John 21:1-13Hospitality is central to how God is with us, therefore this is how we are to be with ourselves and others.’

Josh Olds

Last year for my 30th my family very generously all chipped in to cover the cost and the childcare to allow Susan and I to tramp the Abel Tasman coast track – we of course jumped at the opportunity! If you’re not familiar with the Abel Tasman track, it’s one of the New Zealand Great Walks – it’s a 60km track that spans most of the coastline of the Abel Tasman national park in the north-east corner of the South Island – it’s an amazing part of Aotearoa. We decided that we wanted to be a bit adventurous so opted not to stay in any of the DOC huts along the track, but to instead pack a tent and camp at various places. This in turn meant that our tramping packs were reasonably heavy! Added to this was the fact that we ended up getting a fair amount of rain as we tramped. We loved the tramp, and we had a great time – but there were some pretty long days of walking, with heavy packs, in the rain, sustaining ourselves with freeze-dried food, we were pretty exhausted! On our second to last night of the tramp we did something that tramping purists might scoff at, we ditched the tent that night and stayed at the beautiful, privately owned, 5-star Awaroa lodge which is nestled in just off the main track. Exhausted, sore, hungry, and a bit grubby, at the lodge we were met with comfort, rest, and the opportunity to fill our bellies. Just what we needed!

That feeling of taking the heavy pack off my aching shoulders and sitting down to a hot meal at the lodge is what came to mind for me this week when I read this passage about Jesus and the disciples sharing breakfast on the beach. The disciples had spent a whole night out on the water fishing and caught nothing, if you’ve ever had the character-building experience of going fishing and not catching a single thing – you know how frustrating this can be! Then all of a sudden they have this mysterious encounter with this ‘stranger’ on the shore, who we of course know is Jesus, which leads to this monstrous haul of fish that the disciples are then tasked with getting to shore. Once finally back on land, the tired, sore, hungry, and probably somewhat perplexed fisherman are met with Jesus’ invitation to come and have breakfast – sit, have some food, refresh yourselves and take it easy for a moment; they are met with hospitality.

This passage is written from the perspective of the disciples. We’re drawn into the events from their side of the story – the long night on the water, the mysterious and excessive haul of fish, and Jesus’ invitation to join him for breakfast, which they find cooking over a fire as they arrive back onto the beach. But on the other side of the story is Jesus. Now, the passage doesn’t give any detail, but it implies that before the disciples notice Jesus on the shore, he’s already there and has noticed them out on the water – with their empty nets and empty stomachs, and so he lights a fire and he prepares some food. Then he calls out and gets their attention, eventually inviting them to come and sit and eat, to be hosted at a place that he had put together with them in mind. I find myself quite struck by that image of Jesus – he is the infinite creator and life-sustaining God incarnate, yet in that moment he concerns himself with getting breakfast ready for his worn-out friends. I find it profound to imagine Jesus gathering firewood, and kneading bread – creating a space for some weary fisherman to come and find rest and refreshment.

I wonder if this story of Jesus hosting his hungry friends is a bit of a tangible microcosm, a concrete example on a small scale, of how God is with us on a big scale, with all of humanity. Jesus’ posture in this passage is one of accommodating those around him, of being mindful of others – of being hospitable. Hospitality is often directly connected with food – i.e. the hospitality industry, and of course food is a large part of hospitality, but what I want to reflect on this morning is the posture that underlies the serving of food – of being mindful of those around us. The word hospitality evolved from the Latin word ‘hospitalitas’ which referred to a host’s relationship with their guest – it’s more to do with a disposition than it is to do with an action. Jesus was mindful of his friends – how they might have been feeling, what they might have needed and so he set about to prepare a meal for them. I think this story encapsulates God’s posture towards us on a big scale – just as Jesus’ posture towards his disciples in this passage was one of hospitality, so is God’s posture towards us, one of hospitality. Yes, God is great and holy, and so much more than what we can fathom, yet he is a God who is mindful of us, who chooses to draw near and be known by us, who is constantly aware of us before we’re aware of him, constantly inviting us in.

You might be able to see the connection to the Village value we’re reflecting on this week – “Hospitality is central to how God is with us, therefore this is how we are to be with ourselves and others.” It’s interesting in our passage that in Jesus’ display of hosting his friends, he actually invites them to contribute – “bring some of the fish you have caught,” he says. And interestingly, the passage that immediately follows the breakfast on the beach scene is one that centres on a conversation that Jesus has with Peter, in which Jesus instructs him to “feed and care for my sheep.” There is a correlation between receiving hospitality and offering it, between being hosted, and hosting others – God is first and foremost hospitable with us, therefore this informs us of how we are to be with each other. So then, what does hospitality look like in our context here at the Village? As a community of people who know and have known something of God’s posture of hospitality towards us, what does it mean for us to embody that same posture with one another, and also with our wider local community?

Internally, as the Village community, we are pretty broad. We meet, and have met in a few different locations for worship on a Sunday morning, we gather together in many different groups, around many different interests throughout the week – we’ve seen and heard about a number of these in recent months in our ‘stories from the Village’ segment. We have a range of ages and ethnicities, skills and hobbies, perspectives and passions all included within our community. So as a diverse, multi-site, wide-ranging community, what does it mean for us to make space for each other around the table, how do we resist the urge to give in to ‘us and them’ type thinking? How do we maintain a posture of hospitality with each other? Of course, questions about our posture of hospitality internally with each other are not the only questions we should be asking! We are a church community that is situated within a local community (actually, a few local communities!) and a large part of our purpose as a church community is to seek the well-being of our local community. What role does hospitality play in that? What does it mean for us to be mindful of those around us, and to invite the contribution of others? What does it look like to be good hosts to those who share our spaces? I think this stuff is already a big part of our culture here, Susan and I can attest to the hospitality of the Village firsthand, from day one we’ve felt received here as part of the community. And that’s not to mention all of those who receive our hospitality in ways like being read to, or by having their toenails trimmed, or having a place to sit and natter with fellow knitters. Nevertheless, I think it’s good to keep coming back to these questions of hospitality and what it looks like in our context.

I wonder if part of our reflection on what hospitality looks like in our context should centre on our space – our buildings, our gatherings – whose are they? And, for whom do they exist? Is this space ours, and is it for us? It is in some ways, but in other ways, we reap the benefits of these buildings by those who have gone before us – those now gone who have given their time, money, energy, and care. And is this space just for our benefit – to house our worship and meetings? To give us the Village community a home? It is in some ways, but in other ways, it’s an asset of the wider community – a gathering place, a place of relationship, of celebration – where a local school can practise their kapa-haka or those recovering from a brain injury can connect, or where budding artists can receive guidance – a place of hospitality. Maybe we’re more stewards of this space than owners, each of us caretakers for the benefit of others. I want to finish by reading a poem by Margaret Harvey – who will be known to many, particularly those who frequent the creative nest! The poem is entitled “I thought I lived alone – The day when my place became our place” and is about a change in perspective and a posture of hospitality.