Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sent to be guests - A Missiology of Guesting 3

3. Sent to Be Guests

In his book ”Transforming Mission” (1992) David Bosch has identified six historical paradigms of mission and in each period ”there was a tendency to take one specific biblical verse as the missionary text” (Bosch 1992:339). E.g, in the patristic understanding (the Eastern Church) it was John 3,16, in the medieval Roman Catholic missionary period it was Luke 14,23 and in the Protestant Reformation focused on Rom 1,16f. Mission in the wake of Enlightenment – i.e., in the modern missionary period – the text that was most often referred to is the so-called ”Great Commission” of Matt 28,18-20.

”All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.

This text has no doubt inspired and mobilised many for genuine mission, but interpreted in the light of the dominant thinking in the Enlightenment period and the colonial situation this missionary this text was often understood in a way that confirmed a Western/Christian feeling of superiority. It was tempting to focus on the aspect of authority and obedience and on a one-way communication (”teaching them to obey”).

In the last part of the book ”Toward a Relevant Missiology”, Bosch discusses ”Elements of an Emerging Ecumenical Missionary Paradigm” and here he highlights many aspects that have to be taken into consideration when developing not the postmodern ecumenical missionary paradigm, but – i think – the variety of mission paradigms we need for today.

In a post-Christendom and increasing multi-religious society – such as the Danish society and most other Western societies – the Church is loosing power and Christianity is becoming one among many religious options. The Church is not longer at the centre of society and its attraction is diminishing. Fewer and fewer people respond when the church bells call people to church on Sundays. The context in which we live sometimes blind us to certain texts in the bible and help us to see the relevance of others. Maybe it is the increasing marginalisation of church and Christianity that has helped some to see the exemplary relevance of stories in Old as well as New Testament about God who approaches our world as a guest – and to see texts such as Luke 9,1-9 (parr. Matt 10,5-15, Mark 67-13) and 10,1-16 as challenging missionary texts for today.

As it was shown in the previous chapter, in his sending by his father to the world he saw himself as a guest of those to whom he was sent to minister. Thereby he set an example for his disciples who had followed him and participated in his “guesting”. When Jesus sent out the 12 and the 72 they were sent with his authority to preach the kingdom and to heal the sick. What is often overlooked, however, is the way he sends them. They are not sent out as a well-equipped army, but they are sent out empty handed. “Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic” (Luke 9,2). The explanation is that they are sent as – guests, which means that they would be depending not on their own resources but on their hosts to whom they were sent to minister. And they were supposed to behave like good guests: When they entered a house they should convey “Peace to this house“. And they should “Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages”. The disciples of Jesus were to carry out their missionary ministry of preaching the kingdom of god and of healing the sick as the guests of those they were ministering to.

There are examples of a continuation of the ministry of guesting among the disciples after the ascension of Jesus. In Acts of the Apostles we read about Peter who is the guest of Simon the tanner in Joppa, when  (Acts 9:43 & 10:6), when the Roman centurion Cornelius invites him to stay in his house in Caesarea. The surprising aspect of Peter’s accept of the hospitality of Cornelius is that he is Roman soldier, who is not a Jew. What convinced Peter to do so was the vision God gave him while he was still a guest in the house of Simon the tanner, a vision that helped him re realize that he “should not call any man unclean or impure” (Acts 10,28). His acceptance of the hospitality of this gentile bridges the gap between Jews and gentiles and becomes the vehicle for the evangelisation of gentiles: as the guest in Cornelius’ house he shares the gospel with Cornelius and the others in the house and the Holy Spirit falls upon them and they are baptised.[1]

In many missiological books and articles the missiological significance of hospitality has been explored and analysed. What is needed, however, is to reflect more deeply about the missiological significance of guesting.

[1] Andrew Arterbury, ”Entertaining Angels: Hospitality in Luke and Acts” (Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2007)

God as Host - and Guest? - A Missiology of Guesting-2

God as Host - and Guest? - A Missiology of Guesting 2

God is the creator, and we are all his creatures. God the creator is our host and all is creatures are invited to his table as guests. But are we justified in conceiving God also as the guest, as the guest of his own creatures?

When the salvation history takes off through the calling of Abraham, through whom ”all the peoples on earth will be blessed” (Gen 12,3), God appears in the process to Abraham in the persons of three guests. "The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby"(Gen 18,1-2).

Abraham welcomed them as any good host would do and treated them as his guests. He had their feet washed and offered them the best food he had. In the context of being a guest of Abraham ”the Lord said, ”I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sara your wife will have a son” (Gen18,10).[1]

When God’s promise about blessing to all people through his descendants was fulfilled and a saviour was born in the family of Mary and Joseph, the encounter of the Son of God with the world was – as a guest in a stable in Bethlehem. Shortly afterwards the holy family realised that king Herod did not welcome them in his kingdom so they had to flee to Egypt and stay there for some time as refugees and guests.

Although Jesus was the Son of God, and could have approached his creation and creatures as their creator and lord, he did not impose himself on people but offered himself as  a guest, someone they could receive and welcome or freely reject him. The evangelist John reflects on this when he writes that "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him … (John 1,10-12).

Throughout his ministry, Jesus ministered to people from the position of a guest. When somebody came to him and said that he wanted to follow him wherever he would go, Jesus pointed to his way of life: ”Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nest, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt 8,20). Apparently, Jesus was always the guest in someone’s house. We know that he often was the guest in the house of the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10,38ff), and we hear about him visiting many other houses. He seems to consciously be placing himself in a position of dependence on the hospitality of others.

When Jesus encounters the woman at the well in Samaria, he approaches her as her guest and asks her,  ”Will you give me a drink?” and thereby treating her as if she was him host. As a guest he shows her respect although she is a Samaritan and he belongs to the Jewish people who would normally consider themselves to be superior to the Samaritans. It seems that by making her his host he succeeded in initiating a very open conversation with her about sensitive issues of her personal life and of faith in God.

At the beginning of the history of salvation, the Lord appeared to Abraham as a guest, and at the climax of the history of salvation, the resurrected Lord appeared to two of his discouraged disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus as a stranger whom they ask to be their guest at a meal. As a guest he does not impose himself on them but listens to them and asks them questions – and then shares his insight with them.  During the meal when Jesus breaks the bread and gives thanks, however, they realise that their guest was the resurrected Lord (Luke 24,13-32).

Jesus met the disciples on the way to Emmaus as a stranger and a guest, but he ended up acting as their host when he broke the bread. This reflects a key event in the ministry of Jesus where he also acted as the host, namely the Lord’s Supper where Jesus is truly the host and his disciples are his guests. As Abraham washed the feet of his three guests in Mamre and gave them a meal, in the same way Jesus washes the feet of his disciples/guests and shares a meal with them (John 13).

The Lord is of course our creator and as creatures we are the guests in his world. The Lord is our Saviour who in his grace invites us to be his guests at his table. But a closer reading of the Old and in particular the New Testament reveals that God as our guest is a very significant theme in the salvation history.

It is noteworthy that the biblical idea of God as our guest has found a strong resonance in The Danish Hymnbook ("Den Danske Salmebog" DS, 2009). In about 30 of the 792 hymns, God (in most hymns the references are to Jesus, but in a few the reference is to the Holy Spirit) is referred to in guest-terminology. The incarnation is described in terms of guesting. Thomas Kingo states that God has broken out of his heavenly abode to become the guest of the world (DS 124,1).  And N. F. S. Grundtvig says that Jesus has come to us as guest for the sake of our salvation (DS 81,4). B.S. Ingemann in his Christmas hymns sings about the joy brought about by the creator visiting his creation:

"Joy is our guest on earth this day,
the littel King of  creation!
Come, sparrow and dove, fly down and stay
to join in our celebration.
Dance on your mohter’s lap, dear child!
a wondrous day has arisen:
today He is born, our Saviour mild –
the pathway to Paradise given".[2]

Kingo refers to Jesus being a guest at the wedding of Canaan as a reminder that Jesus also wants to be the guest and bless marriages today (DS 144). Grundtvig calls the Holy Spirit our counsellor or adviser who is the honorouble guest of our heart (DS 305,2).

In Jesus parable about judgment day Jesus identifies himself with the stranger who needs to be welcomed as a guest. Jesus says: “… I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Matt 25,35f). And in the Book of Revelation Jesus is reported to have said to the Church in Laodicea, and it also may summarise his guest-approach to ministry in general: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3,20).

At the end of his earthly ministry Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20,21). The sending of Jesus by his father implied a ministry of guesting. The question is, if guesting is also a key component of the ministry and mission of the church?

[1] God appeared as a guest (or rather three guests) when announcing a message of salvation (the promise of son) to Abraham, and God similarly seems to have appeared as a guest (or rather two guests) when announcing judgment (upon the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah) to Lot (Gen19,1-21).
[2] Verse 2 of ”Julen har bragt velsignet bud” translated by Edward Broadbridge into English in Hymns in English. A Selection of Hymns from The Danish Hymnbook (2009), p. 28)