Friday, August 06, 2010

your place or mine? hospitality as mission

I’ve been asked to offer some input to a gathering of church leaders in Tasmania in a few weeks (August 20-22). The title they’ve given me is this: Your place or mine: hospitality as mission. I said yes because I think it names a fascinating tension and one that has been nagging at me in recent days.

Back in April I was pondering mission in relation to the Zaccheus story in Luke 19. I was struck by how Jesus does mission at Zaccheus place, at his table, inside his home. Which, when I thought about it, was the dominant way the Gospel stories portray Jesus. He doesn’t give hospitality. He receives hospitality.

The exception is the Waiting Father/Prodigal Son in Luke 15, which has often used to frame mission and encourage the church to open it’s arms in embrace. Yet note the context in which the story is told – Jesus accepting hospitality, not giving it. Fascinating stuff.

I took this insight to my bookshelf and went through all my books on hospitality. Wonderful books on the banquet of God and the embrace of God at the Eucharist. But sure enough, almost all are about hospitality at our place. We are the host and they focus on how we give hospitality.

Which can so easily become occupied with mission as people coming to us, our turf, our churches, our terms, our worship, our welcome, our websites.

Which leaves a wonderful tension: How to integrate hospitality with the pattern of Jesus? What does hospitality in Western culture mean at their place, not mine! Any insights welcome as I begin my preparation.

Posted by steve at 09:31 AM


  1. Just a thought: Is the location of the mission the focal point of importance, or the mission itself? Whether we are ‘sent’ or ‘received’, whatever work we are required to undertake, whoever we meet, I would have thought would be irrespective of wherever we may find ourselves. Sort of like a ‘mission without walls’ as such.

    My choice of words fails me in trying to express my thoughts, but I do hope you know what I am trying to say.

    Comment by Ryan — August 6, 2010 @ 9:58 am

  2. Where was “home” for Jesus? We don’t seem to encounter him at home at all… he was always out and about. Could be that was a practical thing cos his sleeping place simply wasn’t a place to do hospitality.
    Definitionally you need to be a HOSt to offer HOSpitality …

    “English took hospitality from French hospitalit√©, which derives from Latin hospitalitas. That word was formed ultimately from Latin hospes “host”, referring to the notion of hosting guests or travelers. A hospital was originally a house where pilgrims or travelers could stay or be entertained (synonym: hospice), so the host offering shelter to such people was said to be showing them hospitality. That word dates from the middle of the 14th century, a time when many pilgrimages were being made to holy sites.”

    But no, that doesn’t mean it should be all about come to me, but perhaps explains your book shelf.


    Comment by lynne — August 6, 2010 @ 10:39 am

  3. when we are the host, we have control and we are the ones offering something to the other. When we are the guest, the other has control and all we can offer them is the news of God’s kingdom.

    In western society it is an honour to be invited to someones house, to be the guest, in the middle east (so i’m told) it is an honour to be someone’s host. So Jesus’ status as perrenial guest is a way for him to honour, dignify, and humanise, those to whom he proclaims the kingdom.

    just my two cents, i appreciated the post thanks.

    Comment by jonathan robinson — August 6, 2010 @ 10:55 am

  4. We do see Jesus hosting sometimes – the last supper for isntance, or cooking up a few fish on the beach for the disciples. Or welcoming the children in the town square. So even if not in Jesus ‘own house’ there are examples of hosting.

    But far more often it seems to me that Jesus offers himself as guest. And offers himself as guest in a way that usually is transformative for the host or for other guests. Think Zaccheus, Simon’s house, the wedding feast, the isntructions to the disciples as they were sent on their way. Jesus isn’t a quiet, compliant guest either – but one who overturns even the role of guest, taking charge or changing the nature of the encounter. Bad mannered much?

    I reckon Jonathan is partly right that it’s our desire to be in control that makes us always think about being the host. And partly maybe it’s a hangover from christendom – when it was our right to be at the centre, to control the truth, to dish out the knowledge of God. When “we” were host by birthright and by culture.

    I wonder if there are any lessons to be imported from the experience of the jews in exile – when forced to be in the place of the other – to be the alien in a strange land? Does the letter in Jeremiah 29 have something to say to us about being guests?

    How do we learn to do mission when we’re no longer at the centre? To engage our communities when they will no longer come to us.

    Unfortunately I don’t have the answers, just the questions.

    Comment by scott — August 6, 2010 @ 11:31 am

  5. Hi Steve – another hospitality dynamic is that when Jesus sent the 72 out it was only where they received hospitality and generosity that God’s peace (shalom) remained. Mission is finding the places where hospitality is given.


    Comment by Peter — August 6, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

  6. Hi Peter,

    My students reckoned for a while I talked about no Bible text apart from Luke 10!

    It’s a text I will use, along with Luke 19. Plus possibly a look at Luke 14, which in one sense is an “invite” story, yet is set in the context of Jesus as guest


    Comment by steve — August 6, 2010 @ 11:00 pm

  7. Neil Cole explores this theme in Organic Christianity: Growing Faith Where Life Happens.

    Comment by Duncan — August 7, 2010 @ 6:37 am

  8. Yes yes yes. I’m reading Zaccheus to my 3 year old. Thank you for this insight!

    Comment by Rebecca — August 7, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

  9. In Luke 12:35-40 the eschaton is imagined as the master returning to the house of watchful slaves, fastening his belt, having them sit down to eat and serving them. v. 40 ‘You also must be ready for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’

    Comment by Julia Pitman — August 20, 2010 @ 8:03 pm

  10. imagine Jesus returning to serve us, what a gorgeous image of God’s grace and favour


    Comment by steve — August 20, 2010 @ 10:23 pm

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