Friday, March 1, 2013

welcoming the stranger

Desert : Hike in Namib desert
May my words be in the name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

The world day of prayer is intended to be a time when God's children from all the different churches come gather together to worship … and each year a different theme is chosen … this year's theme is taken from our Gospel reading this morning: I was a stranger & you welcomed me. And what does Jesus tell us happens to those who welcomed the stranger? And to those who did not? So that makes it important that we do welcome the stranger the way God wants us to, doesn't it?

And to do that, I think we need to be very clear as to what Jesus means when he talks about strangers and making them welcome. So what is a stranger?

Well in Jesus' time when they talked about the stranger, they usually talked about the widow and the orphan also … many times in the Bible God, speaking through the prophets, told his people about the importance of taking special care of these people … the reason why was that these were people who didn't have family to look after them … and in that world it was your family who looked after you when you needed looking after normally … so in other words, they were people in need … real need, like clothes, food, water, shelter … the things people need to stay alive … the things we heard Jesus talking about in our reading earlier …

And what does it mean to make someone welcome? Does it mean just saying the word? Or some other greeting like 'hi' or 'hello'? Or does it mean something more?

Let me tell you a little story to show what welcoming a stranger really means … close your eyes … I want you to imagine you are in a small plane, flying over the desert. The engines fail. The plane starts to go down. It crashes. You are knocked out. When you wake up you are all alone in the desert. You don't know where the others are … maybe they were rescued and you were missed. But you know you can't stay where you are: the sun is burning hot; you have no food or water; and if you don't find help quickly you will die.


You start to walk, quickly at first; then slower & slower. You are so hot, so hungry, so thirsty. Soon you are so weak that you can only crawl. You're starting to think that you can't go on much longer. You come to the top of a small dune. You look down. You can' t believe your eyes – there's a small town up ahead. You are saved! Hope gives you strength. You crawl faster. You reach the village. The first house you come to you tap weakly on the bottom of the door. A woman opens it. She's holding a glass of water, drinking from it. You tell her what has happened to you, about the crash, about crawling through the desert. The woman smiles. 

'Welcome to our village,' she says. 'I hope you will enjoy your stay.' And she closes the door. 

You can't believe what she has done. After a moment you start to crawl again, very slowly, to the next house. This time you're too weak to do more than scratch at the door. But soon someone opens it. It is a man, eating a piece of bread. From the house comes the smell of cooking and the sounds of people eating a meal. You croak out what has happened to you, your voice barely a whisper. The man smiles. 

'How glad I am that you have found our village. I hope you will be well and happy during your time here.' And he closes the door.

This time it is a long time before you begin to move again. Then you crawl very slowly towards the next house. But the effort is too much. Your strength is gone. Before you get more than a few yards, you stop, your hand reaching out towards the next door, & then you loose consciousness.

When you wake up, you find yourself in a bed with clean sheets in a room that is cool and dim. Your cuts and bruises from the crash and crawling through the desert have been cleaned and bandaged. Where the sun has burned you, soothing ointment has been rubbed. As soon as your eyes open an old man comes to your side. He holds a glass to your lips and helps you to sip cool water. After he has let you drink he says: 

'Sleep now. When you wake I will give you food. You are safe now.' 

And you drift off back to sleep knowing now that everything is going to be all right. 

I don't need to ask any of you who it was that made you welcome in that story, do I? It is easy to see which one saw your needs and helped you by giving you what you needed to stay alive. And this is what Jesus is talking about in our reading from the Bible today … telling us how important it is to help others … not only for their sake, but for ours too … because you'll remember from our reading what happens to those who don't welcome the strangers in this life.

So let us pray that God will give us the strength to do what he wants … that all his children will have the strength welcome the stranger … and we pray this in the name of the Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit. Amen.

(talk for a children's service for the World Day of Prayer, 1 March 2013; with apologies to the parable of the good Samaritan!)

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