SERMON: God’s Hospitality To The World by C. S. Song

God's Hospitality To The World by C. S. Song

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  The nations will walk by its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the Earth will bring their glory into it.  Its gate will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there.  People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.  (Revelation 21:22-26)

We are gathered here this morning to celebrate the Eucharist.  The celebration of the Eucharist is always a special event in the life of the Christian church.  But our eucharistic celebration today is particularly special.  Why particularly special?  Last month the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches meeting in Lima, Peru, voted in favor of the theological texts on baptism, Eucharist, and ministry after fifty years of study, discussion, and deliberation.  It took half a century for these texts to be developed and to be sent to the churches for study and possible adoption.  Fifty years!  God must have been very patient with churches, as God always is.  One cannot help but wonder whether we as churches have taken too much advantage of God’s patience.  Still, we have here a cause for celebration at the service of the Eucharist today.

Eucharist Is God’s Hospitality

What is the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper?  Whatever you may understand it to be, it is the amazing hospitality God offers to the world.  Even the hospitality of a sumptuous twelve course Chinese feast is nothing compared with it.  But the question that disturbs me most is this: Are we Christians and churches truly grateful to God this amazing hospitality God has offered to us and to the world through Jesus?  And there is another disturbing question: Would it take another fifty years, or would it never be possible, for all churches and Christians from different confessions to sit together to enjoy the amazing hospitality God has provided for churches and for the world at the Lord’s Table?  It is one thing to come up with a fine theological statement or a stirring confession of faith, but to put it into practice is quite another.  Has this not been the case for Christianity in most of its history?

There is another question.  At this stage of world history when the Two-Thirds World has erupted in our face, why do we, many Christians and theologians, still reveal such immaturity when it comes to relating God’s hospitality at the Lord’s Table to histories, cultures, and religions outside the Western world?  At the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we are challenged to relate how we live and what we believe to how other people live and what they believe in God’s world.  Why are we still so half-hearted and reluctant in our approach to them?  Why do we not dare to face what God’s hospitality means not only for us Christians from different confessional backgrounds, but for people from outside the church?

“Jesus Christ – the Life of the World,” is the theme of the forthcoming Sixth General Assembly of the World Council of Churches to be held in Vancouver, Canada, four years from now in 1986.  Do I need to stress that this World in the theme of the Assembly is far bigger and far livelier than the “Christian” world?  The largest part of this world is the world of cultures, religions, and histories outside the West and the North.  As we sit at the Lord’s Table that represents God’s hospitality to the world, do we not have to give much thought to how people in this vast world are related to God?

God In the Midst of History

Let us begin with the subject of history.  History is the record of how human beings, whether individuals or community, struggle for survival and fulfillment.  It tells us how dynasties come and go, how empires and republics rise and fall.  It tells us how political parties win or lose an election.  It is also testimonies to the struggle between freedom and dictatorship.  These are all human stories.  History is people’s stories.

This human history is at the same time God’s history.  It is the story of how God engages people to reconstruct history and to create new history.  Let us recall Isaiah, a prophet in ancient Israel almost 2,800 years go.  Addressing the warring nations of his time, he declares:

Draw near, O nations, to hear;
O peoples, give heed!
Let the Earth hear, and all that fills it;
the world, and all that comes from it.
For the Lord is enraged against all the nations,
and furious against all their hordes;
the Lord has doomed them, has given them over for slaughter.
(Isaiah 34:1-2)

God is enraged against all the nations and peoples at war!  Plenty of outbursts of God’s anger appear in the Hebrew Bible.  This is metaphorical language, of course.  It is an effort to express how God is right in the midst of what nations and peoples are doing to one another.  History with its horrors, miseries, and destructions has to reckon with God as well as with us human beings.

But history is not only horror stories.  History also has a more cheerful side.  I am referring to the vision of the nations and peoples reconciled to God and to each other.  John, the author of the book of Revelation, was exiled to Patmos, a rocky island, for refusing to worship the Emperor Domitian (81-96) as “Lord and God.”  Toward the end of his book, John, the author, tells us:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light and its lamp is the Lamb.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the Earth will bring their glory into it.  (Revelation 21:22-24)

What a glorious vision of history!  This is the history in which God takes full command, the history not built on temple but on God’s glory, the history that works to end religion in order for God to be revealed and for all nations and peoples to enjoy the hospitality of God’s saving grace.  Did not the Last Supper Jesus had with his followers before his crucifixion, the very origin of the eucharist we celebrate today, foreshadow the city of God that signifies the end of religions, including Christianity?

God’s Ultimate Hospitality to the World

How is this hospitality of God we celebrate at the Lord’s Supper related to the cultures that shape the lives of people outside Christianity?  Christians have been taught to shun cultures alien to Christianity.  But to be human is to make culture.  Human beings, Christian or not, are culture-making creatures.  We build thatched hamlets and skyscrapers.  This is part of human cultural activities.  We are also part of the cultures we see in museums; we dance in tribal dances; we watch puppet shows.  We are part of the cultures we see at an opera house and hear at a music hall.  We also listen to our cultures as we listen to folktales and legends.  We are overwhelmed by the power and vitality of indigenous arts.  We smell cultures in our kitchens and breathe them in the communities in which we live.  We human beings, Christians or people of other faiths, are born with the capacity for culture.

What do these human cultural activities say to the Lord’s Supper?  And is not the Lord’s Supper itself – the language it uses and the elements of bread and wine it dispenses – part of the culture within which it developed?  As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, do we not, then, have to listen attentively to the sound of drums calling a tribal community to assemble for worship and for festival?  Culture is the cradle of human spiritual activities longing for the divine presence in the world of suffering and hope, in the life of pain and joy.

Let us listen to this African American spiritual that has inspired generations of African Americans in their struggle to be free:

Don’t be weary, traveler,
Come along home to Jesus.
Don’t be weary, traveler,
Come along home to Jesus.
My head get wet with the midnight dew,
Come along home to Jesus.
Angels bear me witness too,
Come along home to Jesus.
Where to go I did not know,
Come along home to Jesus.
Ever since he freed my soul
Come along home to Jesus.

Is this not the kind of spiritual culture that sustained a people aspiring to the world of freedom in the midst of pain and the suffering of enslavement?  When the Lord’s Supper gets related to it, do we still need half a century of study and debate to come up with a statement whose future with the churches is at most uncertain?  Is it not almost blasphemous for Christians to sit divided at the Lord’s Table?  But this is what churches and Christians have done for centuries!

Then what about the human being as religions being?  The Lord’s Supper has to do with human persons faced with a life-and-death matter.  Basically, this life-and-death matter is not doctrine, not liturgy, not canon law, not priesthood, but human beings thrust into the depths of “to be or not to be.”  Is this not how we must visualize Jesus as he sat down for the last time with his followers for the farewell meal?  Is it religion that occupied the mind, soul, and spirit of Jesus in those pensive hours?  Surely not.  What the seer of the book of Revelation saw on the island of Patmos once again grips us.  “I saw no temple in the city,” he tells us, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”  In his vision the temple is abolished, cannon law is done away with, and religion is put to an end.  When God is the temple itself, all temples, all religious laws and teachings, have no meaning any longer.

Is not the Lord’s Supper such a moment when all our confessional divisions and religious differences ought to be suspended to make room for God’s hospitality to the world?  Is this not what God’s saving grace really means?  Is this not what occupied Jesus’s mind, soul, and spirit when he ate the Last Supper with his followers before he went out to face death on the cross, the ultimate hospitality of God for the world?

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