I’ve only been here six weeks and already fell out of the weekly sermon-preparatory blogging routine for two of the weeks, so that’s not going so well. I’ve been off lectionary and not quite ready to commit to a text by Tuesday, and last week had to make an unexpected trip to Minnesota to help with some family things. You can see the end results of those weeks in my last two blog entries, which are both untitled sermons. We have gone thematic for the month of June, which has a long history of being celebrated BIG as Pride Month here at MAPC. Don’t worry, we still have our Pride, but this year we are building the rainbow over the course of the month.
We started with red and orange at Pentecost, framing the series by talking about the Spirit being poured out over all people – especially those we least expect. Last week we added yellow and green, colors of growth and new life, and focused on how the Spirit enlivens and moves through the non-human parts of creation, and our responsibility to protect the vulnerable and voiceless. This week we move on to blue and indigo, water colors to symbolize those who may come to us across oceans and seas: immigrants, refugees, and strangers.
I’m actually using the lectionary passages this week: Exodus 19:2-8, and Matthew 9:35-10:4. As it turns out, an enormous portion of the Bible involves people wandering through or living temporarily in or moving permanently to lands that are not their own. It’s one of those convenient topics where you can just open to a random page and throw a finger down, and your chances of finding something that relates are pretty good. One might even surmise that God has a soft spot for people far from home, since almost the entire Bible is the story of God choosing to encounter and call wanderers and rejects. Sometimes God is even the one to set them on the road.
Such is the case in the passage from Matthew this week, which sees the disciples sent out without money, food, or clothing beyond what they already wear. They arrive in villages with nothing, relying on the kindness of strangers for the most basic of needs, with no payment but good news.
I try to imagine them arriving in our towns in the current social climate of the United States, dirty and disheveled from the road, carrying no bags, asking for a meal and a place to stay. I don’t have to imagine it, truth be told; I know these people, or at least I see them, every evening as I walk my dog around downtown Cincinnati. I see the couple who beds down in a covered doorway every night, or did until recently. Someone must have asked them not to sleep there, and most of us would do the same. I would do the same.
I try to imagine them arriving with their brown, Middle Eastern skin and their dark, coarse hair, speaking with an accent or maybe not speaking our language at all. I don’t have to imagine it; I’ve seen them on the news, being detained at the airports. They have been my friends, being hassled on the streets and in grocery stores. They’ve been attacked on public transportation. I’ve seen the hurry to contain or wall out anyone who seems different.
We’re not great with strangers, whether they come to us from the other side of the world, or just a different social strata. But God seems constantly to be coming to the stranger and coming as the stranger. Perhaps we need to get better about our hospitality…or prepare to find the dust shaken off onto our doorsteps.