Welcoming Folks on Easter and Beyond
Last night the Bible Study looked at the story of Abraham and three holy visitors. It is found in Chapter 18 of Genesis. I love this story. It opens in the middle of a hot day. Abraham has found some shade under the tent flap when three strangers appear. We know, though he doesn’t, that these are the Lord and two angels in disguise. Abraham leaps into action offering an appropriate “simple” welcome to his guests. He says he will get a little water for their feet and whip up a simple snack and then proceeds to have the women fix a banquet – on par with what you might get on the Queen Mary. The next chapter finds that the “angels in disguise” have a very different “welcome” in the city of Sodom, finding shelter with Abraham’s nephew Lot (Genesis 19). This story shows how hostility, not holy hospitality, was shown to the angelic visitors.
We are having a great discussion about how to welcome folks to our church who are or who have family in the LGBTQ community. We are focusing on this particular community because not only have they experienced hostility from “the church” but our United Methodist denomination singles them out and denies them full rights within the church. Those outside the church at times cannot discern between a Hillsboro Baptist (God Hates Fags) Church and a Fairwood United Methodist (God Love All) Church. Then the conversation turned to welcoming folks to the church in general.
Finding your way into the church can be a daunting challenge. Not everyone coming into the church knows that they will be welcomed. While we abhor “Christians” who claim that certain people are not welcome – gays, divorced persons, people who have rainbow hair, uppity women pastors – those visiting our church for the first time have no idea if they will be welcomed. I think that is why folks come to the church of Easter as first time visitors. They want to blend into the crowd to check us out. Their question might be “will I be accepted”. This is especially the question if they are looking for a new church home.
But as we talked we found that while we want to be hospitable we have to overcome some hesitancies. We want to welcome folks but not overwhelm them. They want to know about the church but not every detail. We don’t want to be embarrassed by greeting a visitor only to find out that they have been coming for the last 6 months. This is how to avoid this awkward moment: “Hi, I am Joyce, have we met before?” But I guess that is only if your name is Joyce! If they say they are your 2nd cousin or a long time member, your response could be – “Well I am just terrible with names!” For some people I greet them with: “Hi, I’m Joyce O’Connor-Magee” to which the response is “Well, I know who you are!” It makes me glad they remember me! It also helps to have your own name tag on – encouraging others to wear theirs – because some of us really are terrible with names.
We again were reminded that we are often visited by angels unaware. When we meet someone we never know if this will become one of our treasured friends. I knew Linda just a bit until she asked me to take a walk with her. She was amazed at my stamina but truth be told I had no idea how to get back to campus so I had to continue the walk with her. I met Flora when Ron Kimm, a lay leader from her church, invited us out to Pizza and Pipes because he thought we would like each other. It took some guts for me to invite a tall and good looking guy out on a date with the promise of 2 for 1 coupons. Little did I know that he loved coupons, would end up loving me, at that 21 years later he is still my discount date! Who knows, that person who slipped in the side door to check us out on Easter could become the tenor the choir is looking for, a handy man who loves working on homes, a cook in disguise who would love to work with the homeless, or even the best friend you have yet to meet.
This Easter welcome one another in love and good courage. You might just be the welcome they are seeking. You might just find an angel in disguise or simply a wonderful new friend.
Chasing the Wild Goose
Pastor Joyce O’Connor-Magee
Where in the world did the years go? I was reminded that 50 years ago this week Mom and Dad brought home a puppy – a little Fox Terrier/Chihuahua mix that we named Sport. He was the best gift we ever got, full of love and loyalty. We knew his place in our parents’ hearts when a beautiful velvet painting of him replaced the portrait of my brother and me in the living room! But it didn’t matter because we loved Sport and he loved us. We were blessed with him for 18 years. In a real way that little dog is still in the center of our hearts all these years later. Waking up we never could have imagined that our life would change so much by the end of the day.
We just never know when the day begins how it will turn out. Right now there are three Americans being credited with saving lives on a train in France. The young men were out on a day trip only to jump into action wrestling a would be mass shooter to the ground. Never would they have suspected that by the end of a vacation day they would be wearing medals of honor from the French government.
What is going to happen this day? This week? This month? God only knows. Today might be the day you meet a new friend that will open your life to a whole new world. Today might be the day you are given the opportunity to help someone in need. Or to find grace through the kindness of strangers. This week someone new might come to visit our church and become a life changing partner in ministry.
When I think of those young heroes, I realize they acted from instinct. In that moment they had years of friendship and trust backing up their actions. When I think of the church, I realize we have been practicing our faith together for a long time. It is that practice that helps us respond quickly and with assurance when the moment comes. Most of the time it isn’t so dramatic – we hold out a hand, we offer a listening ear, we see others as if through the eyes of God. In the moment we know what to do and we sense we have each other’s back. This last week when a call came from Jim Truitt, this church responded in 24 hours to pack up a truck load of goodies to go to those in need in the fire ravaged areas of the state. We were ready because daily we practice kindness and love. Those cookies and brownies represented to others that they are not alone; that folks they have never met are concerned for them. Who knows, these acts of kindness might be the word of God’s love to someone this very day.
What will happen this day? God only knows! We just need to be prepared to respond…by being practicing Christians in community together.