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Host or Guest?

I learned a new word this week and have already put it into practice. The word is XENIA. It is an ancient Greek concept of hospitality, translated as guest-friendship. The Greek god Zeus is sometimes called Zeus Xenios in his role as protector of strangers. We are much more familiar with the negative use of this word, as in Xenophobia, which is a fear or dislike of people from other countries or who are different from us in some way. But I prefer the positive use of the word.

Xenia is a big part of many Biblical stories. In fact, many times that we as modern western readers don’t understand a story, it’s because of xenia elements that are foreign to our culture. The story of the Good Samaritan is an example of this. We secretly wonder if we meet Jesus’ definition of a neighbor. Let’s consider several references to anchor the idea of xenia: 

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2) In the first century church, hospitality was included in the job description for leaders. Our western culture does not value this Biblical requirement for church leaders today, but what if it did? What if the church, specifically Christians, were where someone could go when they were a stranger in town or needed help? I don’t know if I’ve entertained any angels but I do know that every time I’ve shown kindness to a stranger, I’ve been blessed in some way.

Jesus said, “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; in prison, and you came to Me.” In the story the righteous asked, “When did we do these things for you?” And Jesus answered “To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-40) Truly this is one of the most sobering passages spoken by Jesus.

And going back even further in time, to the very beginnings of the Judeo-Christian faith just after the Ten Commandments were given, we read: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9) So there it is, the foundation of xenia. We understand what it is like to be a stranger because we each have been a stranger in some context. We understand what it is like to be the new kid at school, starting a job, a stranger in a town. We understand being vulnerable, unsure, lonely, or insecure. We have been a stranger in some Egypt somewhere.

In California we walk right past people—at church, in our neighborhood, standing on the corner, shopping next to us. It would be odd to talk to a stranger. But in Idaho, we have had the privilege of being the new kids in town. The number of people we know in Hailey/Ketchum, Idaho can be counted on one hand. I decided to try out my new word, xenia. At the little 4th of July parade in town, I invited people on the street to come to our home afterward for a BBQ. The hilarious thing is that they came! It turns out many people around us feel like strangers. They are grateful for hospitality. Hopefully we have deepened their definition of Christian to include xenia, a kindness toward strangers. Either way, I’m happy to meet new friends!

Check out Romans 12:13 this week. At first glance it tells us to show hospitality, but if we dig deeper, we find it expresses a command to eagerly pursue hospitality. We are called to be a host, not a guest, in almost any conversation or encounter. Pursue xenia this week and see if you are not blessed!

Next week I’ll post my monthly mashup. Be sure to subscribe to my blog and visit www.MargaretAllen.org for resources. Please share your stories of xenia in the comments. Have a beautiful week, everyone!

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The Kindness of Strangers

Our family visited a small church last month. We chatted with the couple sitting in front of us and then an amazing thing happened: they invited all five of us over for dinner! She made a beautiful ham; I brought a sweet potato casserole and we had a fantastic time. Laughing I told them, “This has never happened in California! We’ve gone to a church for years and never been invited to anyone’s home!”

When Jeff and Jodi invited us over, it reminded me of a fun story that I share in my book about a Peloton delivery and God’s honor- “as a delivery team was setting up our bike, I asked if they wanted something to drink—water or because it was a chilly morning, hot tea. One of the young men perked up and said, “I’d love a cup of tea.” He had just moved to the coast from Arizona and was cold all the time in our Northern Cal weather.  When I went into the kitchen to make his tea, I reached for a mug but distinctly felt I should give him one off the top shelf. I grabbed it and made the tea. The mug had printed on it, ‘God will always give me the victory’. I turned it so the words faced him, and said, “This is a true word for you today, my friend, God will always give you the victory. I don’t know what you’re going through, but you’re going to come out on the right side of it.”

Well, what do you think happened next? He just stared at me for an awkward ten seconds. I thought uh-oh I’ve stepped in it now! “But he let out a big sigh and said that he’d just moved to Cali after finishing a career in sports. He was trying to get his life together with a fresh start. He was wondering, even that morning, if God knew where he was.  We talked openly for a few minutes, and then I prayed a blessing over his life and plans.” (Gracious Living, p. 185)

Honoring the person in front of you doesn’t take hours or a Ph.D. It requires listening to God’s direction and caring about people.

We sat behind Jeff and Jodi this week at church and watched them graciously reach out to a visitor nearby. Seeing their warmth, humility, and generosity has caused some self-reflection over here: have I given in to shyness or self-centeredness? Are my heart and mind positioned to share the love of God and “entertain angels” as the Bible puts it? Have I missed out on ministry opportunities because I was rigidly committed to my own schedule? Didn’t Jesus say, “I was a stranger and you invited me in”? (Matthew 25:35)

These are the questions I’m pondering over here. How about you, my friend? Do you have God-encounters to share this week? If you are looking for inspiration, check out my book Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion. Find it on my website www.MargaretAllen.org or anywhere books are sold.