On Hospitality

Mark 3:20-35
3rdafter Pentecost; June 10, 2018

I begin with a poem written by Robert Frost: “Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in” (The Death of the Hired Man). I think this poem reflects how I have felt during last nine years working in this, our faith community here at Trinity United and in our town, Acton. 

About nine years ago, we left behind my first English-speaking pastoral charge and headed here to Acton to be with you. It was not an easy move: Our home, the church manse, was sitting on an almost one-acre lot with about ten mature maple trees. It had been a safe place for our two children to play and grow in and the church nurtured me into ministry in Canada. But on our life journey there are times to move on and we began our new journey in Acton and you welcomed us as a family. 

You have embraced our family as a part of your family. As immigrants we do not have much in the way of an extended family here in Canada, but you stretched your arms wide open to welcome us and treat us as your family. Most of the time here at Trinity I was a graduate student and the programme required many hours of studies each week. Time to meet the requirements was always running out but you generously allowed me to use it freely for my studies. I was able to finish my studies because of your generosity and kindness. You also allowed me opportunities to use my theological imagination and scholarly work in my ministry and mission. I enjoyed and benefitted from that freedom and your friendship. 

“Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” But the cast of characters and the narrator of our gospel story had not read Frost. I feel sorry for Jesus; heading home after a period of the hard work of ministry and mission, he could not feel that his ministry was welcomed or supported by his home faith community. Up to this point, Jesus continues to heal and to draw crowds, followers and disciples. The upshot has been that already, early in the story, the Pharisees and the Herodians conspire how they can destroy him (Mark 3:7). It is telling that the last-named disciple Jesus calls is Judas Iscariot, “the one who betrayed him” – the past tense would seem to mark this already as essentially a done deal (Mark 3:19). 

At the beginning of today’s reading we join the crowds, packed together so tightly that they can’t even get their arms free to grab some food. Some of them try to find some weakness in Jesus to put in a trap to kill him. Furthermore, Jesus’ family is there with restraints to shackle his body and with charges to tame his outlandish speech: “He is out of his mind; you don’t really need to listen to him” (Mark 3:21). And the scribes from Jerusalem add a religious stamp to the charges: “He is actually in league with demonic powers” (Mark 3:22). That should take care of any mistaken assumptions and relegate to insignificance the clamoring crowds. Those in the know have the essential facts to discount his person and his credentials. 

“Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” As we were looking for a house about nine years ago, we visited a few houses in Acton. As you know, when you enter the process of purchasing a house, you visit it with a real estate agent with the agreement with the owner or tenant of the house. When you visit the house you have the power to choose whether to buy it or not. Now, planning to sell my house, I am in the reverse situation. Soon somebody, I hope, will visit my house and look at it. They will evaluate it according to their dreams and wishes. Now I am vulnerable that our life would be visible and my house will be evaluated. Prospective buyers will assess it according to their tastes and plans. My situation has been changed from that of an active purchaser to that of a passive deal receiver. In a way my role has turned from that of a host to that of a guest.  

I am exploring these roles to introduce the concept of hospitality. In Greek, the word xenos has a double meaning; it can be both “guest” and “host.” This meaning signals the essential principle of the concept. Nowadays we use the word hospitality frequently, particularly in a religious context. We may think that hospitality is being patient and gracious with new folks until they learn the way we do things, but Jesus offers another vision of hospitality; it is about meeting people, accepting any and all who are interested in God’s kingdom, and responding to their needs no matter who is asking or when or how they ask. In Jesus’ ministry and mission we find the genuine meaning of hospitality. 

Jesus arrived at a wedding at Canna as a guest, but when the wine ran out, he provided more and thus became the host (John 2:1-21). Martha invited him her house to be her guest and wore herself out with serving, but he taught her that on this day it is better to sit and receive (Luke 10:38-42). This circle of mutual hospitality can embrace and transform the people who enter it. It has been my observation that over these last nine years you have been practising the concept of hospitality. Often you became guests instead of hosts. You opened a space for visitors and young families to feel that they are not guests. 

Church is a place where we experience genuine hospitality – the meeting place of host and guest. The church is the place that not only welcomes strangers, it also recognizes their holiness. It sees in the stranger a person dear to and made in the image of God, someone bearing distinctive gifts that only he or she can bring. 

Henri Nouwen, a founder L'Arche daybreak community in Richmond Hill, ON., once said, “in a world of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture, and country, from their neighbours, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God,” we are called to create a free space. We are called to create a safe place from all kinds of “demonic powers” described in today’s gospel reading. From the powers that capture us and cause us to hurt ourselves, to hurt others and to hurt God, we are called to create a space to experience and practise hospitality where guest and host are free to change their status.  

“Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Together, we have begun to create this space of hospitality here at Trinity. I am so proud of your endeavor to embrace each other in finding holiness in others. I have been fortunate to journey with you for nine years and experienced your hospitality. For this, I am deeply grateful. Thanks be to God who encourages us to practise hospitality in our midst. Amen. 

Hyuk Cho