Friday, November 25, 2016

Sacred Hospitality

Dear friends,

Jerusalem is a transit city. In ancient times before the rise of the Roman Empire, it was an important trading center connecting merchants and communities along the Silk Road to Europe and Africa.  Today, Jerusalem remains a transit city in the sense that all sorts of people including faithful Muslims, Christians, and Jews come for pilgrimage and tourism to visit and connect with the ancient and living stones.  Jerusalem is like many cities -a place where God’s diverse creation is well-represented and on display.
Jerusalem's Western Wall Plaza and the Dome of the Rock shining in the background

With so many strangers and visitors arriving each day, those who live and work in this city are tasked with an important duty of service that glorifies and pleases God.  These are the acts of practicing hospitality, love, and friendship to all people.  For Christians living in the Holy City and all over the world, this is a direct call to action to live out the tenets of our Baptismal Covenant:

“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
 in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin,
repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good news of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons,
 loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people,
 and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.”

(The Baptismal Covenant, BCP p.304-305)

There are so many ways to practice hospitality in the world: inviting someone into you home for a meal, cup of coffee, or tea, pointing someone in the right direction who is lost, saying hello and smiling, holding a door or helping a person with their luggage, letting someone go before you in line, or taking a person, couple, or group’s photo if they ask, these are but a few practical examples.

Each day, in my role as Sacristan at St. George’s Cathedral and as a servant of the Church, I hold hospitality close, in my heart and mind, in my thinking and actions.  I greet and welcome people who wander into the Cathedral for the first time (and quite possibly the only time) and share brochures and information about the space and the daily worship services that take place.  In the evenings at the St. Michael’s Chapel, I regularly lead Evening Prayer for all who come, displaying my love for God and the act of hospitality through word, prayer, example, and fellowship.

Leading pilgrims to visit the Monastery of St. George in the Wadi Qelt, near Jericho
Almost every week, a new group of pilgrims from somewhere around the worldwide Anglican Communion arrives to stay at St. George’s Guesthouse (recent examples include: Diocese of Michigan, Diocese of Los Angeles, Diocese of Texas, Diocese of Southwark, Diocese of Nigeria, and the Diocese of South Carolina).  I sit down and break bread with guests and pilgrims and share my story serving with the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) and Jerusalem Peacebuilders (JPB), expressing the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and my gratitude for how He has transformed my life.  These storytelling opportunities are good practice, as it helps me tell my story with greater ease and confidence and prompts me to reflect on God’s grace and enduring presence in my life.  With so many groups regularly coming to visit, I admit that I sometimes get tired of all the sharing and introductions and retreat with my dinner to my apartment for a quiet evening alone.  I have both introverted and extroverted leanings, thus I become recharged and reenergized when I have this space and personal time.

This daily hospitality is one way that I express and practice evangelism.  I remember from our YASC Missionary Orientation back in June when The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers shared how influential and beautiful evangelism could be in different forms beyond the common misconceptions most of us have about it. Personally, I am not one for proselyting non-Christians with aggressive, in-your-face, arguments for becoming a follower of Christ, but I do believe my person and ministry has a powerful, transcendental effect on those I encounter here in the Holy Land and will encounter throughout the rest of my life wherever God leads me.  I am a gentle, humble, compassionate, and sincere man, and I believe Christ’s love shines through me upon others in these exact same ways.  So, when I reflect on my “Missionary” job title with YASC, this all begins to make perfect sense.  

In a city filled with strife, in a world filled with strife, let us remember this important aspect of our Baptismal Covenant, offering hospitality, love, and friendship to our family members, work colleagues, the stranger, and even to our enemies. It is through these acts of unconditional love that we can heal the wounds of suffering, squelch the hatred, and break down the barriers of separation that strip us of our humanity.

Come visit me in Jerusalem and learn firsthand about the life of Jesus, walk where he walked, and pray where he prayed. I promise to welcome you in hospitality with the same spirit of His open and loving embrace.

In Christ,
Jack Karn

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