however long we are alive, he gives us places to live; saying in effect, “Here is your room in my house during your sojourn in my world” (Acts 17:26; Jeremiah 27:5; Psalm 39:12).

I find the descriptions of God’s hospitality care of individuals especially affecting. He cares for the fatherless and widows, and gives food to the homeless (Deuteronomy 10:18, 19). He notices the solitary and barren, and provides them a home (Psalm 68:5, 6; 113:9). When Elijah is hungry and alone God offers food and care (1 Kings 19:4-8). And in the moment of his Son’s great hunger and need, the Father sends ministering spirits to refresh him (Mark 1:13).

Further, Paul uses the hospitality of God as an evangelism bridge to the Athenian audience (Acts 17:23-28; see also Acts 14:17). God makes the world as a dwelling place for Humankind, puts humans in it, gives humans everything, and then stays close at hand as the sustenance-source of our living, breathing, moving, and being (Acts 17:24-28). The Creator whom the Athenians viewed as distant and “unknown” (Acts 17:23) was actually their ever- and very-present Host and Provider.

Multiple biblical references to God as our dwelling place, shelter, and refuge further enhance our view of God as Host (Deuteronomy 33:27; Psalm 46:1; 90:1; 91:1). Not only does God give us our home, food, and shelter, he is our home, food, and shelter. He is the Giver and the Gift; the Provider and the Provision; the Table-setter and the Meal; the Protector and the very shelter itself. Indeed, in the refuge that he is, we “taste and see that he is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Finally, the hospitality of God includes his free welcome in the gospel (Romans 14:3; 15:7). The Father receives people from all over the world to recline at table with him (Luke 13:29). This welcome is epitomized by the truth of adoption by which God turns former enemies into family. J.I. Packer calls this spiritual adoption into God’s family love “…the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification”; and I agree. He then adds that “To be right with God the Judge [i.e.-justification] is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father [i.e.-adoption] is greater” (Packer, Knowing God, brackets added). God in Christ gives family status to all who believe (Romans 5:8-10; Ephesians 1:3-5; 2:12-19). We have been welcomed into God’s household where we now dwell in his abiding love. This is the hospitality reality for which every human welcome is a mere shadow; the original, of which every other expression of table grace is but a copy.

Bearing the Image of Our Host

Only such a theology of Divine welcome will inspire us adequately to extend welcome toward others as a way of life. To practice table grace, we need to know that we experience God’s table grace every day (Acts 14:17; Matthew 5:45). Every day we eat of his bounty, enjoy his shelter, and are given a place to call Home. Every day he offers his communion to us as his sons and daughters. And every day we anticipate the coming Day when we will be welcomed into The Father’s House; a place prepared for our everlasting joy (John 14:1-3; Psalm 23:5-6). It is only when we see God as the perfect original (and eternal) Host that we will want to be like him. Only then will we choose to open heart, hand, and home to others, so that we might reflect the image of the One who has opened his to us.

Our world most assuredly needs us to do this. We often grieve the incivility, animus, and hostility that prevail in our world. But all too often we fail to practice the God-like hospitality grace that is designed to answer and overcome it. Hospitality is a civil and civilizing tradition that is especially needed to bridge the political, cultural, generational, socio-economic, and racial chasms so deep and so wide in the Church today.

The mark of astonishing Christian grace is not that we treat our friends nicely, but that we treat our enemies with love (Matthew 5:44-48). We do not demonstrate Godlike Christian character when we stand up to our enemies in angry retaliation so much as when we welcome them, feed them, refresh them, and overcome their evil with our good (Romans 12:18-21). Hospitable welcome is a powerful transformative response to human conflict (see Romans 12:21, and also 2 Kings 6:21-23, where Elisha’s kind hospitality toward Israel’s enemies plays a part in a cessation of conflict). When we don’t practice hospitality, we reinforce walls that keep others out, and keep “what is ours”, in. When we practice it, we open home and heart to a whole new experience of reconciling love.

Eden in Our Homes

And so we are left with this: Table Grace, the ministry of hospitality, as commanded in 1 Peter 4:8 (and elsewhere), needs to be revived in our day. We have seen in these two Table Grace posts, that by way of commandment and commendation Scripture elevates hospitality highly in community life. This suggests that if we restore this ancient community practice we will do our world great good. But above all, Scripture has taught us that table grace is an honorable tradition as old as Eden; and a shining reflection of the very heart of God—which is the highest good of all.

We may think of it like this: whenever we show hospitality we reflect God’s image by re-creating a little Eden in our homes; a setting where relationships can germinate and flourish. Do not fear: our hospitality does not have to be as luxurious and lavish as God’s. But let’s be sure that it is regular, relational, and real.

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Tim is lead pastor of Risen Hope Church, a congregation in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. He is author of Respect the Image: Reflecting Human Worth in How We Listen and Talk; Worship Worthy: Alliterative Adoration ; and 30/30 Hindsight: 30 Reflections on a 30-Year Headache. He and Gayline have six grown children and 13 grandchildren. For more, scroll through this site  (www.timothyshorey.com).

 

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