The Hospitality of God

Gordon Smith Ambrose University President
Practicing Hospitality: In this blog series, President Gordon T. Smith explores the topic of Practicing Hospitality. Dr. Smith offers insights and personal reflections on the dynamics of offering hospitality as Christians, and the importance of this spiritual practice in today’s diverse world. This series is published bi-monthly, on the 1st and 15th.

The Hospitality of God

Second, in a series of eight reflections on the meaning of hospitality

When we think of the practice of hospitality—and specifically the call of the church to be hospitable, both towards one another and towards the world—it is imperative that we locate this call and what this means for us within the Gospel. By this I mean the following: that few things so embody the Gospel, in the life and witness of the church, as this practice. When we are hospitable we are living in the dynamic that is a reflection of the hospitality of God towards us. As the Apostle Paul puts it in Romans 15:7 – we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us [Rom 15:7]. The very heart of the Gospel—the good news—is that God has acted with stunning generosity towards the world, towards those who had rejected God [see Romans 5:8]. God was magnanimous; God welcomed us in Christ.

And now we are called to, in like manner, be hospitable towards one another and towards the world, as Christ has welcomed us. When we are hospitable, then, we are not only speaking the Gospel; we are enacting the Good News of God’s generosity towards the world in Christ Jesus. Thus our hospitality is a living expression or embodiment of the Gospel. If we truly believe and feel that God has shown us a generous hospitality, it will be evident in our hospitality towards another. And in this way we get something of what Leslie Newbigin means when he speaks of the church as the hermeneutic of the Gospel.

Can the Christian community learn this and practice this? Can we appreciate that learning what it means to be hospitable puts everything else we do in context: that Christian communities are marked by a radical hospitality—across the full spectrum of all the ways in which we are called to cultivate a connection, to cultivate community, to be a living witness to the love of God? Among older and younger, and across the divides of race, ethnicity and political and ideological differences. What should surprise the world is our radical hospitality towards each other which stands in dramatic contrast to the deep polarizations within our social context.

And in particular, I wonder if institutions of higher education that self-identify as intentionally Christian communities, like Ambrose University, are well positioned to show that this can be done, that this must be done. On the one hand, this is something that is integral to our mission—as a core value, essential to our vision for the work to which we are called. That is, when we think about the mission and vision of what it means to be a Christian university, could it be that hospitality is the fundamental and essential soil of this work—the air we breathe?  That—and we have to get this—hospitality is not just one of the things we do, even though it is not our mission. But it is essential to our mission, to our capacity to do what we are called to do. Either we get this, or perhaps, in a sense everything we are called to be and do is compromised. Putting it more positively, to the extent that we do this and do it well, everything we do bears greater fruit.

And more, if this is basic spiritual practice, then it also follows that this is something we would long to see cultivated in the life, work and witness of each of our students: that they would know what it means to welcome another as Christ has welcomed them, that they would know what it means to welcome the stranger. That they would know that this matters and long to be a hospitable person.

If this happens, it is not merely a matter of resolve or determination—though resolve and determination are, of course, needed. But rather the point is this: we are a hospitable people because we learn to dwell in the generous hospitality of God. Having known God’s hospitality, we can do no other.