Posted by: dacalu | 1 September 2013

Be Our Host

Have you ever gone to a party, only to find the host had stepped out, and felt obliged to help out?  Perhaps it was a family member or a friend and you knew they’d want people to feel welcome.  Perhaps you’re just a chronically helpful person who noticed the bowl of chips was empty.  There are always things to do to keep a party running smoothly, even when the host is there.  Drinks need to be filled, snacks refreshed.  People need to be introduced to other people.  Dishes need to be cleared away.  Above all, people need to be made to feel welcome.

Think of the last really good party you attended.  What went into making it a good party?  Was it the food?  The people?  Was it the decorations or activities?  What did it take to make all that happen?  The more parties you throw, the more you realize just how much work goes into making things run smoothly – most of it invisible.  Indeed, you don’t want the guests to be worried about the work.  You want them to be enjoying themselves.

As I listened to today’s readings (Proverbs 25:6-7, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, Luke 14:1, 7-14), this image kept popping into my mind.  Repeatedly in the Bible we are called upon to think of hosts and guests and today it hit me in a particular way.  To be adopted into the household of God (as we say in baptism) or even to be a friend of God is to take on God’s care for the guests.

I think we are called, as Christians, to act as surrogate hosts.  I think the founder of the feast wants us to enjoy ourselves, but sometimes, for whatever reason, she has stepped out of the room and it’s our job to make the others feel welcome. It’s a tough spot to be in, admittedly.  If you don’t feel like this is your home, how comfortable will you be routing around in the cupboards, looking for another bottle of wine or more cookies?  Who are you to tell people which bathroom they should use or whether they can use the good china?  But, that is the situation we find ourselves in.

Jesus seems to have gotten into the most trouble when he gave stuff away that didn’t belong to him – at least stuff others thought didn’t belong to him.  Who was he to forgive people their sins, against one another and against God?  Who was he to heal people?  Maybe they were sick through their own fault.  [It’s rare to think this way now, but common in that time.]  Who was he to say which commandments should be kept and which should not?  Who was he to eat and drink and be merry?  Jesus always acted like a host, because he was the Son of God and therefore responsible for the well being of the guests, wherever he went.

The Temple priests (Sadducees) thought this was their job in the Temple.  They were the hosts and they set the rules.  The purists (Pharisees) on the other hand, thought God had laid down the rules for the party before leaving and those rules must be followed.  But Jesus stepped in and said no.  All the rules set up by the religious authorities seemed to be aimed at making sure some guests enjoyed themselves while others did not.  The rules were set up so that the influential guests or the well behaved guests or the invited guests got to enjoy the food and drinks and activities while everyone else waited outside.  Only the favored got the favors.

Jesus said, “you’re doing it wrong.”  A party is about extravagance.  A party is about something for everyone and more than anyone imagined.  The US and Western Europe have been too heavily influenced by Protestant culture, where people get what they deserve.  Go to Southern Europe or the Middle East to see reckless extravagance.  That’s the culture Jesus is talking about.  There is an ethos that says the host must go hungry if necessary to ensure that the guest is fed, even feted.

Jesus displays this kind of self sacrifice, but in an odd sort of way.  He’s almost arrogant in his insistence on serving the poor, the outcast.  He claims the right to appropriate anything in his father’s household for the sake of the guest, even things owned by others.  It’s a bit disturbing really, especially if you think you have a clear idea of what belongs to whom.  Jesus says, “No, it all belongs to my Father, and he wants me to give it away.

He also encourages us in the same kind of extravagance.  Wherever you go, you can be a surrogate host.

What if there is already a host?  Great, enjoy the party!  But ask if they need help.  Ask yourself whether they are being the kind of host God would be.  Are they giving stuff away?  Are they looking after the guests?  If not, step in.  As a child of God, it’s your responsibility – for the honor of the house.  Remember, “the greater glory of God.”  This is what it means: to show off the hospitality of God.  People think more of God when they think God has the wealth, the love, the excess to share.

It doesn’t always come from abundance; sometimes it comes from self-sacrifice, but always serving the guest and always to the greater glory of the host.

This world lacks that kind of confidence.  This world lacks that kind of generosity.  This world lacks that kind of grace.

Sometimes we feel like God, if God really is all good and all powerful, must be out of the building.  That is our opportunity to step up.  That is our opportunity to act as a host wherever we are, giving stuff away and making people feel at home.  Because we are the children of God. We are the heirs of hope.  We are the ones whose duty it is to make one another welcome and cared for.

 

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