“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2
Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote an article for this paper about the importance of Christians welcoming others as God first welcomes us. That article was written in response to our Administration’s actions to suspend the acceptance of refugees and visitors from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries.
Now twelve months later, we as a county still find ourselves challenged by God’s call to welcome, as we struggle with how to address the hundreds of thousands of young people who were brought to the US as kids and who, while undocumented, have called this country home for most of their lives. While I certainly see the importance of keeping our country safe, that does not seem to be the rationale behind this particular issue. And so I find myself writing yet another article on how our faith calls us to be compassionate and empathetic and . . . yes, welcoming. (I’m writing this article a week before it is published, when these young people, often called “Dreamers” are still in limbo. Hopefully, their situation will be addressed by the time you’re reading this.)
Welcoming those who are different from us has seemed to challenge so many in our country recently. And yet most congregations, including my own, make the claim on websites and other promotional material that “everyone is welcome here.” But here’s the rub — we cannot make that claim as congregations if we do not also live out that welcome in all aspects of our everyday lives.
Last year, I quoted our ELCA Bishop Eaton who said, “Our Lord not only commanded us to welcome the stranger, Jesus made it clear that when we welcome the stranger into our homes and our hearts – we welcome him.” You’d think that would be easy, but it’s not. Over five years ago, the congregation I serve made a commitment to welcome and affirm all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, or color or ethnicity or age or creed, or anything else that can divide us. And yet today we are still a work in progress – striving to become as welcoming and loving as God has called us to be.
The Christian gospel of a God who loves each of us so much that he gave his beloved Son to do for us what we could not do ourselves, remains both comforting and challenging. It is indeed a comfort to know that God loves us more than we can imagine, just as we are. But it is also a challenge to realize that God loves everyone – and I do mean everyone– in that same way, and that God calls each of us to love everyone as well, even people who don’t look or speak or worship like us. I pray that in this coming year, we can all live more as the people God has called us to be.