I had the privilege of a close relationship with my Great Aunt Betty. My grandmother died when my mom was 12 so I never knew her. Aunt Betty stepped in and was like a grandmother to me.
From the time I was 8 or 9 years old, I would travel to her home in Toccoa, Georgia to spend several weeks during the summer. It was such a wonderful experience that I would be overcome with anticipation as my mom and I made the trip to her home for my annual visit.
I still remember pulling up the hill of her brick-lined drive where her white brick home stood, framed by emerald grass with dozens of pots full of red geraniums. In spite of the beautiful façade of her home, absolutely everyone entered from the back door. Everyone in Toccoa knew and loved my Aunt Betty, and all who visited were backdoor guests.
My Aunt Betty was the epitome of hospitality. She realized how much I loved a particular bedroom in her home, and it became my home away from home. With pale mauve linens and silk drapes, I felt like a princess in that room. And for three weeks, she treated me like one.
Each morning I would awaken to the smells of bacon frying in her bright yellow kitchen. Fresh fruit would be cut and placed in a crystal bowl on the dining room table. Yes, that’s right, the dining room table. My eight-year-old self would sit in Aunt Betty’s lovely, mahogany paneled dining room and I would survey her beautiful table overcome with anticipation as breakfast was served. Aunt Betty made me feel like one-in-a-million.
And I never knew who would wind up at Aunt Betty’s table for meals. Neighbors, business associates and those down on their luck would join us for dinner, and she would let me help plan the menu. I remember thinking that some day I would be just like my Aunt Betty, bringing out the best of what I had for my guests. Aunt Betty treated me like a cohost, and we would spend wonderful hours discussing what the best fresh vegetables were that month as we planned a delicious meal for an eclectic group of neighbors, friends and those in need.
My job would be to set the table, and I would open her linen and flatware chest to begin the process of making it look pretty. I was fascinated that we would always use her beautiful silver flatware, even if our guests were children from the neighborhood. Aunt Betty taught me that we should never save our best for special occasions. We should bring out our best for those we love and treat them like honored guests.
My Aunt Betty died at age 98 after a life well-lived. Her legacy was one of love, and charity and hospitality. A devout Christian, she treated all with kindness. I can close my eyes and remember how her blue eyes would sparkle, even as she fought Parkinson’s disease. I never once heard her complain or say an unkind thing. And everyone was welcome at her home and her table.
As I look back fondly on my days with Aunt Betty, I am reminded of the early Church and what it teaches us about hospitality. Hospitality is grounded in Christian principles.
Pastor Joe Skillen of Peachtree Presbyterian Church taught on a recent Sunday that “Hospitality is the central theme of the Christian faith. Those who follow Jesus should have the posture of hospitality.”
Luke shows us in the book of Acts that the good news that Jesus died and rose again should not be confined to one place or one people, but was intended by God for all. In Acts 2: 42-47 we learn that believers worshipped together regularly at the Temple each day, met in small groups in homes for Communion, and shared their meals with great joy and thankfulness, praising God.
Did you know that deacons came about in the early Church to make sure every single person in their midst was fed? If the early Church had any extra lumber it would be used to build a longer table, not a higher fence (1 Tim 3:2; 5:9).
Just as my Aunt Betty was the archetype of hospitality, the New Testament teaches us that the closed off, unconcerned, self-centered life is the opposite of the faithful life. We are called as Christians to welcome a hurting humanity to our table, serving them as we would Christ himself.
In our busy lives, we often look toward the church to provide opportunities to experience and provide hospitality, but for early Christians, it was the home…that most personal of spaces…that provided the setting to experience loving, Christian fellowship.
Let us pray this week that God opens our hearts and minds, that through our actions we create opportunities for others to be touched by God through our hospitality.
Prayer for today: Father God, create in me a heart for hospitality. Let my home be a place where Christian love can be experienced by all who enter. Teach me the importance of letting my home be a haven for those in need, even when they can’t invite me back. Help me to love your people in a way that glorifies you. In Jesus name, Amen.
Verses for a deeper dive:
Luke 14: 12-14
Romans 12: 10, 13
1 Peter 4: 8-9
3 John 1: 5
Philemon 1: 7