Saturday, January 19, 2013

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)

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