by Lemuel Garcia-Arroyo, mission engagement advisor | Special to Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — “Welcome one another … just as Christ has welcomed you.” (Romans 15:7)
“Mi casa es su casa” expresses a sincere welcome to all. One hears this phrase often in Latina communities. When guests are in one’s home, they become part of one’s family.
As a child of the manse — our home during my father’s first pastorates — we lived next door to the church. As a result, there were always people “at home” who were not necessarily related to us by blood but whom we still considered part of our family. And even though our blood family lived far away, we nevertheless grew up in the company of many “cousins,” “aunts” and “uncles.” Not to mention that the church, by extension, was also our home, our family.
The familiar refrain from Psalm 23:6, “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long,” was a reality in our lives. There was something going on at church seven days a week, be it Sunday school and Sunday morning and afternoon worship and the churchwide meal that was scheduled in between. And then throughout the week there were choir rehearsals, midweek prayer and Bible study, youth group, Presbyterian Women and Presbyterian Men gatherings, events held at the church by other local organizations and Saturday church cleanup. Christian hospitality was expressed and experienced by all God’s people every day.
One of the words for “hospitality” in the New Testament Greek is philoxenia. It is a combination of phileo (kinship love) and xenos (stranger), meaning “caring for or loving strangers.” Christian hospitality also denotes agape love, which is God’s love for all people.
Sadly, the genuine welcoming of one another that has been so characteristic of Christian identity through the ages is less and less evident in society.
In a world driven by xenophobia, or fear of the stranger, we are called more than ever to extend God’s hospitality to the stranger, the poor, the ones we see as different or undeserving, even the ones with whom we disagree, and embrace all people as beloved family members.
Our call is to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. This kind of welcome becomes our opportunity to love our neighbors, near and far, as God has loved us.
Christian hospitality should reflect the ministry of Jesus extending God’s love to all God’s people. Jesus welcomed and befriended people whom we might label as undesirable and of ill repute, people with whom many wouldn’t want to be associated.
We find several instances in the gospel on how often Jesus welcomed people who were excluded. These people included sinners, lepers and foreigners, as well as those possessed by demons. Some of Jesus’ closest companions were people from the margins, the “least of these,” and also the reviled tax collectors. And it is these people from “disreputable backgrounds” with whom Jesus broke bread, one of the most tangible expressions of hospitality.
Even though God’s family may not look like us, or speak the same language, or have our same traditions or worldview, as Christians we are called to express a sincere welcome to all. May we, then, extend Christ’s extravagant and generous hospitality by embracing all God’s people and saying to them, “Mi casa es su casa.” (My home is your home.) “Mi iglesia es su iglesia.” (My church is your church.) Let us welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed us, and endeavor to dwell together in God’s house our whole lives long.
The Rev. Lemuel Garcia-Arroyo is the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s mission engagement advisor for the South region. This piece was originally published on “Where Your Heart Is…A Weekly Offerings Stewardship Blog.”
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