I recently had an experience while getting my hair cut at Supercuts in Austin that made me think about the Gospel lesson from yesterday's lectionary. My wife and I were there and I had already had my haircut and she was in the chair getting hers. As I sat waiting for her to finish, suddenly the door opened and an elderly woman entered the place along with a younger man that I assumed could have been her son. The older woman was using a walker and the younger man carried an instrument of some kind that had a tube leading from it to the woman's clothing where it was hidden beneath. The hair stylist who had done my haircut, a younger man in his 30s, greeted the couple warmly and asked them to sign in. He explained it would be a wait of about 30 minutes which seemed okay with the elderly woman. As he told them to have a seat to wait, the younger man stopped him and asked a request of him. He said that the woman could not sit in the regular chairs where we were waiting because of her legs and she may not be able to get back up if she did, so he wondered if she could sit in one of the stylist chairs that was not being used. The stylist smiled and said, "Of course. Just choose any one that is not be used and you are welcome to sit there." The younger man with the woman thanked him for his consideration and the stylist replied, "Of course. We are glad you are here and want you to be comfortable."
What a warm welcome this stylist gave to this aged woman with many health issues. It made her feel included and accepted as she was. They went out of their way to do what they could to be sure that her needs were met so that she could receive her hair styling along with other customers.
This lesson from life made me apply it to our life as Christians and as church members, of course. It made me think about the welcome that we give to others who venture into our churches or the personal welcome we give to individuals whom we meet in life.
The Gospel lesson for yesterday was found in Mark's Gospel where Jesus asked the disciples what they were talking about as they traveled to Capernaum. They were silent because he knew that they were arguing about who was the greatest in the Kingdom that Jesus was bringing. Jesus told them that to be first in God's Kingdom means that we have to be servants to all. To make his point clearer, he called a little child to be among them and said, "Whoever welcomes one such as this welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me." (Mark 9)
Children were not seen as precious gifts from heaven in the ancient world as they are today in North America. They were seen as a burden and responsibility, one more mouth to feed, until they were old enough to contribute and help out with growing the crops necessary for all to be fed. So, welcoming a child was an act of courage and acceptance because they represented a cost to the family who had a new child.
We like to think that we welcome all persons whom we meet but all of us have suspicions or fears or prejudices that we brought to adulthood with us from our childhood. We learned to fear or mistrust others based upon ideas or characteristics about them. Perhaps our feelings about them have to do with the color of their skin, their country of origin, their religion, their language, or their sexual orientation. We may judge persons immediately based upon these and other factors without getting to know them first. Welcoming the stranger who is different may be challenging for us but it should not be considered impossible if we truly want to act on Christ's behalf to others.
Persons who have rarely ever been a stranger or newcomer have a hard time relating to the feelings of others who are different. Perhaps one has always lived in the same community or area where one was born and grew up and finds it hard to know how persons may feel who are new to an area or country. Perhaps some have never been friends with others who are different.
I grew up in a town that was all white and never knew a person of color until I went to college. I was taught to be wary of persons who were not of my same race. When I went to college I wanted to be friends with all persons so I began to get acquainted with others and soon had many friends who were African-American. As I worked in many places, I got to know persons who were different from me in many ways and soon found that all of us have the same needs and desires in life. We all want to be happy, to be loved, to be safe and secure. We all want a good future for ourselves and for our children.
Think about times when you have received a genuine welcome from others? What did they do that conveyed sincere welcome to you? How did they treat you to make you feel included and welcome? How do we translate the welcome we have felt into a welcome that we offer others across all the distinctions that often separate us? How do we make persons to feel welcome in our personal space and in our churches?
As we ask God to open our eyes to others around us and to see their needs, God will direct us into how we can expand our welcome so that we will truly be a welcoming and inclusive church as well as individuals who strive to show God's love to all in our world, even those who are much different than we are.