I am going somewhere with this.
Every few months our church hosts a “Welcome Lunch” for people new to our community. It is held on a Sunday after church at my house. These lunches are usually very full, with the team of hosts and 15-20 newcomers each time we meet.
This fall we selected a welcome lunch date for early October and as the date neared I grew concerned that we would not have anyone able to attend. It seemed that every person new to our church in recent months was unavailable on the particular date we had chosen. As we got to the Saturday night, and I was thawing a giant 20 pound turkey and taking out the big crock pot for the meatballs, I despaired that there would be no one to attend the next day. I wondered if we should cancel, but I decided to pray instead.
“God,” I asked. “We have prepared a ton of food and we are ready. You know who needs to be here tomorrow, so I leave it with you.”
Interestingly enough, that particular Sunday my sermon was about the importance of welcoming strangers into our lives. We were studying a story together about a time that two men (followers of Jesus) were walking down a road shortly after Jesus’ death when a man they did not recognize begins to walk with them. They walk together, they talk, and eventually the two men invite the stranger to their house for food. While they are eating, they realize that the person who has been walking with them the whole time is Jesus Himself! They are overjoyed to discover He is alive. In the sermon, I talked about how they never would have known they were walking with Jesus if they had not shown kindness to who they thought was a stranger. I talked about the reasons that we are sometimes hesitant to welcome strangers. Sometimes we are too busy, sometimes we are too self-righteous, and sometimes we are just plain afraid. I talked about how these were not good enough reasons.
Here’s a fun question: What happens when you pray and ask God to send you WHOEVER NEEDS TO BE AT YOUR HOUSE the same week you prepare a sermon about not being afraid to welcome strangers?
This is what happened to me.
A couple of weeks before this, a man who lives in a group home near our church began attending. I was happy when I saw him show up that morning: “Yay!” I thought “That makes at least one!” But then I saw something else. On this particular Sunday, he had invited THREE FRIENDS. They were somewhat – shall we say – rough around the edges. This did not bother me, or anyone in the church for that matter. Yet, while I was not afraid of these men, that day I was afraid of inviting them to lunch. The group home where I assumed they lived is very near my house – within walking distance – and I was afraid of letting these totally strange men know where I live. I was afraid that they would start popping up at awkward times, asking for food, or for money.
Full confession. I thought to myself “Maybe I won’t announce the lunch from the front….” I mean, I had said I was open and anyone could come, but these were extenuating circumstances, right? I have young children. I need to protect my personal time at home. Perhaps this was a time to change my mind.
But I was about to preach a sermon about not being afraid to welcome a stranger, and I had prayed a prayer for God to send whoever God thought should be there.
“Har! Har! Har!” I thought. “Well played, God….well played.”
So I invited them, slightly fearful and all. Three of the four came. As one walked in he told me: “I want you to know that I don’t do drugs anymore. I stopped doing crack on FRIDAY.”
“Excellent!” I told him, as I hung up his coat.
(“Could you keep a little eye on this guy?”, I whispered quietly to Dallas).
I took a seat next to them at our table and asked our friend who had been coming a few weeks: “Do you all live in the same house? Is that where you all met?”
He answered: “Actually I don’t know these guys at all. I only met them two days ago. They don’t live with me. He (motioning to guy next to him) lives on the street.”
At this, I could only laugh. Once again, “Well played, God…well played.”
Then our friend said out of nowhere: “I feel really nervous.”
“Me too,” one of his guests said.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
“I feel like I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I hope I’m doing everything right,” said the first.
“That’s how I feel!” said the second
I smiled and assured them that they were doing just fine. All they had to do was eat and enjoy themselves.
“It’s just….I’ve never been to anyone’s house for a meal before,” said the first, somewhat embarrassed.
“Me neither,” said the second, “This is my first time.”
These were two grown men and in their whole lives they had never enjoyed a meal at someone’s house? Never had friends to invite them over? Never known hospitality in that way?
It seemed God really knew the people who “most needed to be at my house” that day! All I could think to say was: “I am SO GLAD that you could be here today.”
And I meant it very very much.
I was so thankful that I had not changed my mind about keeping the invitation open. My fear had almost stopped me, it was true. Perhaps if I hadn’t been ready to preach a sermon on the very topic, I would have let it stop me. If I had, I would have missed out on what for me was a special moment. It also turned out to be a great lunch, and I loved getting to know our new friends.
Like I said, I AM going somewhere this. Here it is:
We should not let fear change our minds.
I am afraid of terrorists. I am afraid of what happened in Paris and Beirut and way too many other places happening here. It is scary. Still, I do not believe fear is a reason that we should change our minds about what we need to do. It was not a good enough reason to shut the door of my house and it is not a good enough reason, in my opinion, to shut the doors of a country – even for a little while.
I prayed: “God send people to my house,” and I have prayed: “God send refugees to safety.”
I don’t think I get to say: “But now I’m scared God, so I take it back.”
Instead, as I pray for peace, I pray as well for peace in my own heart. I pray for peace in the midst of my own sometimes irrational, sometimes valid, sometimes functional, sometimes illogical fear.
We can be afraid together and we can choose peace together. It’s not necessarily a matter of saying we are not afraid. It’s a matter of saying : “I will not let fear change my mind.”
(P.S. As yet, none of the guys has shown up at my house asking for food or money. Just seemed important to mention, no?).