What Kind of Guest Are You? And What Kind of Host?

by | Jun 15, 2023

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness . . . As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
Matthew 10:1, 5-8

Last Friday evening my mother and I were having dinner at an outdoor restaurant, and we couldn’t help but hear some of the conversation between a young man and an older couple, possibly his grandparents, sitting at the table next to us. They had been there for some time before we arrived, clearly enjoying a multi-course meal. The young man was telling the couple about his recent travels all over the world. They listened with rapt attention, at times chiming in with stories of their own. When my mother and I got up to leave, they were still sipping coffee, sharing dessert, and savoring the warmth of a summer evening.

I’ve been thinking of them all week as a wonderful example of hospitality, both given and received. The older couple treated the young man as their honored guest; he, in turn, was animated and engaged in conversation, basking in their kindness and interest in his life.

What a gift it is to be welcomed, and to welcome others, with a generous heart. By that I mean the grace to be receptive and compassionate, able to listen well, read emotional cues, and act accordingly. A generous heart makes space for others to share, yet with boundaries sturdy enough to maintain a healthy distance, so as not to overwhelm.

As we enter a season in which many travel or welcome travelers into our homes, it’s helpful to remember what it feels like to be on the giving and receiving end of hospitality.

Years ago, the former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached a sermon in the Diocese of Washington in which she stressed the importance of receiving hospitality. “Our most fundamental act of peacemaking on this planet,” she said, “indeed, the greatest impact we will have anywhere, is in our role as the guest.”

Then she asked a question that we all might take with us this summer: “What kind of guest are you? “To which I would add, “And what kind of host?” As the poet Maya Angelou once said about our words, people will quickly forget the external circumstances of our meeting, but they will never forget how we made them feel in our presence.

Last Sunday I spent the day at St. Matthew/San Mateo Episcopal Church in Hyattsville, Maryland, one of our largest congregations, comprised largely of first and second generation immigrants from Central America. St. Matthew/San Mateo has opened its doors to the newest migrants in our communities, those arriving by bus from border states, having traveled, often on foot, for months to seek refuge in the United States.

A young Venezuelan couple and their two toddler children are staying at St. Matthews/San Mateo now, sleeping on mattresses in a basement classroom, while they seek employment and a place to live. The father and children rushed to greet me after the third service of the morning, to thank me for all that we had done for them. My heart broke as we spoke, both with sadness for their hardships and gratitude for the hospitality of our people, marveling at how those closest to suffering often have the most generous hearts in response to the suffering of others.

If you’re in an Episcopal church this Sunday, you’ll hear a story about the time Jesus sent his disciples out to the cities and villages of Galilee with daunting instructions. They were to follow in his footsteps, bringing good news and healing people in the name of God. “You received without payment,” he reminded them, “Give without payment.” At the same time, they were to take no money, no bag, not even an exchange of clothes, but instead to rely completely on the hospitality of others. It is a graphic depiction of generosity, both given and received, and a story that most of us hear very differently, I suspect, from the Venezuelan family and others who have been thrust into the world completely dependent on the kindness of strangers.

On my best days, I strive to be a good host and a good guest, to receive others with warmth and kindness, and when I am the one being received, to be attentive to my surroundings and gracious. And then there are those other days, when I am tired or overwhelmed, and can neither give nor receive hospitality. On those days, I need mercy and forgiveness, and a way back to my better self.

The examples of others are one way back. This week I was blessed to be in the presence of those who exemplified the giving and receiving of hospitality. I am grateful for their generous hearts, and the hearts of others too many to number.

May this summer be one of generous hospitality for you, both given and received.