Mount Vernon Nazarene University
R. R. Hodges Chapel/Auditorium
Mount Vernon Nazarene University
2009 Winter Commencement Address
E. LeBron Fairbanks
During one Christmas season while Anne and I served at MVNU, we spent a fascinating evening in Columbus with two MVNU alumni. We walked to a nearby restaurant to purchase some Chinese food. We ate the meal by candlelight while sitting on the floor in a circle.
The meal was great. The two to three-hour discussion was phenomenal. Sharing our meal. Sharing our time. Sharing our journey. During the evening Anne and I experienced what the Bible refers to as hospitality.
I have been giving increasing thought to the relationship of spiritual hospitality to Christian leadership in the workforce where our vocation leads us. How do we “create space and make room” on the job or in our home, especially when we experience conflict and even collision between good and godly people over our vision and values.
This practice of hospitality was a way of life fundamental to Christian identity for seventeen hundred years of the Christian church. Christine Pohl convincingly documents this practice in her book, “Making Room: Recovering Hospitality in Christian Tradition.”
Biblically and theologically, the term “hospitality” is not limited to receiving a stranger into our homes – although it surely includes this dimension. Fundamentally, it is a core attitude toward others, which can be expressed by a great variety of behaviors. Hospitality, biblically understood, challenges us to relate to others as if we were relating to Christ Himself.
“Hospitality” means primarily the “creation of free space” – making room, to use Pohl’s words – in the midst of differences of thought or behaviors that may exist. With this perspective, the attitude of hospitality helps us to make room or create space for those with whom we live and work. It is being to others with whom you live and work, a “living witness of the risen Christ.”
The gift of Christian hospitality is the opportunity we provide for the colleague, co-worker, guest, stranger, family member or friend to find his or her own way. It enables us to consider an alternative way of thinking from those who may be very different from us. This gift to others invites them to contribute insights derived from their unique gifts and abilities, even in the context of differences of thought and behavior. In practicing hospitality and being hospitable, as leaders, we often serve as “angels of God” without even knowing it.
This is much more than being nice, feeding friends or enduring “hard to get along with” co-workers, colleagues, family members or friends. It is a way of life for leaders who are Christian and dictates how we approach those with whom we live, work and serve. For the strange and the strangers, the disenfranchised and lonely, our family members and friends, creating space and making room for them is the essence of hospitality, biblically understood.
The miracle of miracles is that we experience the “surprises of God” in our lives in the process of enabling others to grow and mature. Through “providing space” and “making room” for others to change, we are given “space” by God to grow and mature in Christlikeness. Spiritual hospitality is nothing less than the amazing grace of God working in us as Christian leaders and through us!
I spoke on this theme recently at the winter 2009 commencement of Mount Vernon Nazarene University. To read the full sermon manuscript click here. I welcome your thoughts on the address.
Dr. Dan Martin, MVNU President, presents a president emeritus lavaliere to LeBron