Here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners, you never know what might appear on the menu for dinner.  (Did he say menu? (Disclaimer: There is no real menu for dinner at FBHWOS.  That’s not a real thing.))  I am certainly not the only cook nor the best, but I am, in some seasons, the main cook.  And we are known for experimentation.

But we always cook with love and welcome as the main ingredient.

Waaaaaaay back before we played host to foster children, this home hosted street homeless – especially one winter in particular.  There was this one married couple who were our main featured guests during that time, and after spending night after night with us for about a month, they put their nickels and dimes together and insisted on treating us to supper.

They bought all the needed items to make chili (if I recall it right), and then they took over the kitchen.  I don’t recall how good the food was, but I definitely tasted the love in it.

The main thing I remember is how vulnerable we felt as these nice people wanted to express their gratitude with a token of favor they might return us.  They took over the kitchen, our kitchen.  But they worked hard to produce a meal, a feast, we all enjoyed together.  It was a unique experience.

It’s a strange feeling to have guests in your home even normally.  All manner of little things are different.  Someone needs a bathroom in the night, and you hear unusual noises as a guest bumps around in the dark looking for the door.  That kind of thing.

But when you host strangers (who does that???) or even friends of a strata you normally would not expect to keep in your home over night (like a homeless couple from church) in your mind, you start assigning meanings behind certain noises.

Allow me to illustrate: I recall a time when my grandfather came to visit back when I was a child.  He spent several nights with us, but every bed in the house was taken, yet he had a cot mattress he placed on the floor.  In the night he was bitten by a bug which he believed to be a scorpion.  The hunt for the critter woke the whole house, but no one held any level of suspicion about the interruption of our slumber.  He was Grandpa!  He was one of us.

On the other hand, a homeless couple waking in the night in need of the bathroom, bumping a lamp off the end table in the dark, rouses not only sleepers, but suspicions.  Of course, the explanation for the noise was simple enough that the suspicion was quickly quelled, but… had it been Grandpa, there would not have been any at all.

Why do I mention any of that?

Oh, yeah.  Watermelon Pizza.

Okay, I am getting to that.

So… here’s the thing: I’ve come to see just how biblical and how world-transformative hospitality shown to strangers really is.  In fact, maybe I don’t actually see it for all it’s worth yet!  (Heb. 13:2, anyone???)

Yeah.  There’s a vulnerability there, a mystical vulnerability.  You make yourself vulnerable to strangers so you can entertain God.  Basically, you make yourself vulnerable to God, and he comes, not merely into your heart (like asking God into your heart in some esoteric and metaphoric exercise of “faith”), but into your home, among your loved ones, getting his hands on your stuff (yeah, into your heart in THAT sense).

Hmmm… Hebrews 13:2.

It turns out I am not alone in seeing Abraham and Sarah packed up in that verse.  John Koenig, a leading, Christian, Bible scholar attending to hospitality sees it too (among others, (Christine Pohl and Joshua Jipp)).  I only mention him so that I can demonstrate that I am not alone, not out on some theological limb by myself here.  When the writer of Hebrews instructs Christians to show hospitality to strangers because “some have entertained angels unaware,” he has Abe and Sarah in mind specifically.

There’s a lot of things that connection holds together, really, but one I want to point out is how much Bible is now framed between these two passages.  That’s a lot of history and content between these two passages that very nearly frame the whole world.  That might not seem like a particularly strong observation at first, but it is the simple way of getting to the same point: hospitality plays an integral role in God’s redemption of creation all through history.  Hebrews 13:2 reveals this is how we too might just host God in our fallen world.

There are many features to hospitality, some more important than others, some optional while others are necessary.  For instance, it’s not hospitality if you are not welcomed, and usually that involves an invitation.  The most central feature of hospitality is the shared meal.  It would be a gross miscarriage of kindness if I invited you to my house at lunch time to watch my kids and I eat while not sharing some with you.

In fact, no one even thinks of such a thing – it is so repugnant.

That is no one thinks of it except in a religious setting.

But let’s put hospitality in the religious setting where it belongs.  At the center of the worship assembly is the Eucharist, the meal God gives us, the meal that actually is his own broken body and spilt blood.  Jesus is meeting us THERE!

We see in Luke 24:35 that Jesus is revealed to his hosts in the breaking of the bread.  His hosts invited a stranger to stay and eat with them, thus they entertained the Risen Lord unaware (unaware that is until the breaking of the bread) putting them in company with Abe, Sarah, and the assembly addressed by the writer of Hebrews.

But wait, there’s more!

This not only puts those disciples in the good company of Abe, Sarah, and the writer of Hebrews, but also in company with Lot, with Rehab, with the seventy elders of Israel on the mountain with Moses, and with Manoah and his wife (among others).  We see these people hosting and eating with God and finding salvation.  This stuff is literally everywhere in the Bible, each story, each passage stitching a theological quilt of redemption covering everything!

But wait, there’s more still!

Notice that Jesus sends out his disciples (in one passage the Twelve, in another, the Seventy) instructing them to “take nothing with you… stay with those who host you… eat what they serve….”  Their mission trip is about spreading the gospel and casting out demons!  In fact Luke tells us, upon their return from the mission, that Jesus saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning!  And by far, most of the instruction for these disciples about their mission is not how to preach, not how to raise money, not how to be a good leader, not how to build a program, not how to do charity, not even the miraculous power of casting out the demons.  On the contrary, Jesus instructs them to be good guests of the hospitality they will enjoy as they proclaim and cast out demons.


This is already starting to sound like something far afield of the formal education and training I paid (and still pay) for to prepare me for Christian ministry.  It also is far afield of my experience with worship where the meal is reduced to a crumb of cracker and a thimble of grape juice – hardly a meal – and where it is closed off from the guests, the strangers, I am supposed to invite.

Okay… so… Watermelon Pizza.

We sometimes, in this house, find ourselves short one or two ingredients for this or that dish we intend to prepare for the next meal.  Sometimes we find substitutes and “make do” with what we have.  Sometimes we just get a little playful and make strange messes.  I recall one time when we cooked rice, all steamy and fluffy, and then added it to the cake mix to see how it would be eating a “rice cake.”  (Don’t try it.  Take my word for it.)

What can I say?  It was fun trying it.  But in the end, it was basically just a mess that no one wanted to eat.  I have made several cakes that didn’t really get eaten that way.  But that’s another story.

One of the meals we tend to like a lot, and one we get creative with frequently, is homemade pizza.  They used to have a pizza joint in Abilene when I was in school there that made a specialty pizza that was just not like anywhere else I ever found.  The place is gone now, but their house pizza was legendary, and so they opened a couple joints in Dallas too.

I have no idea why the place closed up.  It was always packed when I was living there.  So sad to see it gone.  And sometimes I try to experiment and approximate their pizza.  I have never perfected it.  I don’t know what their secret was, but I have tried some weird ideas in my pursuit of pizza happiness.

But it dawns on me that I would never, never, never top a pizza with watermelon.  I wouldn’t use peanut butter either.  In fact, I wouldn’t use Lucky Charms either (though Ranch Style Beans is surprisingly not too bad!)

I know, because I could plainly see most of the toppings on that Crystal’s Pizza, what they topped it with.  However, the recipe for the crust and/or the particular season salts they used still escape me.  But… but can you imagine putting watermelon on your pizza?

Yeah.  That would be a mess.  Wouldn’t come close to Crystal’s.  It would destroy any effort at pizza, I think.

This is why I am talking about hospitality so much.  The way we do church and ministry is just not really like what Jesus sends his disciples out to do, not like he himself does, not like we find all through the Bible.  St. Paul establishes churches all over the empire, and it’s not merely incidental, I think, that they meet in people’s homes.  They are “house churches” as we would call them today.

There is something deeply redemptive about hospitality, but we seem to prefer training preachers and pastors to be good speakers, leaders, and well versed in fundraisers.  We prefer a grand cathedral to a humble, hospitable domicile.  We prefer the “mall of god” to Aunt Bea’s kitchen table.

Jesus goes ahead to prepare us a room.  He is preparing a room for his disciples who bring the gospel with them to the world, who are prepared to bring the gospel because they TAKE NOTHING WITH THEM.  They come needy, expecting to stay.  The church is told to host strangers, because in so doing they will host God and his angels.

There’s an interplay there.  A mystery of salvation, the same salvation that saved Lot from hellfire and saved Rehab when the walls came down.  There’s a vulnerability elicited there between strangers as a guest learns to trust the host who will feed and lodge them and as the host learns to trust a guest to be gracious in receiving hospitality – also watching for God to be revealed in them!

Funny thing: When we engage in authentic, risky hospitality, strangers (even if they don’t speak the same language) know something about the roles they undertake vis-a-vis one another, and they honor the vulnerability eliciting more and deeper welcome into each other’s lives.

You don’t get this with Watermelon Pizza.

Hmmm… and yet there is still loads of room in this for a bit of playful experimentation.

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