Then Peter began to speak: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right." Acts 10:34-35
The country church was having an old-fashioned mission festival.
For a year, men and women of the parish had been planning, working, cooking and cleaning for the expected influx of visitors. Missionaries were brought in to recount their stories of global witnessing; speakers were imported to enthuse, encourage and inspire. Everything had gone according to plan. Even the weather seemed to cooperate, with sunny skies and temperatures neither too hot nor too cold.
Everything was perfect except for one fellow who hung around on the outskirts of the festivities. His clothing was torn and tattered, his appearance grimy and grubby. His face sported a week's worth of stubble. Those who wandered near him were able to share, and they meant it quite literally, "That guy stinks."
In short, the common consensus was the man was not "one of them."
Understand, the man wasn't intrusive. He didn't beg. He didn't drool when the plates of food were handed out. He didn't bother the children or the women. He was just there. He never participated; he never got involved.
Thankfully, he was often out of mind, as the speakers were stupendous and the music, magnificent.
On the last day of the festival the congregation sang with greater gusto than anyone could remember. Then came the moment they had waited for: the message of mission.
That was when from the back of the gathering wandered the fellow who was "not one of them." Wives whispered to their husbands, "Somebody needs to stop him." Husbands nodded, but nobody moved -- not when he reached the front of the meeting, or when he stepped into the pulpit, or when he began to speak.
The man who was not one of them said, "This week, I was physically among you, but that was all. Nobody included me or invited me to the activities. No one shared a meal. Yes, one person did give me a dollar bill, and two people asked if I wanted to read a brochure about the church. But that was all. Most of you averted your eyes and made me invisible."
Then the man preached a wonderful sermon about how the Lord Jesus came to seek and save all sinners.
Now the reason I share this story is because I have had this man come to my churches. It's true, this man -- or one like him -- has shown up at every church where I have pastored, every church where I have preached. I'm sure he has been at your church, too.
The question is was he treated better, was he welcomed more warmly, than he had been at that mission festival? I'm pleased to say there have been times when my congregations have done a great job. That fellow couldn't move five feet without someone asking about him, welcoming him, encouraging him.
But there have also been times when he was ignored, cold-shouldered, and passed by. The greeters talked only to the people they already knew; the ushers busied themselves with matters mundane. We should have done better. I pray in the future that we, and you, will, in Jesus' Name, welcome everyone.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, You reached out to leper and publican, adulterer and cripple. No one then and nobody now can live beyond the scope of Your love and blood-bought forgiveness. May we who know You reflect Your love to others around us. In Your Name. Amen.
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker emeritus of The Lutheran Hour®
Lutheran Hour Ministries