The hostess with the mostest. Does Paul come to mind? Unlikely. But when Paul arrives in Rome as a prisoner, he no longer has the freedom to meet people where they are. He can’t go to the synagogue, as is his custom, to engage religious leaders in discussion of scripture. He needs people to come to him.
When we entered Rome, Paul was permitted to live by himself, with a soldier guarding him. Three days later, Paul called the Jewish leaders together. Acts 28:16-17 (CEB)
Paul doesn’t waste time. And he thinks big. He sets up house and introduces himself to his peers, leaders with years of Torah training, accustomed to authority. He is unknown, but he represents a sect with a bad reputation.
I am ambivalent about publicity. In my previous identity as a school counselor, I enjoyed the anonymity of working in nearby farm towns and living my life in the big city of Champaign-Urbana. I delegated community involvement to my spouse, slipping in and out of church and kids’ school functions, avoiding eye contact in grocery stores and the mall where I might be recognized.
Paul was given a message and a mission. That changes everything. For him, for me, for us. Good news, God’s kingdom, the hope of Israel. Paul set up an event: an all-day debate. More intense than our monthly three-hour “Sticky Scriptures” sessions, Streetfest, or Jim Croegaert concert.
On the day scheduled for this purpose, many people came to the place where he was staying. From morning until evening, he explained and testified concerning God’s kingdom and tried to convince them about Jesus through appealing to the Law from Moses and the Prophets. Acts 28:23 (CEB)
Paul was unique, and his methods are certainly not for everyone. But he was invitational; he modeled welcoming. He planned events and got the word out. Some were convinced. Others not so much. So he widened the circle, inviting different groups and unlikely candidates. He created a space where people could come and hear.
Paul lived in his own rented quarters for two full years and welcomed everyone who came to see him. Unhindered and with complete confidence, he continued to preach God’s kingdom and to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 28:30-31 (CEB)
Paul was not hindered by the fact that not everyone agreed with him. He just kept welcoming more people to listen. To join him. In a home that he made comfortable for seekers. And he was always home. A side benefit of house arrest.
When people show up, are we present to welcome them? Do we create invitational spaces- for kids and adults? For the religious and the non-religious. For the curious and the contentious. Are we confident of the good news- God’s invitation to everyone? As Jesus said,
“Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.” Mark 9:37 (CEB)
How do we welcome? From the greatest to the least. From important leaders to nursing babes. Those who have never heard of us, and those who have only heard negative news. The grandparents, the kids, and everyone in between.
May we too learn to invite and welcome anyone and everyone to come, see, and hear.