“No strangers enter here, only friends we have not met.”
You will sometimes see this hospitable invitation by the front door of a home, an expression of open-hearted souls who live within. (It should also be at the entrance of every church, along with the scriptural parallel: “Be not neglectful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”)
Our church, First Baptist Church off Green Street in Gainesville, is filled with people who were once strangers. They were people unknown to us, who have turned out to be not only friends to me, but angels sent to me. I hear many of our congregants say the same is true for them.
Jesus, like his ancestor Moses, called on us to welcome the stranger as we would welcome the Lord himself.
Why? Because such an act is good, not only for the stranger, but for the host.
When I welcome someone unlike me, someone I do not know, I learn from that person. After all, she brings her own experiences or his own view of the world into mine and expands my own thinking that moves me beyond my own limitations.
And what does our welcome do for the stranger? It relieves the loneliness and isolation that a stranger most often experiences. It presents him with a spirit of love and all love comes from God.
God is love,” says the New Testament repeatedly.
It is the only real antidote to isolation, the No. 1 problem of our time. Isolation exists more than ever in a world hyper-connected. We are isolated by segregating into tribes, parties, nations, ideologies, classes, even churches and religions, I’m sad to say.
I know less and less as I grow older, but of this I am sure: if Jesus could welcome the Samaritan woman; love the rich, young ruler; heal the beloved servant of a Roman Centurion; and help the Syrophonecian mother and her troubled little girl, then God’s way is unmistakably clear. Loving, accepting communities are of God. Isolation and loneliness are not.
The Rev. Dr. Bill Coates is senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. He can be reached at 770-534-7354 or firstname.lastname@example.org.