WE ARE BECAUSE HE IS
I had a strange conversation the other day with a woman I had never met before.
Our chapel was packed that day, and at least twenty minutes passed as everyone slowly exited the room at the end of the service. As I was standing there, visiting with people as they left I noticed her. She was standing off to my left, waiting patiently.
After everyone finally had left the room, she approached me, meekly.
I couldn’t wait to hear what she had to say.
“I have a question for you, pastor.”
I braced myself for a doozie.
But she didn’t ask a question.
She told a story.
She told me about her family, and that she was from a small town in another state that valued their faith a great deal.
“We’ve always been church people,” she said.
And so, as a family of church-going people, she was concerned about one of her relatives that she loved very much who had fallen away. So much so, that she had travelled from out of state to come see her.
“I’m on a scouting mission. I’m trying to find a church for her.”
I took a deep breath. I’ve heard this before. Concerned relatives “scouting” out churches for family members, usually children or grandchildren, with the hopes that they can persuade their loved one to reclaim their faith. Sadly, it rarely works.
But this time was different. This wasn’t the story of a woman trying to convince someone who had walked away from the faith to begin attending worship again. This story was different.
This was the story of a woman who wanted to be at church, but had received the message on more than one occasion that the church didn’t want her.
Because she is different.
“She wants to go to church. She loves God. But she’s afraid. And I’m here to see if this is a place where she will feel safe.”
There’s another story that my mind went to as she was telling hers. It’s found in the Gospel of Luke, and it’s about a woman who came to the house of a Pharisee where Jesus was having dinner. This woman hadn’t been invited. She just showed up. She wasn’t the kind of woman who was used to receiving invitations, because the lifestyle that her circumstances had forced her into had led her to a life of rejection and abuse. I can’t fathom the courage it must have taken her to walk through that door. And yet, even as everyone else in the room glared at her, she knelt at Jesus’ feet and began to wash them with her tears. When she was finished, Jesus looked at her and said, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
It’s a beautiful story of courage driven by the desire to belong, and it may be the most powerful illustration of what the Church is called to be – a place that sees people for who they are in Christ, and not for the labels that society places on them.
It’s this story that informs our hospitality. It’s this grace that defines us. It’s because Jesus is the perfect expression of love that we are called to be the same. I looked at my new friend, and told her that her loved one would not only be safe, but she would be welcomed, accepted and loved.
I am thankful that I was able to speak these words of grace in all sincerity and honesty, because I know they are true. I am grateful to be the pastor of a church that is striving to be love to all of God’s people.
We are, because He is.