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The Value of a Welcoming Spirit

17 Apr

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” – Matthew 10:40 (NRSV)

Her name was Peggy Grenier, and she was an elderly widow who lived in a cabin up the road from ours at the end of a wooded pathway – and for a period of time when I was very young, she was one of my very best friends.  Actually, Peggy was best friends with just about every one of the little kids who spent their summers on the lake, and as I think about it now, it’s a wonder she had a moment to herself, given all the children who used to come to visit her!

We all loved to “go see Peggy,” and this was because by all indications, she loved to see us!  No matter what she was doing or how busy she was, the moment we turned up at her door, she’d stop everything to visit with us.  We’d tell Peggy all of our long, drawn-out stories, she’d laugh heartily at all our “little kid jokes,” and over cold glasses of lemonade we’d have these deep discussions about the great issues of our lives, school and friends and how much we hated social studies – but the thing was that all of this truly seemed to matter to Peggy!

What I remember the most about Peggy is that she really did listen to us, and what’s more, she talked to us like we were grown-ups, which at the age of six was quite a thing indeed!  I remember our parents saying to us, “Now, you don’t go up there and bother Peggy every day; she doesn’t need you kids hanging around all the time,” but we never really understood that, because you see, Peggy never acted like we were a bother. She always made us feel welcome, and all these years later, I still remember how great that feeling was – even though she’s long since passed on, other people live there now, as far as I’m concerned, that log cabin with all the flowers around will always be “Peggy’s Camp.”

To feel welcomed is one of life’s great blessings, isn’t it?  I’m sure we can all name moments in which some simple act of hospitality made all the difference for us. Likewise, to be a welcoming person is to affirm the great value of that person through a not-so-random act of kindness; and even more than this, spiritually speaking, it is seeing that person through the eyes of God – as scripture describes it, like giving “a cup of cold water” (Matthew 10:42) to one who is hot and thirsty – it’s just that refreshing and life giving.

That kind of welcome is an essential part of the Christian life; and it is that kind of welcome to which you and I are called as disciples of Jesus Christ.  Discipleship means that you and I are in the truest sense ambassadors to Jesus in the places where we dwell, emissaries of his kingdom.  So it’s important for you and I to remember that for better or worse, each one of us carries our faith wherever we go; and what we say, what we do, the choices we make, the attitudes we show toward others – the very ways that we live cannot help but proclaim something about that faith, either positively or negatively. Which message comes forth is in large part up to us!

I’m reminded here of something said by author and theologian Frederick Buechner in his book, Wishful Thinking.  “Who knows,” he wrote, “how the awareness of God’s love first hits people . . . some moment happens in your life that you say Yes to right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen… how about the person you know who as far as you can possibly tell has never had such a moment… maybe for that person the moment that has to happen is you.”

It all seems so simple, so basic to what we understand as our Christian mission, and yet the truth is that in a culture in which walls are regularly built between people, where gated communities become more and more the norm, and when smartphones, Facebook pages, and yes, even the “blogosphere” of which these posts are a part risk taking the place of true community, we are swiftly losing our drive and ability to truly reach out to others in the name of Jesus Christ!

And that would be tragic, because the bottom line, friends, is that as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are Christ’s body, his heart, his hands, his feet, his arms of compassion.  In receiving us and our spirit of friendship and caring, people can and do discover the love of Christ.  This is both the word of encouragement and the great challenge that Jesus offered to his disciples as they went out into the world, a high calling that extends to you and me.

It may not seem like a few kind words spoken and some hospitality and care shown on our parts would amount to very much in the grander scheme of things; but to those who receive what we have to give, it is anything but insignificant.  Indeed, as the events in Boston earlier this week have illustrated, sometimes such bold and immediate hospitality can mean the difference between life and death. It’s no less than authentic and caring Christian love that touches hearts and lives need of true refreshment; and the best part of all this is that each one of us have been equipped and empowered to bring that cup of cold water!

c. 2013  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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