“Strangers in Abundance”
Text: Romans 12: 12-14
12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Quite often as part of my morning routine I try to find a few minutes to meditate. Some would call this time a prayer time, but for me prayer is different than meditation. When I try to meditate, I focus on breathing and make an attempt to not really think about anything. To clear and empty the mind is a formidable task and I am rarely completely successful in that endeavor.
That being said, I was up early one day this week and got comfortable to mediate for a few minutes. Often my mind wanders when I lose focus on my breathing, and it happened again; but only this time I let my mind go because I was intrigued with the thoughts and insights that I was beginning to think about.
Earlier I had been on line searching different Bible passages about strangers and who they are and how we are called to treat them. I was intrigued with my mind wanderings because I was in the midst of forming some new ideas about strangers and was discovering some new ways to begin to think about all the people who impact our lives in different ways that we never think about. As I thought about it in greater detail, I began to realize that a stranger seldom greets us with a sign around their neck declaring to the world they are a stranger. I also began to play around with the notion that to extend hospitality to a stranger, as the text I read a minute ago suggests we do, doesn’t necessarily mean that it always has to be in person or in our homes the way we normally think about hospitality. I think most of us define hospitality in our own minds as welcoming someone into our home, giving them a cool drink or a cup of hot coffee and perhaps something to eat. Great hospitality may even include offering to let them spend the night in the spare bedroom.
But what if we could extend hospitality simply by just recognizing that someone exists that we had not previously thought about or really acknowledged in our own consciousness? Would it be possible to think about someone we don’t know at all and simply offer a prayer or some positive energy for that person? Then answering my own question, I thought; “Certainly we can do that!”
All of these thoughts rushed through my mind in a flash. I was still in my meditative mode, it was still early and my mind was beginning to explore new ways to think about the strangers in my midst. It was fairly quiet and I began to listen.
Listening to what was happening around me one of the first things I noticed was the rhythmic ticking of a clock on the wall near where I was seated. I listened to the clock, ticking off the seconds one by one. I thought about the clock, it is one that I had made as a gift for Heidi probably 15 years ago. It is a collection of different kinds of wood glued together in a pattern and the clock movement is battery operated and one I purchased in the wood store in Denver.
How many strangers were involved in that clock? Someone harvested the wood that I had used. Most of it probably came from a different country; who was involved in cutting down that tree? Where are they now? Could my thoughts and prayers and positive energy reach them? I believed that they could. I thought about the trip for that wood to the United States. Did it come over here by ship? Who was on that ship? Who loaded the stack of wood onto the ship? Who guided the ship through the ocean waters? All these are strangers who I had never thought about before. All these are human beings with trials and challenges just like the rest of us. Can I extend hospitality to them through our universal human connection? I thought perhaps I could.
I began to think about the battery operated clock movement I had purchased for this clock. Who assembled all those little pieces? Was it done by a machine or was it done by someone in a foreign land being paid 25 cents a day for their efforts? With each tick of the clock it seemed as though I thought of someone new, some other person that was in some way connected to this clock that I thought I had made.
My realization was that I hadn’t made the clock at all. I had lots of help and without that help there wasn’t any way I could have assembled the parts I had been given access to. That clock represented an abundance of strangers that I had not even thought about and yet, they were present, they were integral in the creation of this clock. I tried to extend some hospitality to those strangers, even after all this time, even not knowing who they were, even not knowing where they were. I believe in the connectivity of the human spirit and I believe my hospitality was received.
I listened some more. Way in the distance I heard the rat-a-tat-tat of a jake brake as what I assumed was an 18-wheeler making its way down the Lewiston grade. I thought about the driver of that truck. Was the driver a mother or perhaps a dad? How long had this driver been away from home? Were there kids at home? Did the kids have everything they needed? Was he or she alone or was there someone with them? What was the truck hauling and who had loaded it? Where was the truck from? Who were the people involved in manufacturing that truck? Who was the person that last changed the oil in that truck?
My mind was suddenly filled with the possibilities of an endless stream of strangers that I had never considered before. People without names or faces, but people I knew must exist because I could hear the results of their lives in my ears. It was an endless, steady stream.
I heard the crunch of the cold frozen snow under the tires of the person delivering the morning paper. I could hear the vehicle approach, pause for a minute, and then drive away. How many strangers flooded my mind! Who had taken the pictures in the paper that was being delivered? Were there people in those photographs? Do they need my hospitality at this moment?
I thought again about this text in Romans that suggests we offer hospitality to strangers. My meditation that morning had taken me in a direction I did not anticipate. There was a whole new way of looking at this word stranger and what it meant to offer hospitality to those we don’t know. Of course, if someone knocks on your door and needs help, that is one way to offer hospitality to strangers. But the world is bigger than that; we are more connected than that and we can do better than that.
Extending hospitality to strangers can involve letting your mind wander and imagining all the people who influence your life from a distance. Can you think of them? Who built the chair you are seated on? Who harvested the wood for these beams in our sanctuary? Where did the pipes for our organ come from and who created them? What country was this carpeting manufactured in? Who was involved in that process? We have strangers in abundance; I believe we can extend hospitality through our human connection. As it says in Hebrews, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. I had always thought about that passage as people who have died; but I now see the cloud of witnesses in everything around us. Everything we see and touch, everything we hear or smell or taste has a human connection in some way. That human connection is an individual that you do not know, an individual that may live half way around the world, an individual without a name or a face. But you can still extend hospitality. You can still identify them in your mind. You can send your peaceful energy and it will be received.
How many strangers can you think of?
Food for thought.