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Be my guest

KENMORE UNITING Church recently ran The Hospitality of God; Studies in the Gospel of Luke, a 10 session course offered by the Pilgrim Learning Community.

Kenmore Uniting Church minister Heather den Houting and participants of Pilgrim Learning Community’s Hospitality of God course explored how true hospitality is less about over-catering and more about abundance. The course used Brendan Byrne’s book of the same name.

In the final session of the course students reflected on some of the things they had learned. This is the result.

There is something about the word hospitality that makes people think of cakes. Not that cakes are a bad thing, I love cakes and they are in fact a wonderful symbol of the generous host.

But this response to the notion of the hospitality of God is an immediate diminution of the grand gestures and overwhelming abundance that is divine hospitality.

I guess we have to use metaphors and stories to comprehend God.

As human beings we have a tendency to break things down into small pieces we are able to handle. So the notion of hospitality becomes something that we do for others that is under our control and at our convenience.

As guests we graciously receive that which is offered, up to a point. Too much becomes overwhelming and we can start to feel
uncomfortable if the host constantly urges us to accept more.

Hospitality fits within our social systems in a particular way: not too heavy, not too light.

Except, when it comes to the idea of divine hospitality, our genteel notions of the roles of guest and host can be blown out of the water.

Luke’s Gospel sees the whole life and ministry of Jesus as a visitation of God to Israel and the world.

From the start this raises the question: “How will this visitor be received?”

Those who do receive him find that he brings them into a much wider sphere of hospitality – the hospitality of God, where the guest is revealed as the divine host, as in the story of the walk to Emmaus.

Another good example is the story of the Prodigal Son.

Read this passage in Luke’s Gospel again, but before you do, rename the loving father in the story as yourself.

You will find yourself concentrating less on the behaviour of the two sons and more on the hospitality of the father.

From this perspective, what the father does is beyond all bounds of reasonableness and all accepted standards of fairness or equity.

The nature of the father’s abundant welcome and generosity to both of his sons beggars belief.

And yet this is one of the ways that Jesus sought to teach us about divine hospitality and about how we are asked to participate in this overwhelming relationship, both as individuals and as a community.

Firstly, we are asked to participate as those who are readily able to accept the gifts of God, sometimes in ways and means not previously understood.
God’s abundance is multi-faceted.

We are called to turn from a life which controls the means and methods by which we receive gifts, to one which recognises that we need the abundance of God to live.

In this we learn to approach each life encounter as having the potential of holding a gift for us and to give thanks for this.

Secondly, we are asked to behave as agents of God, to act as a host willing to welcome the stranger.

Again, to do this requires a relinquishment of our ideas as to who is an appropriate guest.

Security, fairness and equity have less to do with this than the extravagance of God as witnessed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Even when we act as host we should find ourselves in the place of guests of God.

This extravagance is one of the things celebrated in the communion service where, as a community of God, we are called to hold out the hospitality that we ourselves have received from God.

It is the practice of divine hospitality brought to us through Christ and acted out in our own lives.

Back to cakes – in both the Emmaus walk and the story of the loving father, the encounter with the divine involved the sharing of an abundant meal.

The notion of divine hospitality can be captured in the idea of over-catering: not because you are afraid of running out of food, but because you know there is always enough for what is needed.

That is a pretty big cake!