Thursday, June 19, 2014

Honor, Leviticus 19 & a cup of coffee

Everywhere I seem to turn lately, God is whispering to me about the idea of welcoming the stranger. It's a common concept in the Bible, appearing first in Genesis 18 when Abraham entertains three strangers (whom scripture describes as God) by welcoming them to his tent, preparing for them cakes and a young calf.

Jesus brings it up again in Matthew 25:35 when he suggests that whenever we care for those in need or welcome in a stranger, we are doing this to and for Him. The writer of Hebrews encourages us again in chapter 13:1-2 by writing, "Let love continue among you. Don’t forget to extend your hospitality to all—even to strangers—for as you know, some have unknowingly shown kindness to heavenly messengers in this way" (The VOICE). 

God prompted this idea to percolate in me through my friend Dana, who told me about Irish poet John O'Donohue, who talks about the notion that every person is an "ex-baby." As Dana described it, if we can just see past the hard exterior of the adult to the inner ex-baby, perhaps we could cultivate more love for one another. 

I began to look at people I encountered with this framework. Driving down the street, I would see a business man, briefcase in hand, entering into Starbucks. "Ex-baby," I'd tell myself. As I passed the bus stop, the waiting passengers slumped on the benches or chatting on a cell phone, I tried to really see them. "Ex-baby, ex-baby, ex-baby." At the checkout line at Target or the grocery store, I attempted to look the cashier in the eye, to notice her name tag, to thank her for her service to me, and to thank God for this ex-baby, for how she is exquisite in His eyes.

God next highlighted this idea as I listened to podcast sermons from House for All Sinners and Saints, a little church in Denver, CO. Over and over in the teachings, they talk about holding a value of welcoming the stranger. The speakers expose what a difficult thing it can be to actually walk this out, but also the amazing gifts that can emerge when one does.

Recently I finished reading An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor where she writes about the practice of encountering others. She writes, "Jesus taught the practice of encounter. He taught it not only by what He said, but also by what He did," and "Why should we love the stranger? Because God does." She explains how in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, there are 36 instances where the people are instructed to 'love the stranger,' reminding them that they were once strangers in the land of Egypt (during a time of exile and slavery).

This led me to look this up for myself, and I found myself reading in Leviticus 19:34. "You must treat the outsider as one of your native-born people—as a full citizen—and you are to love him in the same way you love yourself; for remember, you were once strangers living in Egypt. I am the Eternal One, your God."

Now, I am so familiar with Jesus' words telling us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I love loving the people I already love. Most days I think I follow this directive fairly well (with a disclaimer that I know I am not perfect, make a lot of mistakes, and, of course, have room to improve). But I love to love...the people I love already.

However, what God is showing me particularly right now, is that I often hide behind a veil of shyness and introversion to protect myself from loving the stranger. I'm seeing how I can often view strangers as suspicious and to be feared. I am seeing how I do not want to take the risk to love the stranger. Loving the stranger could be risky, it could get messy, it could require of me in ways I don't really feel like giving.

But what it seems God is trying to teach me is that, from His viewpoint, there are no strangers, really. That everyone I encounter is His beloved child, worthy of my attention, respect and honor. That even the stranger is my neighbor, whom I am to love as I love myself.

As this consciousness has been brewing in me, I have been asking God for opportunities to see when I could love the stranger. So the other morning in line at the coffee shop, I felt God nudge me. "Buy coffee for the person behind you." Aaaggghhh. My mind immediately started racing. "What if she thinks I am weird? What if she buys a $7 drink? What if she says no?" God was not persuaded by my arguments.

I turned to the woman behind me and gently asked her if I might buy her coffee. She said sure, ordered, and said "thanks" as she went on about her day. It wasn't this magical moment where everything became right in the world or anything. She didn't hug me or say I had made her day. But I knew that I had listened to voice of the One, that I had honored His prompting, and that for a moment, I had cared for this ex-baby stranger in a small way.

Here is my prayer for today:
Father God, may I see each person I encounter this day as one of Your beloved children.
Jesus, may You share Your love for every one through me.
Holy Spirit, reveal to me the ways I may honor others through my prayers and words and deeds.
In Your name,

**Submitted as part of the June synchroblog for SheLoves Magazine.**