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Advent Study Series, Session 2: Radical Hospitality

Session 2-Genesis 18:13-15

Advent is a season of anticipation, of waiting and of preparation. In faith, we prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of the Christ, joining the sacred journey of the holy family to the manger where the Savior will be born. Unlike the innkeeper in the Gospel of Luke, we know the guest who is coming, and prayerfully, we prepare for the Christmas morning arrival.

In the midst of this spiritual preparation, many families will be making the practical preparations for the arrival of kith and kin in their homes for the holiday festivities. The season is marked by careful planning — and lots of work! — to ready our homes for guests from near and far.

The hosting of guests in the home and at the table is a recurring event in the Bible. In one of the earliest stories, Abraham is cooling himself in the shade of the oak trees in Mamre when three strangers approach. Abraham immediately goes to meet them and invites them to stay and dine with him and Sarah. The three strangers — messengers of God on their way to Sodom — accept the invitation with a promise: Sarah, despite her advanced age, will bear a son.

It isn’t clear from the story in Genesis 18 whether Abraham knew from the start the identity of the guests he invited to his tent. For Martin Luther, the question isn’t significant. What is significant for Luther is that Abraham’s invitation is a central example of the distinctive hospitality of the people of God. Abraham’s ancestors, wanderers themselves as God brought them to the promised land, “treated all guests rather respectfully and hoped for occasions on which they themselves would associate with angels.” Luther saw in Abraham’s example a lesson for the church in all ages: In love, we are called to attend to the needs of strangers with “generous and bounteous” hospitality. To be church, for Luther, is to be “like some refuge of the exiles and the poor,” those whose well-being depends on the hospitality of others.

The uninvited guest at holiday celebrations can throw a wrench in the best-laid plans. Another place at the table must be set, another plate must be prepared. Sometimes their presence is a welcome surprise. Often, their presence is a problem that must be addressed.

How often do we treat the unexpected stranger as a problem to address rather than as a welcome surprise? Much of the rhetoric about neighbors in need makes it easy to miss the humanity of the stranger in our midst. A neighbor living in poverty becomes a statistic, a member of “the poor” whose poverty must be managed. A family seeking refuge in a new country becomes yet one more set of “migrants,” the growing numbers of which must be “dealt with.”

Around some tables this holiday season, guests will find their names written on handcrafted cards indicating their place at the table. This seemingly simple act is a powerful symbol of welcome. Here, at this table, you have an identity. You have a place. Crafting and displaying nametags is a simple yet profound act of hospitality. Hospitality, at its root, is a witness to the identity and inclusion of each person at the table. Wanderers at Mamre become “lords” at Abraham’s table. “Exiles” in Luther’s Germany become guests worth serving and protecting in the refuge of the church.

Luther links Abraham’s hospitality with the well-known line from Hebrews: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). By showing radical, abundant hospitality to the three strangers, Abraham and Sarah opened themselves up to the strangers’ revelation of their full identity as messengers of God — and to the promise of God they bring. We may not encounter angels in our community this season, but by remaining open to the strangers God sends into our midst, by keeping our spiritual “inns” open to the guests who come to our door, we can prepare for God to be revealed in the unexpected neighbors we encounter.

Hospitality means more than being polite. It means remaining open to what God is revealing to us through our neighbors — and it is a witness to the world that every neighbor is welcome at our table.

Questions for reflection

  • How does Abraham’s story shape our understanding of hospitality?
  • In what ways do our church and our larger community show hospitality toward strangers? do our neighbors experience our church as a refuge welcoming them in or as a fortress keeping them out?
  • How can the practice of hospitality be a witness to the value and dignity of all our neighbors?


Loving God,

you welcomed people into relationship with you while we were still sinners, stranger to your promise. Guide us to show hospitality to the neighbors in our midst, that our church may reflect the grace and love you first showed us. Let out open table give rise to open hearts that witness to the dignity and worth of all of your creation. In your gracious name, we pray.



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October 8-15, 2008 – Isn’t it nice to be invited?

Warm-up Question: How does it feel to be invited to something special?

It seemed like a typical Wednesday at Waukee High School. Maddie and Kaitlyn met before school at their lockers. They talked about their weekend plans. Both had planned to go out to dinner together then go to the Friday night football game. Kaitlyn was excited to talk to Maddie about the post-game party at Adrienne’s house. When she brought up the subject she could quickly recognize the look on Maddie’s face. Maddie hadn’t been invited to the post-game party. Maddie shrugged it off as no big deal and that she had to be home early on Friday anyway because of a commitment early on Saturday morning. She lied so Kaitlyn wouldn’t feel bad. The bell rang, the awkward moment ended, and the friends departed to their first classes.

Maddie spent the rest of the day in personal despair. She asked herself many questions about why she didn’t get invited. Did Adrienne not like her? Had she done something to offend her? They weren’t really that close anyway, how could she expect Adrienne to invite her? She was even a bit mad at Kaitlyn for being invited, but she realized it wasn’t her fault. Not being invited caused Maddie to feel rejection and a lack of acceptance. Her feelings were hurt. She went home and cried.

The weekend came and went. Maddie went home after the football game and her friend, Kaitlyn, headed to the post-game party. Maddie eventually got over it, but never forgot the feeling. She tried to keep this in mind when she saw others not being invited to events that she was invited to.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever not been invited to something you wanted to go to? Have you ever been invited to something you didn’t want to go to?
  • What do you think Kaitlyn felt when she learned that Maddie wasn’t invited?
  • How do you think you would have responded?
  • What can we do as Christians to invite others?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 12, 2008.
(Text links are to oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Scripture Reflection

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the story of a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sends out the message to those who he hopes will come. His messengers depart to go and tell them that the feast is ready. The king’s invited guests respond in different ways. Some ignore his invitation, some leave, some go about their business, and some even mistreat the messengers inviting them to the banquet. The king realizes that those who he has invited are unworthy and sends his messengers to gather people from the streets and fill the hall with guests; making those who seem unworthy, worthy.

Christ invites us all into the banquet of heaven with him. What a great and generous invitation! It feels so good to be invited. Christ gives us this invitation into a relationship with him yet many people turn down the invitation of the Holy Spirit to live their lives alongside Jesus and guided by him. When Christ is trying to speak to you how do you respond? Do you continue about your business? Do you ignore it or leave? Do you mistreat those who may be speaking the good news to you, just because you don’t want to hear it?

Acceptance and love is something that all people crave at the core of their being. With Christ, acceptance and love are continuously extended to us. As Christians, we are invited to share this acceptance with others. We have the opportunity to live fearlessly, knowing that we are loved and part of Christ’s kingdom. We are accepted by Christ and never rejected. Living fearlessly through our acceptance gives us the courage to share the good news with others, including — and especially — people in need of hope, healing, God’s love, and new life.

Discussion Questions

  • What is one way Christ speaks to your heart?
  • How do you respond to his invitation?
  • Do you think that living a life of acceptance in Christ enables us to live fearlessly? What things in life can cause us to back away from living our faith boldly, fearlessly? What things or people stir up our strength and courage of faith to live fearlessly?

Activity Suggestion

  • Have an intergenerational congregational birthday party. Send out invitations for all ages. Assign people to sit at intergenerational and family-mixed tables based on the month of their birth. Have a devotion led by different age people, play games, eat cake, and celebrate the diversity of life experiences.
  • Send letters to your congregation’s shut-ins. Offer an invitation to go and visit them. Go visit!

Closing Prayer

Blessed Savior, thank you for inviting us to your kingdom. Help us to remember to invite others, knowing that there are great gifts and blessings in this invitation. Bless those who feel like they live their lives on the fringe or are rejected or disconnected. Enable us to extend graciousness and generosity to their lives. In your name we pray. Amen

Contributed by Angie Larson
Clive, IA