Our reflections over the past two months on living in the power of the Holy Spirit lead us directly to the topic of God’s extraordinary hospitality. New Testament scholars sometimes refer to the Holy Spirit as the “ go-between God.” This expression points to the mission of the Spirit to create community through hospitality. God moves invisibly among us, thereby including us in the divine life of love. In turn, we are privileged collectively to be animated by the Spirit as Christ’s Body, and individually to be the dwelling place of the go-between God.
The go-between activity of the Holy Spirit points to the function of hospitality within the Trinity itself. Most often we call this activity love, and describe the love within God’s eternal being this way:
- The Father eternally begets the Son and eternally breathes the Spirit.
- Both Son and Spirit exist without beginning or end through the Father’s self-giving.
- Reciprocally, the Son gives himself to the Father and the Spirit, and
- The Holy Spirit pours out Spirit to the other two persons of the Trinity.
This eternal giving and receiving takes place within the gracious oneness of God. The giving and receiving of the One explains why the Bible declares that God is love (1 John 3:11-4:17). This creative and ecstatic self-giving likewise illuminates God’s incredible hospitality.
I am very pleased that we will be learning about God’s extraordinary hospitality over the next two months. We already practice hospitality quite well, especially on Sunday morning. It is gratifying to hear visitors comment on the warm and genuine welcome they experience at All Saints’. As we deepen our appreciation we will increase our ability to incorporate God’s hospitality into our private and public lives. Our worship will be enriched as we recognize that in the liturgy we’re participating in God’s own hospitality.
The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:1-30) gives us a convenient starting place for our prayerful reflection on hospitality. This story shows God’s hospitality as welcoming, participating, and hosting.
Welcoming (John 4:1-10)
Walking from Jerusalem to Galilee with his disciples, Jesus stopped by the well of Jacob. This ancient well provided a welcoming oasis to them, as it had for people through the centuries. Jesus welcomed the Samaritan woman, despite the fact that Samaritans and Jews mistrusted each other. By asking her for a drink, Jesus placed himself under the obligation of her hospitality, instead of distancing himself with self-sufficiency.
In a similar manner, the joy and eternal love we share at All Saints’ attracts people to our doors. We do not just care for our own, nor are we self-sufficient. Rather, we invite friends and strangers to join us in worship and reach out to others. We invite others to our concerts, picnics, and classes. We welcome to this wellspring those who come uninvited, and those who come because they are thirsty or despised.
Participating (John 4:11-15)
In a surprising twist, Jesus offered the woman something greater than a cup of water. He offered her a means to his divine presence. The living water Jesus gave serves very much like the water of baptism. Baptism is a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. The living water is also very much like the wine of Holy Communion, which we drink to be refreshed at the spiritual level.
The hospitality of God in which we bath and which we drink is God’s living presence. We receive it as gift, just as the sinful Samaritan woman did. As the Church, we not only receive and partake of the living water, we also become that living water on behalf of Jesus Christ, by loving others in the power of God’s Spirit.
Hosting (John 4:16-26)
Twice the woman missed the invitation by getting stuck on the “how.” First it was the literal level of how Jesus could draw water from a deep well without a bucket. Then it was questions of worship. In both cases, Jesus invited the woman to respond at the level of spirit and of truth. When she accepted the invitation, she recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Instead of seeing him as a feared foreigner, she realized that he was her Lord, the great I Am.
We are welcomed to All Saints’ by Jesus. We participate in the new life of grace, and serve as God’s host to others. These three movements constitute the hospitality of God which we receive as a gift, and which we receive by giving to others. We accomplish this hospitality by entering into relationship with them. As we receive and give God’s extraordinary hospitality, we become that spring of living water gushing up to eternal life.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…We love because [God] first loved us” (John 4:18-19).