It was a recent Saturday afternoon. One of our members at St. Michael’s was working on the front doors to the church. He asked me for some help getting them down, so I came over to lend a hand. Inside the church our music director and a member of the choir were working on the organ. On my way through the sanctuary I sang a few parts of the liturgy with them that we’ll be singing later this fall.
As we sang, a woman entered the room. She was greeted warmly by the one fixing the doors who invited her to come inside. The music drew her to the three of us now standing chatting and laughing.
We greeted her and introduced ourselves. She told us she was a Lutheran from Denmark and she wanted to see a Lutheran church building in America. We invited her to stay, invited her to join us for worship the following day, told her the history of the building, and even sang a couple Danish hymns to make her feel part of things. She was thankful, and after a few minutes we said our goodbyes.
This encounter would have never happened if we were not here. If the doors were not opened, if people were not inside, if we hadn’t been attentive to who she was and the story she had to tell, the only thing that would have happened that day, would have been a gaze at the steeple, the pulling on locked doors, the disappointment of walking away with hope diminished.
I’m not suggesting we staff someone on site twenty-four hours each day; seven days a week just to be here for passersby, but this joyful encounter did raise some questions for me…
-When are the doors locked for people (both literally and metaphorically) while we carry on inside?
-Why do we have such a hard time leaving those doors open and unlocked? Or to put it another way – why are we afraid of who might cross our paths that we close ourselves off from them?
-Who do we miss out on having conversations about faith and life with because the doors are locked?
-What does it mean to honor another person, their background, and their story, while staying true to who we are?
-How can we nurture a ministry of presence with others – whether we are talking about our congregation building, the activities we participate in together here, and the way we live our daily lives everywhere else?
There is a story in Genesis where Abraham and Sarah welcomed the divine into their tent. Three strangers were walking by. Abraham ran from the tent to meet them, and invite them to join them. He washed their feet from their travels, fed them, and gave them something to drink. In that encounter these three blessed both Abraham and Sarah, and reminded them of God’s promise to them (Genesis 18). People have interpreted this encounter to be a visit from three angels.
In some traditions, the three travelers represent each person of the Holy Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The famous icon by Andrei Rublev and this picture by David Avisar portray this divine encounter.
The encounter with the Danish church visitor and the three visitors in Genesis reminds us that we can plan all sorts of programming, participate in great worship experiences, strategically position ourselves to welcome others and be hospitable – but what matters most are small moments we don’t plan, when we find ourselves among friends or carrying out our everyday responsibilities when all of a sudden, unbeknownst to us – we see God through others.
It is a reminder, to unlock the doors of our hearts as well as our lives, to be present in those moments, and let the promises of God shine through us too.
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2 – KJV)
Link to the Abraham, Sarah and three guests story:
This post is now featured on http://www.LivingLutheran.com 9/26/2013