2 Corinthians 8:1-5
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 7, 2018 – World Communion Sunday
When a church is true to its identity as Christ’s body, it is a place where there are no strangers because no one is a stranger to Christ, and where no one is a foreigner because everyone has a home in His heart.
When a church is true, it is a place where those who don’t fit in elsewhere find a warm welcome and an open invitation to make their unique contribution to a family in which they belong.
When a church is true, it is a place where the overlooked are made a sweet fuss over and the neglected, noticed with affectionate appreciation – a place where everyone is received with such reverence and generous hospitality you’d almost think people were receiving the Lord Himself.
In his book, Western Christians in Global Mission, Paul Borthwick tells of how he once had the privilege of speaking at a local church celebrated for its hospitality to international students and its commitment to bless unreached people groups from every corner of the earth.
It had recently made the Miao people of southern China its focus. All over the church there were posters inviting people to “Pray for the Miao”. The posters included statistical information about the Miao and their motherland.
Before he spoke, Paul was standing outside when a young man approached him and asked, “Excuse me, sir, are you from this church?” “No,” Paul replied, “this is my first time here.” “Mine too,” the young man said. “This is my first time in any church. I am a student from the People’s Republic of China. I heard there was a free meal. That’s why I came.” Paul welcomed him to the church and to America. The student continued, “May I ask another question. What is this sign?” He pointed to one of the posters that read, “Pray for the Miao.”
Paul did his best to explain. “Well, the people here are followers of Jesus and they’re trying to help others know God’s love through Jesus. So they’re serving this ethnic group in China.”
“That’s amazing!” exclaimed the young man. “What is amazing?” Paul asked, a little confused. “I am Miao!” the student said. “The Miao are my people.” “Well,” Paul answered, “this church has been praying for you.” Then he introduced the student man to several church leaders, announcing, “This is someone you’ve been praying for!” And that student found in that church a friendly, welcoming family that adopted him as their own, no strings attached. They just had too much of the love of Jesus to keep it all to themselves.
The churches of Macedonia, a northern part of Greece, were like that. The Apostle Paul – in his fundraising effort on behalf of the Jewish believers in Jerusalem impoverished by persecution during an economic depression in Israel – held up those Macedonians as true Christians whose example the Corinthians, their Greek neighbors to the south, would do well to follow in responding to his relief campaign.
Though, to the Macedonian Christians, the Jerusalem Jews were strangers they’d never met from a faraway foreign land, their hearts went out to them and they gave generously to provide for their need despite their own desperate need.
At this point in history, God has dropped on the doorsteps of His American churches all kinds of strangers who at first strike church members as foreigners, either by virtue of coming from another country or by virtue of coming from an American sub-culture that gives a small role to faith. Most church folks know it’s their business to show strangers Christ’s love but they doubt their capacity for doing that job.
At such times, church folks would do well to bear in mind the truism: “People need so very little; they just need it so very much.” One leader of a church, much admired for its welcome and support of immigrants and other strangers, put it this way: “What we’ve been doing isn’t that remarkable. We’ve just learned to move over and to make room for the new people God wants to add to the family.”
To feel welcomed, valued and included, both immigrants and secular Americans just need our humbly leaning into our own ignorance about their lives, our asking questions that are gentle and non-intrusive, and our then listening to them without prejudice, presumption or preoccupation with how we’re going to respond. They just need our inviting them to let us treat them to a meal though we might be embarrassed to have them see the dirt on our floor, to have no better than store-bought mac ‘n cheese to offer, and to have to restrain a crazy relative from going on their favorite rant and thus distracting them from the Christ who’s standing right in front of them and saying: “You are wanted within this family. You belong in this family. You have something to give in this family.”
People need so very little; they just need it so very much. They just need a little kindness and caring; they just need our sharing our best even when our best is pretty imperfect. With the giving of no more than that, they can hear the message Christ calls His followers to convey to all people: “You matter to God and to us. You are worth our moving over for and making room for. You are worth our efforts to show you how much you are longed-for and loved.
In a true church, people once foreign to each other coalesce over time into a family of acceptance, appreciation and mutual accommodation. In a true church, strangers become over time dear brothers and sisters without whom none would like to imagine their lives.
May we, in all our growing diversity, find a home together in the big, loving heart of the one Savior, Jesus Christ! Let us pray.