Sermon 1-18-2015  ‘I Talk to Strangers’

Ruthie Tippin, Pastor, Indianapolis First Friends Meeting

Hebrews 13:1-8

Robert C. Morris, Fear or Fascination? God’s Call in a Multicultural World, Weavings

Greeting Time: Name Tag Day - Share your name, and tell each other about your name; origin? nickname? Etc…

We are taught that we should never talk to strangers.  But what if by never talking to strangers, we miss the chance to speak with angels?  To become more closely acquainted with God – with ‘that of God’ in other people?  And what if, by never talking to strangers, we deny them the encounter of ‘that of God’ in us?

Robbie Stokes Jr. was a young, successful professional, when in 2012 he came up with a wild idea… a great idea.  All his personal and professional connections had begun with conversations with strangers.  His wife had been a stranger before he met her.  His boss had been a stranger.  His friends had been strangers.  By meeting them, speaking with them, connecting with them, he began a relationship with each one of them.  And those conversations brought other conversations.  Those connections brought other connections.  And they all began with a simple “Hello, my name is…”

What would happen if he simply talked to strangers?  Strangers… all around the world?  How could the world be changed?  Robbie quit his job, sold his car, and packed his belongings into two suitcases…. four pairs of jeans, five shirts, four pairs of socks, a pair of tennis shoes, I hope he packed some underwear,  and a dream.  A social movement began – one that has broken stereotypes and changed stigmas.  What’s it called?  “I Talk to Strangers”!  Robbie is bringing the world together with conversations.  His story is fascinating.  His TED talk is great!  Robbie is on to something here.

Connection matters.  Conversation matters.  Talking to someone we don’t know can make a huge difference… not only in that person’s life, but in our own, as well.  Jesus talked to strangers all the time… a woman drawing water from Jacob’s well; two travelers on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus; many who reached out to him.  And many persons he reached out to, as well.

Phobia and Philia – fear and love. Fear and love.  Xenophobia and Xenophilia – fear of the unknown, and love of the unknown.  How many of you absolutely love to explore new places?  The Xenophiliac’s in Meeting today!  How many would much rather stick close to home – to those places you’re comfortable with? It’s alright to admit it, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it!  Xenophobe’s are here today, too!  The truth is, we all fear, and we all love. We all fear and we all love.  Life and experience gives us the chance to find our balance between the two.

Robert Morris, Spiritual Director and Episcopal priest, in an article he wrote about fear and fascination with strangers says this:  “Most of all, xenophilia (love of the unknown) invites us to encounter strangers with an initially positive, inquiring interest, rather than knee-jerk suspicion.  The Scriptures go so far as to command this: “You shall love the stranger” (Deut. 10:19).  Ruled by love, our fear can take its proper place: appropriate caution as we explore the unknown. More urgently than ever before, the biblical mandate to “show hospitality to strangers” summons us to create a world where strangeness breeds not estrangement, but engagement.”

We’ve spoken before about the need we all have to belong… to a person, to a family, to a group.  I reminded you last week, and will tell you again, over and over again, that you first of all belong to God.  Whether you acknowledge it or not, whether you realize it or not, you are God’s child, you are God’s creation, you are God’s beloved.  You belong to God.  You belong.  And just at this moment, you belong to me. I am so glad you’re here with me.  I am so glad we’re here together today.  You belong to me, and I love that. Some of you are strangers to me, but not here, not now.  In this moment, we belong to each other. You belong to this group of people – this random group of persons who decided this morning, this day to worship God, to learn about God, to experience God, to gather with one another in this Meeting for Worship, in this place, at this moment. Just as I chose to do today. I didn’t have to come. I was supposed to show up, but truly I didn’t have to come, and neither did you. I chose to be with you today. I want to be with you today. I love being with you today... We belong to one another.

There are many persons who feel that they do not belong to anyone.  To any group.  To anything greater than themselves.  If and when someone invites them in, they are hungry for engagement.  They are tired of being estranged.  They want to belong!  Who will welcome them?  Who will walk up and say “Hello, my name is… What is your name… Where did that name come from…” Those who traffic in fear?  Or those whose business is love? I’m convinced that this is one of the major reasons that hate groups have grown so rapidly. “Hello, what is your name? You belong! We’ll give you a place to belong!”

Again, Robert Morris:  “We seem to be faced with strangers at every turn.  Different cultures, religions, ethnicities, and values now confront each other in ways unanticipated one or two generations ago… Ancient, isolated mountain-separated valleys of tribe, tongue, religion, and clan are being connected by rapid transport, high-speed communication, and vast international migration.  Even within nations, the conflict of majority groups with minorities, and the emergence of “identity tribes” – movements based on ethnicity or race, sexual orientation or gender, theological or moral fervor, can create a heightened sense of estrangement from the other…”

Last year, when we welcomed Dr. Derek King who spoke to us of his uncle, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he challenged us, saying, “We have work to do.”  We will always have work to do friends, because there will always be strangers.  There will always be those who are estranged and isolated.  It is our call as Friends to be friends, to honor God, to follow the teachings of Jesus, to speak a work of kindness, of love, of belonging to strangers.  To turn strangers into friends.  Yes, we acknowledge our fear. I certainly do.   Of course we use appropriate caution, especially when teaching our children. But we must step into the unknown space between ourselves and others, between the known and the unknown, and discover ‘that of God’ that lives, that breathes, and surprises us.  And how do we start?  How about telling someone your name, asking them theirs and how that name came about…