“Strangers, Guests and Hosts”

“Strangers, Guests and Hosts”

Easter 2 (NL3) John B. Valentine
Luke 24:13-35 April 11, 2021


The word of the day is “hospes”. H-O-S-P-E-S “Hospes”

Hospes is an old Latin word ... from which we get words like ....

• ‘Hospice’ and
• ‘Hospital’ and
• ‘Hospitable’ and
• ‘Hospitality’.

Now ... based on those words and how they’ve trickled down into our vocabulary ... you’d think it wouldn’t be too too hard to figure out what the original definition of “hospes” was ... right??

• ‘Hospice’ means “taking care of someone who is struggling with a terminal disease” ...

• A ‘Hospital’ is a place where you “take care” of someone who is hurting ....

• To be ‘Hospitable’ is to “take care” of visitors and guests ....

• And ‘Hospitality’ is the “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests and strangers”.

But ... if you were to put “taking care” down as your definition of “hospes” on a Latin test ... your teacher would probably mark you wrong!

For “hospes” actually meant ... actually means ... check this out ... “stranger” OR “guest” OR “host”.

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Now ... if you think about it ... there’s something that is just weird about that.

I mean ... WE have one word for “stranger” and another word for “guest” and yet a whole ‘nother word for “host” ... do we not???

• “Strangers” are people whom
we don’t know ...

• “Guests” are people we’ve either welcomed or invited ... and

• “Hosts” are the people who do the welcoming and inviting in the first place ... right???

It just doesn’t make sense for those silly old Romans to come up with one word to talk about those three very different roles ... does it???

But methinks perhaps we could probably learn a little something from the Romans and the Greeks on this one.

You see ... to OUR way of thinking ... when we think about somebody else ... be it as a ‘stranger’ or a ‘guest’ or a ‘host’ or whomever ... we try to make it all about them ... who THEY are

• “Never talk with strangers” ... we say ...
• “She’s an uninvited guest” ...
• “That restaurant is looking for a new hostess.”

But the ancients’ ways of thinking ... all of those words are grounded in a broader sense of relationships ... as in ...

• “That person is a stranger to me” ...
• “He is our guest this weekend” ...
• “She is our host this evening.”

Not “a stranger” ... but “a stranger to me.”

Not “a guest” ... but “my guest”.

Not “a host” ... but “our host”.

In all of those cases ... whereas we simply see “the other” ... the ancients saw it as “the other in relationship to me.”

And that relationship is uncertain.

That relationship is potentially evolving.

That relationship is one in which we have an obligation to be committed.

That relationship brings with it certain responsibilities.

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Now the purpose of all this chitchat about strangers and guests and hosts in the ancient world is actually NOT because this is a class in Latin or Ancient Greek.

No ... its purpose is to give you a lens which is just begging to be used when we look at this week’s Scripture lesson.

You see ... in that “Easter Sunday afternoon and evening” account ... a fellow named Cleopas and another friend of Jesus have an encounter with the risen Christ.

It seems like they have left Jerusalem and are on their way to the town of Emmaus ... and they’re talking with one another about the horrors that had happened over the course of the past three days when they are approached by a stranger.

And the text seems deliberately unclear as to WHY they don’t recognize this mysterious stranger as Jesus .....

But ... over the course of the next couple of hours ... this stranger walks Cleopas and his compadre through the entire Scriptures and explains all sorts of ways in which Jesus might be understood as the One who fulfills the Scriptures.

And you can’t help but wonder if they were wondering “Who was this man who so beautifully made sense of everything that had happened, and yet at first had seemed clueless?”

But they still don’t recognize Jesus.

Anyhow ...

• as it’s getting late in the afternoon ...
• and they’ve reached their destination ...
• and no sane and self-respecting traveler would be out on the road after dark except in case of emergency ...

Cleopas and the other fellow invite Jesus to be their ... guest .... and spend the night with them.

Then the text says what?

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”

Do you see what’s happened there?

• The stranger to Cleopas and the other fellow ...
• Becomes their guest ...
• And then ... in short order ... their host ... and then simply vanishes from their sight.

And they don’t recognize Jesus as Jesus until he becomes both their guest and their host ....

And they don’t recognize Jesus except in the breaking of bread.

Are you perchance getting a sense as to WHY that little “stranger / guest / host” lecture that I gave you a couple of minutes ago is so important for our understanding of this text???

If you’re looking at this story from Twenty-First Century eyes ... the whole idea of the “stranger becoming the guest becoming the host” is kinda cool but nothing more.

But if you’re looking at it through First-Century eyes ... this text is really all about the “hospes” ... the stranger who is also the guest who is also the host.

If you’re looking at it through First-Century eyes ... this text is really all about “hospitality”.

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We don’t have time to go into a full-on conversation about hospitality as a core Christian value ... though maybe we will on Tuesday evening at our Zoom Adult Ed. event ... but suffice it to say that hospitality IS at the heart of lifestyles of Christian faithfulness.

After all ...

• There are NUMEROUS biblical admonitions to “take care of the resident aliens among you ... for you yourselves were aliens in the land of Egypt” ...

• And there IS that memorable reminder not to “neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” ...

• And here in this week’s text ... it’s in the breaking of bread ... in being in a relationship ... a guest/host relationship with Jesus ... that their eyes are opened to just who he is.

In fact ... whether you realize it or not ... this “stranger / guest / host” hospitality dynamic is at the very core of Jesus’ ministry ...

• from his parables about parties ...

• to his interaction with Zaccheaus ...

• to his being accused of being one who hangs out with tax-collectors and sinners.

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Nonetheless ... it’s seems to me that this whole idea of hospitality has taken a pretty serious beating in recent years.

Take ... for instance ... the fact that we have consigned responsibility for hospitality to the “Hospitality Industry” ...

And we’ve taken to seeing hospitality as something that ought be done for us ... rather than something that we are called to do for others.

Or consider how ... increasingly ... our language about the “other” has devolved into fear of the one who is different, who doesn't look like me, speak like me, or believe like me.

Hospitality ... as a virtue ... has given way to finger-pointing, fear-mongering, stereo-typing and race-baiting by just about everyone and anyone.

In fact ... it seems to me that one of the greatest challenges of this whole calendar year of COVID-19 has been figuring HOW to be hospitable in the face of social distancing!

Because no one is able to be a “host” or a “guest” ... we’ve held everyone at arms length and treated them as strangers!

And I kind of wonder if hospitality will ever be able to make a comeback when this whole pandemic thing is in the past!

But ... in any event ... the biblical witness reveals to us the truth about God ... about a God who is shaped by love ... about a God who embodies hospitality.

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You see ... literally the last lesson Jesus ever taught was on the subject of hospitality ....

When he said: ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘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.’

When was it that you saw that stranger and turned them into a guest?

When was it that you played host to someone who was hurting?

When was it that you became a stranger for the sake of the Kingdom?

It’s not just “Who Jesus is” but “Who Jesus is TO US” that makes all the difference!

And ... likewise ... it's not just "Who our neighbor is" but "Who our neighbor is TO US" that makes all the difference!

So go in peace ... to love and serve your neighbor!

“Strangers, Guests and Hosts” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our worship video for the weekend of April 11, 2021 — the Second Sunday of Easter.  The text upon which it is based is Luke 24:13-35.