Saturday, July 27, 2013

Entertaining Angels

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2 (NRSV)

There has been a story circulating on the Internet about a new pastor who posed as a homeless man before his first day at his new congregation. Below is the story. It turns out that the story cannot be authenticated, but may be drawing upon the experience of another pastor who some years ago lived as a homeless man for a week and used that experience to preach about discipleship. Nevertheless, consider it a modern day parable and read on...
Pastor Jeremiah Steepek transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service, only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food - NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. 
When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. "We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek." The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited, 
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘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 will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, "Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?"
Now call me crazy, but I can most definitely see Papa Francesco doing this! Whether the disguise is a homeless man, an unwed pregnant woman who has more children than you think she ought, the investment banker down on Wall Street, the person who has more ink on them than the Declaration of Independence or more piercings than Jesus himself, the annoying relative, the needy child or parent, the convict or the beauty queen, the moral of the story is that as disciples we welcome them as Christ does. 
I converted to Catholicism at the end of my first senior year of college (I liked it so much I did a victory lap). I had been searching for almost three years before that. I wasn't homeless, though I was young, single and not white (even though I forget that last part often). My experience was exactly the same. Rarely did anyone greet me. Never did anyone notice I was new to their congregation. I called myself a Christian without having the first clue what that meant (or that I actually was NOT one yet) and no one bothered to ask. No one noticed. 
Long story short, I clearly found my way here, but what if I hadn't? What of all those wandering souls who are lost in their wandering? How often are we those faithful worshipers who don't see strangers in our midst? 
This story, true or not, was another wake up call for me, one I hopefully don't sleep or snooze through. We need to see with new eyes and hearts united with Christ. We need to strip ourselves of our worries, our comfort zones, our autopilot routines, our self focus, to see the broken hearted and reach out with the arms of Christ. I need to seek out the despairing and sorrowful, bringing them the hope of healing and wholeness that lies with Christ. We need to bring people to encounter the one, true, living God. 
It is said that children learn what they live. I for one want my kids to learn how to transform lives, to harness the eternal power of the Holy Spirit to act with the strength and wisdom of God. This means I need to make some changes in my own life. I need to rest with The Lord and empty myself of myself, willing to suffer and sacrifice my comfort and pride and worldly desires so other may see Jesus and not cranky, selfish me. 
I have a long road to walk, but I hear it all starts with a single step. I'll have to put on my walking shoes and get to walking, then, so as not to miss Jesus in my midst coming in distressing disguise. It may very well be the person who puts every nerve on edge that is the angel I'm meant to entertain. I better get my derrière to finishing school to be a better hostess.

1 comment:

  1. Oh Rakhi, this fits so perfectly with what I've experienced in the past few days. I am forever grateful to God to have placed us in a parish where we were immediately embraced and made part of the family (even though we were completely DIFFERENT from everyone else). And I totally agree - as does probably everyone who follows what Papa Francisco is up to - this could VERY EASILY be him; he has done the same thing in many different ways as pope, with the whole world watching, not just 10,000 people.