We... "THE CHURCH". Not just our congregation, or our denomination, but all those folks out there who claim Christianity as their faith. The entire family of Christ. What is it we are supposed to be doing in the world? Are we supposed to be converting people? Proselytizing all the sinners? Aren't we all sinners? Are we supposed to be judging others? Condemning others? Praying? Praising? Hiding behind our stained glass and stone walls? Delivering a message through actions that speak louder than words?? Serving? Saving? Perhaps like Elijah, we need to hear God speaking those words, "What Are You Doing Here?" We Protestants tend to particularly love Micah 6:8 "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Okay, that's easy, right? But then what???
Tonight I happened to be at church trying to make things look presentable and welcoming while finishing up some Sunday School preparations when the phone rang. My friend had just recently headed home. Without giving it much thought, I answered. I just tend to assume that when the phone rings at 8:30 on a Saturday night, it's probably someone looking for somebody. In point of fact, I still think that is what this call was.... just... this time it wasn't one of our members looking for some other member. It was a stranger, looking for someone to listen. A young man with a troubled past, and a troubled present. Someone who was only 21, a veteran, and already struggling with enough demons for a lifetime. I don't need to share the details here, suffice it to say he was looking for a place to get answers. He was searching for someone to listen to him. He was pretty sure that he was damned for things he had done in service, and maybe elsewhere in his life. He just needed to talk. He talked for almost an hour. He certainly said some things I didn't agree with socially, theologically, politically. That doesn't really matter though. Throughout the call, he didn't ask for anything for himself, despite sharing a long list of personal tragedies that would make your toes curl. He asked for one thing: Prayers for his brother. Not money, not help for any of his troubles. He asked, very politely, with his soft drawl... "Would your church pray for my brother? He's going through some hard times."
And of all the things he said, the one that probably haunts me the most is this; he said he'd called other churches who sent him away. That he worships at home because his appearance isn't 'for church' because of his clothes or his tattoos or his piercings. That he'd never felt 'invited' into church. So, wait. What? WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE???
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Normally there wouldn't have been anyone there to answer the phone at that time. I just happened to be there, worried about whether we were tidy enough to be 'welcoming' (Yes, that word again. It's important.) I was concerned about appearances. (What are you DOING here??)
Our God who is big enough to create the universe, who can hear all of our hurts and worries and sins and joys and triumphs... a God who would take the time to carefully craft the brilliant iridescence of a small green beetle, can love us and heal us in ways we can't begin to hope for... THAT God must have caused me to connect with this young man, the Holy Spirit must have moved to bring us together, if only for an hour over the phone. I pray then, that the same God gave me the right words to say to him, that he would know that he was welcome with us, in the family of Christ, at His table, at our worship services, in God's house.
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Heb 13:2)
God NEVER, EVER gives up on us! What do you say to this stranger then, but 'Come, you are welcome.'?
What are YOU doing here?? Listen; I think God is still speaking...