Today I am doing another translation; this time a sermon by James Woody (a Protestant pastor in Montpellier) called “Les Hôtes de Dieu”(original in link). Now, for Pastor Woody.
“1)Persevere in brotherly love.
2)Don’t forget hospitality; for, while exercising it, some have welcomed angels without knowing it. 3) Remember prisoners, as if you were also prisoners; and those who are mistreated, as if you yourselves were in a body.”
“Some, without knowing it, have welcomed angels”, as a result of the hospitality which they showed. Without knowing it…in other words, while being unaware, without knowing anything in particular, without dominating the events, without controlling precisely who was arriving, without following a church project to the letter. In an unexpected manner, some welcomed angels.
To not dominate the entirety of events is to allow those whom we meet the liberty to be themselves and to be bearers of differences that could enrich us. Even better, to not dominate from beginning to end those who arrive in the course of the meeting a discussion, or an interview, is to accept change in contact with the Other, and to not impose limits on reading and interviews, a predetermined order of required passages. There’s no divine liturgy in the sense of mechanics of the sacred that, without fail, bring in the presence of God.
To not dominate is to not presume who will arrive to a dialogue, a meal, or a walk. It is, in the case of a dialogue, to not know how one will respond before our interlocutor has finished responding.
THE AMBIGUITY OF “HÔTES”
The word “hospitality” comes from the French word “hospitalité”, which gives the French language the word “hôte”, used in the French title of this piece and charged with a delicious ambiguity. The word “hôte” leaves us unaware; meaning that when we say “hôte”, we don’t know in advance who welcomes and who is welcomed. To be l’hôte (host, guest) of God could be welcomed by God, or whoever is welcomed, to welcome him. This uncertainty is sweet, because it indicates that we welcome each other, that we never know very well who welcomes, and who is welcomed. This indicated that welcoming is an affair that both enjoy.
Without knowing it, some who thought they were welcoming had been welcomed by those much greater, as a result of the hospitality that they manifested. They were simply available, open, and welcoming of the events that presented themselves. They were opportunists in the sense that they were prepared to take hold of the opportunites that life offered them.
To tell the truth, the Greek text speaks of “philoxénia”, the inverse of xenophobia: the love of foreignness, the love of the foreigner/stranger [“L’ Étranger” can mean both], neaning that the invitation made is to appreciate whoever arrives and not to consider him a priori to be a threat.
Some people, thinking to offer a meal, ended up at worship; for worship isn’t only Thursday at noon and Sunday morning. Worship is each time we live hosting the life that the Gospel speaks of, each time we have the desire to embody the Gospel, to be the living word of God in Jesus Christ.
Worship is each time we’re a soul; that is, when we are host of life, capable of welcoming opportunities; and guests of life, ready to be taken by that which life proposes to us, by the projects that are developed, by the adventures that are conceived. Worship is each time we’re a soul in the sense where our personality gets up and grows in the view of the Other, in interaction with whoever introduces himself and enlarges our horizon as much as he deepens our understanding of the world. Worship is each time we are a soul, that we are deeply moved by the world that knocks on the door of our personal story, and to which we extend a nice welcome, unless it be the world that welcome us.
Remembering those in prison, as the letter to the Hebrews invites us to do, is to be host to those that society judges less worthy, the outcasts, those from whom one wants to protect him/herself. The church responds to its call when it is host to those wothout rank, those of ill repute, the importune, and even the guilty. According to the words of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The church is only really itself when it is the church for others.” The church is the host of the world, welcoming people into intimacy with God; and guest of the world, in making itself at home on the concerns of its contemporaries.
We could call this “diaconian worship”: the service rendered to those we welcome and who welcome us, a service giving meaning to the living, in the manner of the angels that guide, that consists of strengthening brotherhood and developing gestures of solidarity. We all get enjoyment when we help each other.
“Hospitality” is, perhaps, a term that we could have in mind to give the assembly of church life an intensity rising to the heights at which the Gospel invites us to live: to make our church a place to be the hosts and guests of God.