Sermon 1-11-2015 ‘Welcome the Stranger’
Ruthie Tippin, Pastor, First Friends Meeting
Adele J. Gonzalez, Living As a Stranger, Weavings – A Journal of Christian Spiritual Life, Vol. 18 - No. 5, September/October 2003.
Welcome home, friends. Welcome home to Meeting for Worship. To this Meeting for Worship. Please take time just now to stand and greet those around you, welcoming them perhaps for the first time to a gathering of Friends – to our gathering of Friends at First Friends Meeting. But…. I ask you, before you are seated again, to find a new place to sit. Whether it’s by changing places with the person next to you, or moving to a completely different part of the Meeting Room, please do not sit again in the same place you are sitting now. Again, greet those around you!
Thank you friends! Please find your place to sit… Welcome home, friends. Welcome to this Meeting for Worship. Perhaps this is your first time in Meeting for Worship at First Friends, and I want to assure you – we don’t usually play ‘musical chairs’ in Meeting! Perhaps this is your first time in Meeting for Worship in this particular place in the Meeting Room. I hope so. Today, I want to welcome you, as strangers. Strangers, in a new place, in new experience, a new ‘way of being’. Certainly, from our text this morning, humankind was introduced to creation as a new creation… a new form of being.
“And God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them… Genesis 1:26,27,28 KJV
God created humankind – men and women – in God’s likeness, in God’s own image. It was as if God looked in a mirror, and could see Godself when he looked at his new creatures. God created us - formed us as new creatures - made to look like Godself. And God was pleased with his creation. God blessed humankind. God’s creation – man and woman - were not strangers to God… they were a part of God.
We all know what it feels like to be a stranger. If you can, try to remember the first time you visited First Friends Meeting. You came, perhaps not knowing anyone… not knowing what Quakers were… not knowing how ‘friendly’ Friends really would be. Where was the Sanctuary? Oops… they don’t call it a Sanctuary, they call it a Meeting Room! Wow… where shall I sit?
Your first day of school. Your first day at work. The first time you meet your in-laws. Your first day in a new country. The first time you experience anything, you always feel a bit strange. Awkward. Unsure. Uncomfortable. Strangers, aliens, foreigners, outsiders… Our Christian tradition teaches us to welcome the stranger. In the early days of the Hebrews, Moses tells them all, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the Great God… who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Do you remember when you were a stranger? Think for a moment of a time when you were alone, uncomfortable, alien. When you knew the pain of being different. The stranger that I most want you to love and welcome today is… you.
Before we can follow God’s command to welcome anyone else into our lives, we must first welcome ourselves. We must first learn to love and accept ourselves. The greatest reason we can do this is because we are first loved, best loved, most loved by One who is love… God. God doesn’t love you because you love God. God doesn’t love you because you don’t love God. God doesn’t love you because you need God. God doesn’t love you because you don’t need God. God loves you because you are. God loves you because you’re you. God loves you because you’re you, and God made you, and you belong to God, whether you recognize it or not, and God loves you whether you know it or not. God loves you.
So how do we make sense of this, if we feel alienated? If we feel like strangers to ourselves? We can learn a great deal about how to do this from others who have once been strangers. Adele Gonzalez immigrated from Cuba in 1962, when she was sixteen years old. She grew up to become the Associate Director of the Office of Lay Ministry of the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami. She knows what it is to be a stranger, and what it is to be welcomed. In her article, “Living as a Stranger” there are three lessons she has to teach us about strangers:
1. Alienation – all people have a basic human need to belong
2. Minorities – strangers are always seen as different than the dominant culture
3. Homelessness – strangers are always in search of home
The truth is, we don’t have to come from Cuba, Mexico, India or any other country around the world to feel like a stranger. We can feel alienated, homeless, and very much a minority without leaving our own neighborhood… even our own home, at times. Unless…
Unless, we remember. Unless we learn. Unless we listen to God. Unless we gather with other strangers who together remind us that we are not strangers to God. We are God’s creation. We belong to God. We are loved by God. We are God’s people – first and foremost. Before we belong to any other peoples or nations, we belong to God’s kingdom of Light and Love that is already here.
Adele tell us: “Strangers are lonely people unless they realize that being a stranger is a sign that they are citizens of the ‘already here’ and ‘not yet realized’ Reign of God. Far from being a burden, being a stranger can be the greatest gift. Not belonging, the first quality of the stranger, becomes a necessary feeling for those who refuse to abide by conventional values. No culture can be identified with the gospel… People who embrace the gospel way of life become de facto strangers regardless of their nationality or legal status.”
When we choose to live in love, when we choose to live as Christ taught us, we are alien to any culture we live in – whether traveling with a visa or in permanent residence. Any time we share good news, proclaim freedom, give new sight, or set the oppressed free, we are acting strangely… we are different! We are seen as strangers. It’s especially difficult when we are in Christian cultures who do not see themselves as “blind guides.”
Do you remember Christ’s injunction? In Matthew’s gospel, we read this… 23"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. Too often, the church becomes the center of alienation, minority status, and homelessness instead of homecoming. (We have no place for you.) I have seen this in my own son’s family this past year. God forgive us. God save us. God protect us. God redeem us.
How do you find welcome for your own heart? For your own soul? For your self? How do you move from being an alien, an outcast, a foreigner, a stranger, to becoming known?
You are already known to God. Now, you must allow yourself the pleasure of knowing God. Knowing God is not an intellectual exercise like an algorithm or an equation. It’s an experience. It’s not something you get out of a book, or online. The experience of God is one that comes by seeking, waiting, opening ourselves up to God, and expecting God to show up. That’s what life is, what faith is - expecting God and discovering that God is everywhere, in everything, and especially in you. You are already home. The Early Friends discovered God in this way, and found God to be faithful. George Fox 1652: “Wait in the measure of the Spirit of the living God and to it take heed… All of you, live in the Life, that with it you may come to know the Father of Life. And being led with the Spirit of the living God, the Lord’s presence you will enjoy…”
Adele Gonzales: “I am invited to welcome God, the Stranger within, the one who dwells within me whom I cannot contain; the one whom I desire and who already possesses me. This God-with-me is also a Mystery to me, and while everything and everyone are sacraments of God’s love, no-thing and no one can fully manifest the depth and breadth of God’s love. When I have made a home in God, feeling safe and loved, then I will be able to receive all kinds of visitors. I can help create a circle where all are welcome, including myself, other strangers, and our mysterious God. In this circle no alien shall be wronged or oppressed, because we are all aware of our own estrangement in this world and of our membership in the household of God.” Amen.
Benediction: “You are no longer aliens in a foreign land, but fellow citizens with God’s people, members of God’s household.” Ephesians 2:19 Go in peace. Act in love.