We all know it. We in settled churches have a way of slipping from an active engagement with the “Go ye” of Jesus’ apostolic call to a passive and forlorn optimism that looks to the world with a “come ye” invitation to the world in general. Thus it becomes the world’s responsibility to come to whatever it is we put on and our responsibility to be welcoming and hospitable when people do come calling. Of course we know that that this is a reversal of the apostolic lifestyle of Jesus, his twelve, his seventy-two and the apostolic workers of whom we read in the pages of the New Testament. But to actually re-flip our paradigms – and our ways of life – accordingly is a more subtle mind-shift than can ever be achieved in a single light-bulb moment!
I acknowledged the need for the above shift and preached for it for years. At one church we replaced our come-ye Gospel service with a Sunday free for “out of the salt-shaker” extra-curricular gregariousness. In JGen we pared down our church structures to vital minimum to maximise our time for engaging with those who would never come-ye to any church program or event. But when we moved on from JGen and settled on the beautiful NSW South Coast it was time for me to reprogram my paradigm at still another level.
When we arrived on the coast we enjoyed the process of getting to know a new place and a new community, all the while aware that the locals were quietly sizing us up. Were we merely economic migrants there to lap up cheaper real estate prices but with our hearts in the city. Or were we here to be locals? With some of the local shopkeepers it took a little while to complete the sizing up process. I noticed a very significant degree of acceptance when we hit the two-year mark and it felt good to have our “peace” accepted.
I use that phrase to “have our peace accepted” to hearken back to the words of Jesus’ apostolic call to the twelve and the seventy-two – the call in which all believers are called to share. He told his missionaries to stay with people who accepted their peace. Those who received them and immediately welcomed their friendship Jesus called “people of peace.” When the wider welcome came I reflected on those who had received us into their world far more readily and speedily;
- The “inn-keeper” with whom we stayed that first night on the coast, who introduced Ruth (who is a school teacher) to a local school principal to assist her with job-searching
- The next door neighbours who kept us constantly supplied with fresh produce and occasional gifts for the kids
- The neighbour at the end of the street who habitually included us in his prolific barbies
- The neighbour who helped us install our TV and aerial The young guy who installed our gutter guard
These then were our people of peace. As I thought about the kindness of these locals I realised that in this scenario we were the receivers not the imparters. We were the guests not the hosts. And I realised that so much of my efforts at living an apostolic life through the years had been about empowering myself as the host, or my church as the hosts. Now I began to see that the life apostolic depends on my becoming a guest in the lives of others, a welcome presence in the worlds of others.
Jesus was called a “friend of sinners”. This must mean that Jesus befriended others in a way that appeared to his judgey onlookers to be entirely non-discriminatory. Accordingly Jesus found himself invited to parties that other more pharisaic people would have avoided, had they been invited – which they weren’t! (Think about Levi’s party.) Jesus was a welcome guest.
The lessons we began learning during our season on the coast were not about how to attract others into our world but rather how to be the kind of people that others would wish to welcome into their worlds. And there are many worlds around me – the world of our kids, the world of their school, multiple ethnic worlds, the worlds of other religious communities, the LGBTI world, the commercial and retail worlds in which I spend such a chunk of my life. When the Apostle Paul spoke about learning to become all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9.20-23) this is what he was talking about. The art of becoming a pleasant, joy-giving and welcome presence in the lives of every kind of person. The art of befriending.
It is in the context of receiving hospitality and inclusion from others, in the role of the guest, that Jesus’ apostolic instructions to the 12 and 72 find their place – eating and drinking with people, remaining with people, ministering to the sick, and proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom of God. How do I journey alongside others so that I might remain, minister and proclaim? I must learn to become a guest – to be myself in such a way that others will want to welcome me. I must learn the art of extending my peace to others in such a way as to have it – at least some of the time – accepted. Relationships are the place of ministry and these are the skills through which new relationships will form. In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul spoke of his own journey in this matter. In the Gospels Jesus sent his missionaries on the same journey. God-willing that self-transforming journey is the same road we are on today. It is the apostolic way!