"Welcoming the Stranger in Suspicious Times"
Do not neglect hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2
The most marvelous thing happened to me the other day! I am so excited to share with you that I made a phone call and lo and behold, someone answered! No, I was not calling a family member or friend or clergy person who likely has my number saved in their contacts. I was calling someone I did not know, and they answered! I must admit that if I receive a phone call from a number that is not in my contacts, I do not answer! If it is a “real” person or an important matter, they can leave a message. Then I can call back with confidence and without fear of harassment or scams!
I started to contemplate the wider implications of a culture that is afraid to answer the phone because of the plethora of sales calls, scam calls, political campaign calls, hostile calls. Is the suspicion with which we screen our calls not also often evident in our interaction with strangers? Most weeks I appear at worship services in congregations where I am not known by most people. Often, I could come into a church, sit down, worship and depart without anyone initiating a conversation or asking my name. Of course, I initiate conversation and seek to build moments of community, but it is clear that I am the stranger on other people’s home turf. Outside of the church environment people often comment that their neighborhoods or apartment buildings do not provide an immediate welcome for the stranger, the outsider. We certainly do not want someone knocking on our door that we do not know! Suspicion and fear of “the other” has increased the cultural tension and likely helped produce the divisions that we witness.
Scripture invites us from suspicion to hospitality. “The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground” (Genesis 18:1-2). Abraham then showed immediate hospitality to the three men, inviting them to rest under a tree and preparing a big meal for them. The men provided a warning to Abraham and Sarah that saved them and their family from destruction. Actually, it was God visited them disguised as a stranger. Notice that Abraham hurried to offer welcome and hospitality, he took the initiative to care for their needs.
Hospitality is a spiritual virtue. Hospitality reflects the Good News of God. An open heart to the stranger, to those outside our comfortable and safe pod reflects the grace and welcome offered to us. As we welcome the stranger into our church, home, community, and our lives perhaps we too will “entertain angels without knowing it.” I will likely continue to screen my calls, but I will strive to be more open, sensitive, and welcoming to the strangers I encounter.
Loving God, you have called us to a living and vital relationship with you and with one another. Help us to reflect the grace you have offered us in Christ Jesus as we offer welcome and hospitality to others. Help us to not be afraid to open ourselves to others. Amen.