Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Stranger is the Messenger

A sermon on Hebrews 13:1-8

“Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Six nights in a row the man had had the same dream. Six nights in a row he had awakened, weeping. Tears of longing. 

In the dream, he was lost, wandering the streets of a large city. It was a winter night, dark and bitterly cold. But every door of every building was locked. 

No matter how hard he knocked or how loudly he shouted the doors remained closed. Only silence on the other side.

He eventually came to a door behind which he could hear the muffled sounds of a party, a great celebration. The door was slightly warm to the touch, promising warmth and comfort on the other side. The faint bits of laughter and music that made it through the door made his heart ache with longing.

He knew his joy depended upon entering, but, like all the other doors in the city, this door was locked. He knocked. He shouted. He pleaded. There was no answer. 

At this point, six nights in a row, the man had awakened, weeping. 

On the seventh night, he had the dream again. This time, as he stood at the door, he cried out in desperation, “Dear God, tell me how to open the door.” 

To his amazement, he heard an answer, “The Stranger is my messenger. You will find the secret in the stranger.” 

Again, he awakened, weeping. But, now the tears were tears of expectancy.

The first thing in the morning he went out on the sidewalk and asked each person he met, “Are you the messenger?” All he got were blank stares and puzzled looks.

He realized that maybe the stranger would not know whether or not he or she had the message. It was up to the man to pay attention.

That evening he went to a committee meeting. There were people there he had known for a long time. More than one of the committee members was a source of great irritation to the man. 

During the meeting he realized that though he had known some of those on the committee for a long time, in a deeper sense he had never really gotten to know them. They were still strangers. Maybe one of them was the messenger! He began listening to each person with patient attention like a prospector panning for gold.

So it was with each person he met, not just strangers, but friends and family as well. 

He became more and more open-hearted. He invited others into his heart and made them welcome. The drunk on the street corner, the clerk at the store, the salesperson at his door, he learned to listen to each, seeking the messenger. Every person he met, no matter how troublesome or offensive, was a potential bearer of the message.

The man hosted a big party in which there was much laughter and music. Because he was the host, everyone came. When each person came to his door – whether they were rich or poor, respectable or disreputable, attractive or offensive – he greeted each with a warm embrace and said, “Welcome friend.” He spent the evening getting to know as many as he could, hoping to discover the messenger.

He went to the jail and visited the prisoners. He visited patients in the hospital. He went to the nursing home and the insane asylum. Maybe among the prisoners, the sick, or the mentally ill he would find the messenger with the secret to opening the door.

As he invited people into his heart, his home, and his life, things changed. Not always the way he expected or wanted – sometimes the floors and rugs got dirty when some people were careless. Once, his flower garden got a bit trampled. Sometimes, as he welcomed people into his heart, all he got was heartache. But that was a risk worth taking for the sake of finding the message giving him access to the joy on the other side of the door.

His life was not always comfortable and predictable. But, his life was transformed even as he transformed the lives of others.

Gradually, the man began to realize: each person he let into his heart or home was the stranger-messenger with part of the answer. 

He had been expecting one particular stranger to have the message, but every stranger, indeed every other person, was part of the message. Each person the man met was a sacred gift, each one rare and precious, each one a messenger from God – an angel.

Every encounter with another person became a potential Visitation, every conversation was a potential Annunciation. With every encounter, he was panning for gold – panning for God.

In showing hospitality he also got to know God who is by nature hospitable, always reaching out with open arms to say, “Welcome friend.” 

He learned humility. Not humility born of a groveling sense of worthlessness, but humility born of the realization that each person he met was the very image of God, worthy of respect, honor, and attention. 

He learned love. And the love he learned was mutual love. As he learned to receive the gift of others, he learned to offer the gift of himself.  He, too, might be a messenger of warmth and joy to others.

This was the answer he needed to hear. In his dreams, as in his heart, all the doors were open. He was able to join the celebration on the other side. He still sometimes woke up weeping – but now the tears were tears of joy.

“Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

1 comment:

  1. Indeed the message is everywhere, strangers for some. Today my message came from a machine, but it opened my eyes and heart to to another . I guess the trick is paying attention.