A Welcoming Heart
Last month I presented hospitality as the best context for effective evangelism. Today I will write about living a welcoming life. Jesus lived such a life. He set the pattern for us. We desire to be the kind of students who are like our teacher (6:40). This reasoned progression of thought gives me pause to wonder (as I hope you will) whether or not we are living a welcoming or open-hearted life.
I imagine that the welcoming life Jesus lived is both divine in origin as well as culturally ordained. By divine origin I mean that Jesus lived a totally open-hearted life in the community we call God. His prayers indicate a welcoming oneness or open-heartedness within the Trinity. God the welcoming Trinity creates humanity. How God lives is expressed in all he does. We are in the image of God, and therefore, an aspect of our lives is open-hearted living. Our welcoming God creates a welcoming garden for us. This is his invitation for us to share his open-hearted life. We till it and cultivate it for the benefit of others. This is open-hearted living. The temple, like the garden is God’s house to which he invites his people to be in his presence. In Christ we have become the Temple of God.
By culturally ordained I mean that Jesus inherited manners and customs of hospitality developed long ago into the very fibers of life of Semitic peoples. Thus Abraham (assuming a Semitic origin) opens his heart to three visitors (Gen.18) spreading before them the most sumptuous buffet he could afford. Jesus’ mother opened her heart to the strange news of hosting the Son of God in her womb and preparing him for his mission (notice that her prayer—Luke 1:46-56—sets the pattern for Jesus’ open-hearted ministry). Joseph welcomes Mary despite the malaise he knew by his welcome of her. Culturally Jesus inherited an open-hearted life.
We see his open heart on display in the Gospels. He lived a welcoming life even when others hosted him. Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house (Luke 19:5) then played host to him. Jesus is hosted by Lazarus where he played host to Mary who sat at his feet. This comforting passage expresses supremely our open-hearted Master: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mat. 11:28-30).
Culturally, in America, we are told we are too individualistic. If this is true in general (opinions are legion here) it ought not to be true of the people of God. After all we are a PEOPLE called by God, we are the BODY of Christ, we are FAMILY, etc…
In imitation of Christ we say to the world and to one another in the church: “Come unto me…” This is imitative open-hearted living. We open access to our lives and our resources to others (the people of God are doing just that in Greensburg, Kansas, for example). We long that others become part of our life in community. “I will give you rest…” We are given the grace of fellowship which enables us to give rest rather than unrest. How often words escape my mouth and cause unrest rather than rest? A wonderful prayer goes like this: “Be in the heart of each to whom I speak; in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.” “Take my yoke upon you …” As Christ invites us to share his burden, and to share ours, we also must live open-heartedly sharing burdens. We receive the yoke of Christ, which is easy and light; he receives our heavy burdens. Let’s give those we invite into our lives our easy and light yoke, and in turn opt to receive their heavy burdens. This is life that is welcoming.
Some time ministry “success” can interfere with open-hearted living. The problem is with the definition of success we give. If size of ministry defines success, we may be choosing to live close-heartedly. Jesus was never enamored by size of crowds. Even people crowded him with accolades, he remained welcoming to children, the sick (Luke 8:40-56). Better to measure success with largesse of heart than large budgets! Of course success in attracting crowds and high budgets need not be opposed to living a welcoming life. Yet living open heartedly takes diligence, discipline, and intentionality. Need I remind us of our all too-prevalent human tendencies?
Hospitality must take precedence over other aspects of our lives. When we are hospitable we are imitative of our Master. He called us to create a place of welcome in our hearts for others. He calls us to generous sharing of all we are and have; to welcome the stranger and the neighbor as he has.
Open-hearted living is subject to abuse. Yet despite the dangers of abuse or misuse of our welcoming life by others, walking with our Master demands sacrificial endurance even when others take advantage of us. The second mile of open-hearted living even when the first mile is already fraught with risk is the call of the one who bids us to come and die with him so others may live. Open-hearted living may be death to our wills, but is life to others in the church and outside the church: “Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).
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