“Jesus: Stranger, Guest & Host” Luke 24:13-35 April 15, 2018
One of the things that I have consciously done since I came to this congregation, and have encouraged you to also consider doing is to welcome strangers in our midst who are here for worship or any event as guests instead of as visitors & to call them as such.
And there is a reason for that. The term “visitor” implies that we don’t expect them to stay, & may not return. The term “guest” implies that this is someone for whom you would do everything you can to make them feel comfortable.
- Major motel & hotel chains use the term “guest” instead of visitor.
- Major restaurants likewise use “guest” to describe people that they serve.
- Even Jeff Bezos founder & CEO of Amazon has an empty chair around the table at every board meeting for a “guest” indicating an open invitation.
Many larger churches have what is called a “guest services team.” These teams are in charge of first impressions – they’re determined to be good hosts to the strangers who come to them.
Traffic attendants are trained to welcome people and point them toward the worship venues; greeters are positioned along walkways to welcome people and answer questions; and ushers are placed in the worship venues to respond to people and seat them. The goal is that each guest will receive a total of three greetings before sitting down in worship.
These first impressions are critical. Numerous studies have shown that guests are deciding whether or not to come back long before the pastor speaks.
I think we at ULC do a pretty good job at welcoming the stranger or guest into our midst. We do have greeters & ushers. I’m wondering if we can do more. I don’t want us to ever rest on our laurels; our achievements; or take anything or anyone for granted when it comes to hospitality.
We need to remain mindful and focused on our hospitality.
- I believe it is very important that everyone wear your name tags on Sundays, and greet the guests that you see.
- I have encouraged everyone who gives an announcement and/or temple talk to share their name and why they are doing an announcement.
All of this is about hospitality.
Stranger. Guest. Host.
All three roles should be taken seriously by us here at ULC, because all three roles are played by Jesus himself on the road to Emmaus in the gospel of Luke. Jesus appears to his disciples first as a stranger, then as a guest and finally as a host, offering critical guidance to us who want to do a better job of welcoming and including people in the life of this congregation.
When two disciples are traveling to the village of Emmaus on that first Easter afternoon, the risen Jesus comes near and walks with them. But their eyes are kept from recognizing Jesus.
Jesus asks about the events they’re discussing, and one of them says, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” (v. 18).
I think it is a key understanding to this story to realize that Jesus is initially depicted as a stranger, giving his disciples the challenge of showing hospitality.
The disciples practice philoxenia, which literally means “love of the stranger.”
- Philoxenia is one of the Greek words used in the New Testament for hospitality.
- This approach stands in stark contrast to the attitude so prevalent in society today — xenophobia, which is Greek for “fear of the stranger.”
What would it mean for us to practice philoxenia not only in our congregational life, but also in our daily life? How about in the life of our country?
- We here at University Lutheran practice philoxenia every time we open our doors to various groups. We presently have 12 regular groups using ULC facility on a regular basis.
- We do it every time we speak to strangers/guests in the lounge or narthex before & after worship, instead of chatting only with our friends.
- We do it every time we make an effort to get to know a person from a different race, culture, nationality or sexual orientation either here or during the week.
This is philoxenia — love of the stranger. This is what Jesus was about; & this is what Jesus expects us to emulate. When we practice good hospitality, we discover that strangers really aren’t so strange.
Stranger. Guest. Host.
Fortunately, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus rise to this challenge. As they come near the village that is their destination, Jesus walks ahead as if he is going on. But the disciples urge Jesus strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over” (v. 29).
So Jesus goes in to stay with them, and he becomes their guest. They welcome and include Jesus in their lives, and invite him to stay with them.
Jesus wants us to take good care of the guests who come to us here at University Lutheran & in our lives. Jesus challenges us to welcome everyone; to feed the hungry and welcome the outcasts as he did throughout his ministry.
Since we, the members of the church, are the physical body of Jesus in the world today, we’re supposed to be his hands and continue his work.
We show the presence of Jesus in the world every time we practice hospitality in his name,
- whether we’re feeding the hungry through Teen Feed;
- providing safety & resources for homeless women during the day at Elizabeth Gregory Home, as well as during the night through Wheels;
- welcoming a guest to a service of worship,
- or opening our doors to another worshipping community.
Guests are important to Jesus, which is why he played that role on the road to Emmaus. Jesus wanted to challenge his followers to see him as a guest and take good care of him.
There’s a scene in the gospel of Matthew that stresses the importance of this kind of care. In the final judgment of the nations as written in Matthew 25: 34-40, Jesus announces that he frequently appears to us as a guest.
Specifically, he comes in the form of people who are in need of food, drink and a warm welcome. Jesus says to his followers, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me”
In this story the followers of Jesus hear these words, but they’re confused. They don’t remember seeing Jesus and helping him, so they ask, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry … thirsty … a stranger?” Jesus answers them simply, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (vv. 37-40).Jesus comes to us as a guest, even today. When we help a person or a group in need, we’re really helping Jesus. This happens not only in church, but on the street, in the school and in the workplace – everywhere in our lives.
Stranger. Guest. Host
But notice what happens next on the road to Emmaus. Jesus, the stranger, becomes a guest of the disciples when he accepts their invitation to stay. But then Jesus quickly changes roles.
When he’s sitting at the table with them, Jesus becomes their host — he takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. This is usually done by the home owner, the host; not by a guest. Jesus takes over that role in order to make a point.
Then the disciples eyes are opened and they recognize him — and Jesus vanishes from their sight (vv. 30-31). The role of Jesus changes from stranger to guest to host when he sits at the table and breaks the bread (v. 30).
This transition continues to happen today, when the risen Jesus nourishes us through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper – the Holy Communion. As the bread is broken, we’re invited to open our hearts to the presence of Jesus. Jesus comes to feed us, and to fill us with his power and his presence.
It’s critically important for us to permit Jesus to be our host;
- In our lives during the week;
- Around the table during worship sharing bread & wine, and accepting the forgiveness Jesus offers and to allow ourselves to be strengthened and inspired.
Sometimes, it’s easier for us to help others than to receive help. We would rather be a host than let someone else be a host. But, at the communion, the Lord’s Supper, permit Jesus to be your host. Open yourself to what Jesus wants to give you. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, your eyes will be opened and you’ll recognize Jesus.
The Gospel reading ends with the two disciples racing back to Jerusalem to share the news of their experience with Jesus with the other disciples. They tell the disciples what happened on the road and how Jesus “had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (v. 35).
This message is a proclamation, and it’s something we’re all challenged to do. To make a proclamation is simply to talk about how we’ve experienced the activity of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Our experiences are going to be different for all of us, and differences are just fine — differences are part of the diversity of life in a church.
Emmaus is where we learn how to welcome one another in our homes, in church, around a table, and then out into the world with a proclamation.
Emmaus is where we come together and strengthen our bonds with Jesus and with each other.
When we practice Christian hospitality, we become part of a mighty spiritual movement — one that can overcome divisions in a terribly polarized world.
And think about this; it is easier to make a habit of hospitality when we remember how much Jesus is present in the practice. We can see Jesus in strangers and guests, and we can act as Jesus when we play the role of host.
And at the end of all our hospitable activity, we are faced with two questions:
- “Did we see Jesus in them?”
- “And did they see Jesus in us?”
Then think about this: which of these two questions is the most important?
Thanks be to God who has given us the victory. Amen.
@Rev. Tim Wolbrecht, 4.2018
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 4-15-18” name of the sermon.