Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Fedderson:
This week’s lesson from Hebrews begins: “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”
It seems to me that these are two of the most difficult challenges that face us:
1. To consistently treat fellow Christians, not just as members of some organization, but as brothers and sisters in Christ and in the family of God.
2. To always show hospitality to strangers.
Where I come from, family is different from everybody else. My father and I are a lot alike. It is likely that the reason I almost never hit my kids was because my father almost never hit me. The few times he did cuff me are indelibly printed on my memory banks. Once, when I was a little kid cherishing exaggerated ideas of my own importance, I back-talked my mother in grand and exalted fashion. My bravado came from being large in size while still sort of small in mind — and the fact that I didn’t know my father was home. The words that followed the painful realization that he was, indeed, home were: “That’s your mother you’re talking to.”
No other words were spoken; none needed to be. You don’t talk to your mother as if she were not your mother. It was a rude awakening, but a good one. Just imagine what would happen to our words and behavior if we were to take this little cuff in the ear from Hebrews to heart. What if we always remembered, “That’s your fellow child of God you’re talking to” or, worse yet, talking about? When you sit down in church this Sunday, take a look at the people around you and say about each one, “Christ bled and died to make her my sister,” “Jesus gave His life so that he would be my brother in Christ.” It’s certainly a different perspective from the one we often take toward each other. Then take a look around to see if you can spot any angels.
We don’t talk about angels very often in the contemporary church. One of the bad things about that is that many people have a mental image of innocent-looking, sort of infant-like cherubs. Angels are messengers of God. In the Bible, they usually appeared in the form of human beings, but their job is more important to us than their appearance. If angels visit your church this Sunday, will they be bringing a message or taking one back to God?
The author of Hebrews doesn’t go into that; maybe the answer is that they will do both. Every visitor at every church brings at least one message: “I’m here.” If that message goes totally ignored, what message do we send back to God? It is a rather sobering thought that we receive from Hebrews this week. Maybe, like the sobering cuff on the ear from Pappy, it is a rude awakening, but a good one — one we need.
Maybe, beside learning from it, we should have a little fun with it! Let’s say that the word is out: Angels will be in your church this Sunday, but you won’t know who they are. They will look just like any other visitors. First of all, where will you have them park their celestial Fords, Chevrolets, or Toyotas (remember, no country or car is foreign to heaven)? They wouldn’t want to stand out, so they probably won’t be very early. How far away will they have to park, even if they appear to be handicapped?
When they enter, who will greet them and how? Will anyone try to discover if they have some message for the church? What if they ride up on horses, dismount and tie the beasts, and then ask for a place to wash off their boots? What if they walk up and have the appearance of having walked for days — without benefit of a place to shower, shave, or change clothing? What if they are deaf or hard of hearing and ask for a deaf ministry or personal speakers for them to use? What if they seem to be of a different race or nationality from anybody else in the building? By the way, they are!
Who will help them when they turn to a hymn number, instead of a page number, trying to find the order of service? Will they be invited to come and visit after the service? Will they be invited to learn more of Christ or to join your church? They aren’t members of your denomination, no matter what it is, but will anyone even ask? If they have some little cherubim with them who start squawking, will they have a place to take them and still hear the sermon? Will they know where that place is? After the service, when they have a flat tire, will anyone offer to change it or even to help? Will anyone try to get a phone number or address, and call to express happiness at their visit or send a letter of welcome?
Not all food for thought tastes very good, but you know what your mother said: “It’s good for you.”
I have a new Feddersen’s Fable. I won’t say if the story is truth or fiction, but it doesn’t matter. One congregation paved its parking lot after many years of getting by with gravel. Since the only person available to supervise the marking of the lot was the chairman of the Outreach Committee, the first two spaces in every row, after the handicapped spaces, were clearly emblazoned with the word “VISITOR.”
As you might guess, some members complained, but the deed was done, and in weatherproof paint. What followed was not far short of a miracle. An attitude shift occurred in the congregation. Although no special effort followed that single, seemingly unwanted decision, members began to recognize the importance of visitors. A congregation that had struggled to seek and to find the lost suddenly found itself at the forefront of those who were accomplishing the mission. Everyone has heard of the attitude of gratitude. It is a gift of God that comes in response to the gifts of God. This congregation developed an attitude of hospitality. It came exactly the same way.
On the day of his adult Baptism, one new member quipped, “I’ve been looking forward to the day when I can park back with the rest of the members!” That provides a new twist on some words of Jesus: “The first shall be last…and rejoice because of it!”
In the Gospel lesson for Sunday, a prominent Pharisee has a house guest with credentials beyond those of the standard, everyday angel. The Pharisee is unaware of it. The Visitor has some food for thought that is nowhere near as tasty as the dessert. Have you ever heard that the difference in spelling between “desert” and “dessert” is that we want seconds of dessert? I think it is safe to say that the Pharisee didn’t care for his first helping of Jesus’ words. We may not ask for seconds either.
Jesus notices that everybody wants to sit near the head table, sort of like taking the closest parking spaces. He comments about it. Then Jesus notices that all the guests are upper crust, and He suggests inviting “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”
I cannot imagine being in the Pharisee’s sandals. At the same time, I know they fit me — too well. I marvel at Jesus’ way of treating everyone with an equal amount of love. He is tough and straightforward with His words, whether He is talking to an enemy or a friend. He didn’t say to the Pharisee, “Get behind me, Satan.” He said that to one of His best friends. He also didn’t take a “guest list” to the cross with Him or omit anybody from that all-encompassing deed of mercy, love and forgiveness. As a matter of fact, His prayer for forgiveness was for the worst of all the offenders, at least, as we perceive it.
I’m sorry to have to admit that, at one time, better behavior toward my mother came from correction by my father. Loving our brothers and sisters starts with being loved by our Brother. Hospitality toward strangers starts in exactly the same place. Given the annoying presence of sin in our lives, the chances are only about one hundred percent that we can benefit from some correcting of our words and behavior toward others from the Lord who loves us and gave His life for us. At the very least, every “stranger” in every corner of the world desperately needs the children of God to share the world’s greatest Good News with them. Jesus commands that much “hospitality” from us.
Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to entertain strangers and keep an eye out for angels.