Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…. Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35, 40)
A young single mom stands awkwardly in the entryway with her toddler, looking around at all the people she does not know on her first visit to a church. An acquaintance at work casually mentioned how she loved the music at her church and invited her to visit, but now she is not so sure this was a good idea. She is wondering about child care, self-conscious about the fussiness of her little one, unsure where the bathroom is, too timid to ask directions, doubting whether this is the right worship service for her, or whether this is even the right church. Where is she to sit, what is it going to feel like to sit alone with her child, and what if her little one makes too much noise? She feels the need for prayer; for some connection to others; and for something to lift her above the daily grind of her job, the unending bills, the conflicts with her ex-husband, and her worries for her child.
Now, imagine what would happen if people took Jesus’ words seriously. They would look at this woman and the whole bundle of hopes and anxieties, desires, and discomforts that she carries and think, “This is a member of Jesus’ family, and Jesus wants us to treat her as we would treat Jesus himself if he were here.” With this in mind, what would be the quality of the welcome, the efforts to ease the awkwardness? What would be the enthusiasm to help, to serve, to graciously receive and support and encourage? Taking Jesus seriously changes congregational behavior.
Do you remember walking into your congregation for the very first time? What was it like? Who reached out to you?
Gracious God, give me a heart that remembers the strangers who may be in my Path today. Help me share your all-encompassing love with them, just as you have shown love to me.
Challenge: If there are particular persons who helped you feel welcome into your congregation, express your thanks to them personally or with a note. If that is no longer possible, give thanks for them by name to God.
Excerpted from Cultivating Fruitfulness, ©Abingdon Press, 2008.