How do we see others? By their outward appearance? By what they’re wearing, or not wearing? By the words they speak? We can’t tangibly see their heart or their thoughts, nor they ours. So, do we react to what we see and hear, or reach out to meet others where they’re at?
Not long after we moved to Clifton, NJ in 1965, my Dad went to the boys’ Cadets meeting at the Christian school we kids attended. A few blocks from his destination, he saw a man struggling with a flat tire. Having been a farmer and now a truck driver, this was no problem for my Dad to fix, though it might get him dirty and make him late for his meeting. Without hesitation, he stopped and changed the tire for the stranger, refusing pay for his efforts. Each going his own way, they soon discovered their destination was the same meeting, and became instant friends!
But, how do we treat that stranger when he or she walks into our church? They may be different from those of us who normally attend… and, sadly, the stranger in our midst may not feel welcomed or accepted. They may not be dressed up fancy like some of us. They may look a bit shabby and worn, be wearing the dirt of life, or even carry the aroma of alcohol.
And I was reminded of the time a stranger dressed in black barged into our church, slamming the door behind him, dropping into the pew. As music worship leaders, my friend, Patsy, and I smiled to welcome this man as we sang. But, he was having none of it, staring straight ahead with an angry sullen attitude. Barbed-wire tattoos encircled his upper arms, the sleeves cut off a black T-shirt. His black hair stood up in spikes, and chains draped from his black jeans. Then, just as our Youth Pastor stood up to read Scripture as our pastor was away for the day, this man bounded up to the pulpit. Grabbing the Bible, he began to read: “…But the Lord said… Do not consider his appearance or his height…. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7)
What’s his purpose? Why is he here this morning? Does he have an ulterior motive? Are there more like him outside? Are there more like him in other churches in town? Why does he look so sullen and angry? Is he sad and lonely? Do we need to protect ourselves from harm? Does he have a gun? What could we use as a weapon? How can I make him feel welcome? I mean, he’s so different! Will he even accept us? How can we best reach out to him to meet his needs? Such were the questions running through the minds of us parishioners, as we slowly realized that this was actually our Pastor Steve dressed up for a lesson as he expounded on that verse.
Do we share our love easily with someone different from us? We pride ourselves on maintaining a status quo of acceptable friends, those with whom we’re most comfortable. But what about others in various difficult situations? What about those who may be going through hard times and are poorer than us? What about those who are dealing with life’s deepest struggles, lost in the midst of their grief, dealing with inner emotional pain or depression, or perhaps seeking answers to life by delving into alcohol and drugs to numb their pain? They, too, are in need of the love and comfort we just might be able to give.
What did Jesus say about the strangers in our midst? In telling one of his parables, Jesus spoke about a king whose servants were called faithful and righteous for the love they had shown the king in his time of need. They replied, “‘[But] Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King [replied], ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:37-40)
In response to his critics for eating with those considered “unholy”, Jesus gently said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) And later, the Apostle Paul wrote that this “righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22-23)
And I admit that I, too, stand guilty in many ways. We can express ourselves and our opinions with kindness rather than with an attitude. We can welcome the stranger who is different from us, sharing a peace and comfort from deep within our heart. And, we can reach out to others who are hurting with the same love and mercy we’ve been shown by our Lord… for in so doing, not only will they be blessed, but we’ll be blessed in turn.
The Pew and the Barstool
Linda A. Roorda
One day I walked through an open door
Looking for a seat but the pews were full,
Except in the front where I sat to listen
Searching for comfort from a world of pain.
The message of love was heard in my heart
And I longed to feel this emotion lost.
I yearned for peace in my troubled soul
Hope for the day and light in the dark.
Wisdom and truth for a hurting world
These were the words in the message heard.
But as I turned to follow the crowd
No one reached out… no one showed they cared.
No welcoming smile… no words kindly shared.
Their glances away gave proof of their thoughts.
Shabby were my clothes with tatters and tears,
Dirty was I, and smelling of beer.
No comfort from pain, just withering looks.
No peace or love was offered to me.
I stood alone feeling shamed and grieved.
Where was this love they sang from their lips?
And so I strolled to the other side
Across the street where welcomed was I.
Finding my seat on a barstool tall
I ordered a round to drown out my pain.
If only they knew their hearts had grown cold.
Who was this Lord they claimed for their own?
Where was the love, the hope and the peace?
Did they not know who walked in their midst?
Have they not heard and have they not read?
I was a stranger yet nothing they gave.
They fed not my soul, warm clothing not shared
Sickly was I, but comfort they withheld.
Do they not heed the words of their Lord?
Whatever is done for even the least
Is done in His name to brighten a dark world,
For those who bless will blessings receive.
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