July 2, 2017
Preached by Rev. George Yando on July 2, 2017.
Learning to Be a Good Guest
The message I’ve prepared for today is titled, “Learning To Be A Good Guest.” It could just as well have been titled, “Learning To Be A Good Host.” Those two things are inter-connected, like the two sides of a coin, being a “host” and being a “guest” that is.
Being a guest and being a host. Being received and receiving others. Being welcomed and welcoming others. Those things are tied together in human life, since no one gets to be a guest, until someone else decides they are willing to be a host.
There has been a lot of emphasis in the life of the church on learning to be good hosts. The Bible says that hospitality is one of the things that make Christians distinctive. It makes them stand out from others. Christians are supposed to be willing to welcome anyone and everyone, no matter whom they are or where they come from.
I’m well aware – both from public reputation and from personal experience – how the folks here at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon place a high value on being welcoming. A lot of effort and energy has gone into learning and then putting into practice the habits of the good host. This church has tried hard over the years to welcome everyone who comes and I’m glad for that. It’s been a treat during the time I’ve been in this Presbytery to experience first-hand the genuine sincerity of that welcome and now, to be associated more directly as a temporary shepherd and participant in this congregation’s pastoral leadership and hospitality ministry.
But there is more to hospitality than just being willing to shake someone’s hand on Sunday morning and welcome them to church. In a community and a world with so much need, the church is coming to realize that its members can’t just sit on their hands when there are people hungry, hurting and in need in our community.
This morning’s gospel reading comes at the tail end of the tenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel account. It is a chapter in which Jesus gives his disciples with their marching orders. And the interesting thing about this passage is that Jesus assumes that his disciples are more likely to be guests than hosts. In a very real sense, he is sending them out into the world not so that their hospitality can be assessed, but that the world’s hospitality can be tested.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” is the instruction and the criterion that he leaves to his disciples. “And whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Jesus appears to assume that his followers will be on the receiving end, rather than the offering end, of hospitality.
You could argue that in those days, it could not have been any other way for those first Christians. They were a part of a brand new movement, a tiny, struggling group just getting started. We, on the other hand, are part of an established church, with a long history. We’re the ones who have been here a while and it seems only right that we should be the ones to be the hosts, the ones who do the inviting and welcoming, the ones who wait for others to come and see us. It seems only right that we should be seen to do that job faithfully and well, being warm and gracious in our welcome and making people feel accepted and at home.
But you have to wonder: what’s it like to be on the other side, to be one who comes as the newcomer, the stranger, the one doing the calling, instead of being the ones doing the welcoming? There are a couple of things that we might do and the first is this: rather than just wonder what it might be like to be on the other side, to be the newcomer and the stranger, we need only try to remember. We’ve all shared that experience, at one time or another. None of us has been in this church forever; once upon a time each of us came here for the first time, each of us attended a service for the first time, some more recently than others.
So rather than wonder what the experience of a stranger and a newcomer to our church is like from their perspective, I invite you to think back and remember what it was like to come here for the very first time. What were your first impressions? What was the reception like? Were you welcomed, warmly, sincerely? Did people here – from the greeters and ushers, to the folk in the pew sitting near you or standing nearby during the coffee hour, or the minister – did they speak with you, seek to get to know you? Did they express an interest and a desire to get to know what brought you here that first time, to get a sense of the needs and challenges in your life that you carried with you as you came?
And if you’re having some difficulty remembering back to that occasion, to your first visit to St. Andrew’s, I’m sure there are people here who DO remember, some perhaps that are very recent arrivals. Which leads me to a second suggestion for plumbing the experience of those who are strangers and newcomers to our congregation: ask them. Some among us are fairly new to St. Andrew’s, new to Saskatoon, perhaps even new to Canada. Each layer of newcomer experience heightens the challenge of figuring out what to do and how to find a new home in a strange place, how to make this community a place where you feel welcome, a place where you belong. It’s not entirely your task, your challenge. Those of us that are here have the task of being hosts, being the ones who do the welcoming, being the ones who treat the newcomers and strangers as our guests. We are the ones who are challenged to find out what our guests need to feel at home, to help them experience a sense of welcome and belonging. The simplest, most direct way is to ask.
Some might find that prospect daunting, risky. “I don’t know how to talk to strangers” some might think. For some, it might indeed be a stretch, a move outside ones comfort zone. But it’s about putting yourself in the place of the newcomer, the stranger, and discovering or experiencing what it’s like for them to come to a place and a community for the first time. Understanding what it means to put yourself in the position of having to be a guest is, I believe, one of the best ways to learn how to be a good host.
I wonder then how we might respond, you and I, if this congregation was to begin going door-to-door, inviting ourselves into other people’s homes and lives, and letting them welcome us into their homes and their hearts, and then inviting them to come to our church. I can guess that most people here would be very uncomfortable, maybe even terrified about the prospect of having to do that.
When you think about it, however, being a host and being a guest are a lot alike: For the simple reason that the offering of true hospitality (in other words, being a host) requires from us the same willingness to be vulnerable that is so much a part of the receiving of true hospitality (in other words, being a guest). We’d like to think there is a difference, and the difference is that when we are playing the role of host, we can delude ourselves with the notion that we are still in control.
On the other hand, when we head out into the world and knock on the doors of a stranger, we know that we have given up control. We’re not sure what’s going to happen. But that may not be such a bad thing. If we want to find out – as individuals and as a congregation – what it’s really like to be able to offer genuine hospitality, maybe we need to get reacquainted with how it feels to be on the receiving end of someone else’s hospitality. Maybe we need to learn how it feels to be vulnerable, how it feels to find yourself in a strange place, eagerly looking for warmth and friendliness, but also for a kind of intimacy and a depth of caring that passes even the friendliest of smiles.
Isn’t that what the Gospel is really all about? We believe in Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God, who was one with God, at home in God’s space, choosing to give up that space and temporarily become a guest among us, among people just like us. He came so that we might one day become guests forever in God’s space.
That means that one of our primary missions during our time on this earth is to learn how to receive and how to be received; how to welcome and how to be welcomed; how to be a host and how to be a guest. In the process learning how to be vulnerable, we learn how to be open.
We do so that we might become guests worthy of a welcome. We do so that we might become hosts worthy of a visit.
In the name of Jesus, our guest and our host, may it be that way in your life and mine, and in the life of the Church, to His honour and glory.