The author of Hebrews wrote the famous line, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

The phrase “show hospitality to strangers” is the Greek word “philoxenia.” We’re much more familiar with the word “xenophobic,” a strongly negative word meaning dislike of strangers or foreigners. Philoxenia is an equally strong, positive word, meaning to love and care for strangers the way you would your own family.

In Greek, “philo” (where we get the word philadelphia) means family love; “xenos” means foreigner or stranger; and “phobic” means fear.

Why the Greek lesson?

I just read another article about why young people are abandoning the church, by the tens of millions.

It’s as if the church has become strangers with a couple generations of people in our own country. Young people who grew up in church have mostly lost interest. Of course they see the church as hypocritical or judgmental, but mostly they find the church irrelevant, either to them or to the world around them.

The answer may be philoxenia.

Young people need what the church has; they crave meaning and direction. Distracted parents put screens in kids’ hands before they could walk, and so many are starved for human connections. The churches have people with the wisdom and experience younger people need.

Instead of being Presbyterians, we need to be Philoxenians.

We need to embody the mandate of Hebrews 13:2. It’s not just up to deacons or greeters or the hospitality committee, it’s up to every one of us.

And by the way, young people care deeply about foreigners and refugees. When young people see us caring for what they care about, we address some of the fears and prejudices they have about us.   

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