Southern Hospitality

Being born and raised in the south (Virginia, to be exact), there are things that I like to believe about myself as a southerner and about southern culture. One of these is that we southerners are a most hospitable folk. Why you can’t even say “The South” and not imply genteel hospitality. We believe that when you come into our homes, you will be made most welcome and we will see to your every need.

Oh really?

In my 30-plus years of ministry, I have seen southern hospitality die of the vine. In the past, clergy were often invited to dinner. In fact, it happened so often that it became the source of many humorous stories. My friend Bill Skye use to play a song about having the preacher over for Sunday lunch.  Of course, the Reverend could really put away the chicken.  While plaing the song, Bill’s daughter Laurie would make fast clacking noises with spoons to emphasize how quick the preacher could eat.

Well, I can almost count on one hand the number of times we’ve been invited to dinner by members of the congregation. Oh, there have been a few souls who knew how to be hospitable, but as a matter of culture, I found the English did a much better job at it. Anytime that I would visit an English home, the host or hostess made sure that I was comfortable, that I had a cup of tea, and then they would bring out the scones or cucumber sandwiches. We would sit by the coal fire and talk about life and sip our tea. By contrast, if I visited a home in the South on a really hot day, they wouldn’t even offer a glass of water. Sometimes, they didn’t even turn off the television.

Well, I don’t want you to pity the poor clergy, because it isn’t about the clergy.  As a matter of culture, hospitality is almost dead. We can, on special occasions, do a nice job of throwing a party, but hospitality is no longer a lifestyle. A simple test to prove the point:  when is the last time someone from church invited you over for a cup of tea? When is the last time you invited someone over for a cucumber sandwich?

Frankly, it isn’t that we don’t care. It’s just that we are too busy and being hospitable means a lot of work, time, money, and sacrifice. Though we fantasize a lot about being in a house by the side of the road, when we total up the bill, being a friend to man is a bit too costly. It’s a pity really because we miss the chance to meet some fantastic people. St. Paul said that we should never stop showing hospitality because like our father Abraham, we might entertain angels and not know it.

Is this is just a lot of longing for the “good old days?” After all, times have changed and we just have to accept it. Wasn’t it Ben Franklin who said, “Fish and friends stink after two days?” Yes, times have changed, but the loss of hospitality goes deeper than social niceties. It expresses a corruption of the soul that harms our spiritual life.

In St. Luke, chapter seven, we read the story that as Jesus sat in the house of Simon, the Pharisee, a woman came and weeping, knelt at His feet and wiped them with her hair. Simon, being a good Pharisee, was offended that Jesus would let such a woman even touch him. The Jesus then said something that made me stop and ponder: “Simon, do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head.  You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil.”

If you know anything about the ancient Near East, you realize how unusual it is that a man would not show his guest hospitality. Yet, Simon did not. How in the world could Simon have the Lord Jesus Himself at his table and not show proper hospitality. Why if Jesus were to come to my house, I would do it right. I would prepare and have everything ready and when Jesus came by, I would see to His every need!

Oh really?

When Jesus enters into my house do I was his feet? I don’t remember ever doing that and certainly not with my tears.  Do I give Him a kiss of recognition and welcome? No, usually it’s more of a Judas kiss. Did I ever place oil on His head to ease His weariness? No, and I certainly have never been low enough to wipe His feet with my own hair.  I invite Him in and never offer Him a glass of water. I ask Him over, and don’t even cut off the TV.  I am worse than Simon.

It’s no wonder that I am so inhospitable to people because I can’t even show a little to my Lord, my Savior, and my God.  Because I do little or nothing to prepare for His visit, I have little to offer Him when He comes. He is willing to enter the humblest of dwellings and is pleased to do so, but my house isn’t humble at all. I’m quite proud of how I’ve furnished the place. But when Jesus comes to see me He will have to fend for Himself. Surely, by now, He ought to know where the Fridge is. If He wants something, why He’s welcome to it. There’s the kitchen!!

Like I said, hospitality is dead.

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