If you’ve watched the movie Beauty and the Beast, then you will probably remember the catchy song “Be Our Guest”.  In that song the silverware, along with all of the other implements used for serving a fine meal, were so excited because after not being used for 10 years, they finally had an occasion to put themselves to use.

Part of the lyrics go like this:

Life is so unnerving                
For a servant who’s not serving                
He’s not whole without a soul to wait upon
Ah, those good old days when we were useful                
Suddenly those good old days are gone                
Ten years we’ve been rusting                
Needing so much more than dusting                
Needing exercise, a chance to use our skills                
Most days we just lay around the castle                
Flabby, fat and lazy                
You walked in and oops-a-daisy!

The serving pieces go on to sing:

Be our guest                
Be our guest                
Our command is your request                
It’s ten years since we had anybody here                
And we’re obsessed                
With your meal                
With your ease                
Yes, indeed, we aim to please                
While the candlelight’s still glowing                
Let us help you                
We’ll keep going.

While we hardly need Disney to teach us about hospitality, we can learn something from this song.  The servicing pieces were overjoyed at the opportunity to put themselves to use.  Not only was their purpose to serve others, but it’s what they wanted to do; it was natural. Serving others also brought them happiness.

As preachers’ wives, we will have many opportunities to practice the art of hospitality. The sooner we appreciate the joy and the blessings that come with hospitality, the better we will be for it. What exactly is “hospitality”?  Although the exact word is only used a few times, the concept permeates the Scriptures.  To sum it up, hospitality is receiving guests, both strangers and those whom we know.  It may include a meal, but not necessarily.  It means being willing to providing lodging, if such is needed. Sometimes it might be elaborate; often it can be simple.  It means investing yourself –  your time, your possessions, your energy, and your care in other people.  Sometimes it means getting out of your comfort zone.

We can learn a few things about hospitality by studying an incident in the life of Abraham.  In Genesis 18:1-16 we read of the account of 3 men who traveled, not so incidentally, near the vicinity of Abraham’s dwelling place.

When Abraham saw the strangers, he ran to meet them.  He didn’t sit back and wait for them to show up at his tent, but he went to them. Not only that, Abraham begged them to stop and stay for a while. He was eager for them to visit.  (Remember – at this point Abraham did not know who these men were; he thought they were simply travelers passing his way. It wasn’t until later that Abraham realized that these were more than mere men.) Abraham sincerely acted as if it would do him a great honor for these guests to come home with him. What is our attitude towards receiving guests into our homes? Do we look for opportunities?  When we do invite someone over, how do we come across? Do we offer a half-hearted invitation, or are we persuasive and genuine?

Next, Abraham took care of the immediate need for refreshment by washing their feet and having them rest in the shade.  He made sure they were comfortable. Like Abraham, we need to be observant and try to ascertain the needs of our guests without them having to ask.  One of the most important skills of a host/hostess is the ability to help our guests feel comfortable in our home.  There is nothing so awkward as being invited to someone’s house and feeling uptight and tense the whole time you are there and you can’t wait until time to leave. You don’t have to have fine china and you don’t have to have a seven-course meal, but you do need to be able to make your guests feel at ease in your home.

Abraham and Sarah provided a nourishment for their guests.  There was no such thing as a quick stop through a drive-through.  When one traveled long distances it was very necessary to rely on the hospitality of strangers to provide nourishment and a place to rest.  This concept has hit home to me more than ever since living in Africa.  It is the same way, in many respects, as it was in Bible times, especially when one travels away from the bigger towns and into the bush country.

Abraham and Sarah did not have the benefit of knowing ahead of time that they would have guests that day, but when the guests came, Abraham and Sarah got to work and put together a fine meal.  With the conveniences we have at our disposal today, there is really no excuse for not being able to pull together a quick meal at a moment’s notice.  If it is not around meal time,  it is still always a polite gesture to offer some sort of refreshment to folks that come your way.  Keeping a loaf of banana bread, some cookie dough, or some other goodies in the freezer will make it possible to show hospitality at a moment’s notice, day or night.  Even the poorest of people here in Tanzania make great effort to show hospitality, even if they were not expecting visitors.  They may simply offer a soda, or perhaps  a cup of tea and a mandazi (a fried pastry), or whatever  else they may have on hand, but most of the time, they are insistent that you stay and partake of something.

When it was time for his guests to be on their way, Abraham did not simple say a goodbye at the door, but he walked with them for a ways. Here in Tanzania, it is a customary and polite gesture to walk with your guests at least out to the gate, or if they are on foot, to accompany them down the road a ways. This is particularly true if you wish to let them know that you welcome them to come back again.  Yes, I know there are some guests that do wear out their welcome.  Even so, instead of rushing our guests out the door and closing it as soon as they step over the threshold, how about walking them out to the car and expressing your gratitude to them for coming?

The ways that we demonstrate hospitality can be quite varied, depending upon the need and the circumstance.  Do we always have to serve a full meal in order to be hospitable?  Of course not!  But the bottom line is… we must be willing to open our homes to others.  If you aren’t very comfortable at it, then work on it.  Ask someone for help.  With the help of your local library or a few clicks on the internet, you can discover all sorts of resources that offer tips and tricks that will build your hospitality skills.

Sometimes congregations expect the preacher’s wife or elders’ wives to orchestrate or even do most of the hospitality *for* the congregation. While we should be very willing to do our part, we cannot do it *for* or *in place of* other people, any more than we can obey any of the other commands of God.  We need to encourage others to show hospitality so that they, too, can enjoy the blessings that come from it.

Here is a challenge: 

This coming Sunday, plan to have guests come to your home for a meal – either for the noon meal or for an evening meal.  When you go to worship Sunday, look for a stranger – not your best friends, but people who are either visiting or that you do not know well. Compel them to come home with you.  They need to know that you mean it! If they turn you down, keep on trying until you find someone who will come (best friends not included).  If Sunday just won’t work for you, then pick an evening during the week. And please, let me know how it goes!