After the little ones were asleep, the three of us would quietly tip toe to the top step and listen to the conversations, laughter and music which wafted up the stairs. Sometimes my mother would appear with a little smile and hand us a plate of goodies. I remember my feelings of joy and contentment as I watched my parents so lovingly care for their guests. Those were the first seeds planted in my heart about the meaning of gracious hospitality.
One of the strongest foundations of the early Christian church was hospitality. House churches were the first churches. Is it any wonder that God would use the home as the sacred gathering space for early Christians? It was in those homes that the seeds of God’s word were planted and began to flourish. In those sacred spaces all who gathered would share conversations and care for one another as their faith emerged inspired by a man called Jesus. His life and teachings which were shared by his disciples became nourishment for early believers.
In today’s reading from Acts, we experience a marvelous story of early Christian hospitality. The disciples had traveled to Philippi where they spent some time. They journeyed to the river outside the city gate looking for a place to pray and met a group of women who had gathered there. One of them was a woman named Lydia, a textile dealer. She listened to their compelling words, and felt her heart open to their reflections. She then proceeded to be baptized along with her household. Following her baptism, Lydia extended her gracious hospitality to the disciples inviting them to stay in her home. “Lydia was Paul’s first European convert, a single person who was head of a household, and a merchant in cloth dyed purple.” Women of the Word by Mary Lou Sleevi. “…purple cloth was a luxury item for the wealthy…Her business therefore put her in contact with the elite of Philippi. Her offer of her home as a missionary center and the information that she was the head of her household suggest that Lydia was wealthy herself… Acts suggests that Lydia’s house quickly became a center of the Philippian church…” Women’s Bible Commentary by Carol Newsom and Sharon Ringe.
It is wonderful to imagine the care and generous attention that may have been experienced by the disciples through Lydia’s generosity and to envision the people of Philippi flocking to her home to hear the Good News. Perhaps when the disciples left her home to continue their journey and preaching, they were reenergized and ready to continue to spread the word of God. Who knows? Perhaps they were even wearing beautiful cloaks of purple.
Each time we reach out in care and hospitality, we are acting in Christian love. Today as we reflect on our lives, let us ask ourselves if we have recently shown hospitality to another or if someone has extended it to us and be grateful for those moments in our lives. Perhaps two other significant questions may be: Are we also showing hospitable care for ourselves? Are we opening the homes of our lives to God?
May our prayer today be that we may be like Lydia, extending gracious hospitality to God, self and others. And may we continually remember how God lavishes us with hospitality and love each and every day of our life.
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