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Entertaining Angels ...

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it (Heb. 13:1-2, NIV).


Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Lk. 9:58, NIV).

Recently, a group of ten pastoral leaders from ABCRM toured Israel (eight for the first time) with an eye for organizing and leading future groups in this life-giving experience. One thing that became evident is that having a good guide and a good company to help with logistics in this trip is a must … even down to such basic elements as bathroom stops.


If you’ve ever traveled with a tour group, you know that one of the greatest challenges is often where to find bathrooms frequently enough, big enough, and clean enough to meet the needs of the group and not spend all day doing this search. On our trip to Israel, this was most often accommodated at the historic sites, at the museums, at the communities or at the businesses we visited. Because of this act of “hospitality” on the part of our Israeli hosts, we didn’t have to carry around a lot of small-denomination Shekels to pay for the more readily available pay toilets, but it also gave these organizations an opportunity to tell their story and to sell over-priced souvenirs, meals and snacks. It’s the way of the world!


Still, hospitality was an important part of Middle East culture … one that -- if not genuinely a core value and practice today -- is at least an aspirational value. I’d like to think we have similar values in the US.

And in many ways, we do. We don’t expect to pay for bathrooms in the US. If we’re a customer, the bathrooms are open to us … but what if we aren’t a customer? I was at one of my favorite restaurants this last weekend and went to use the restroom prior to continuing my journey and I saw a sign that said “Our bathrooms are not public restrooms! You must be a customer to use these restrooms.”


And sure, I get it. Providing bathrooms for the public has a cost and that cost is paid for by the profits from the business. With the homeless problem we have in the US, businesses in areas that have a large homeless population struggle with the cost of maintaining bathrooms and the impact on their business of having homeless people wandering in and out of their buildings. You don’t want to encourage the unwanted population to frequent your store if their visits don’t pay for what it costs you. And besides, if we’re honest, most of us don’t want homeless people in our communities because it’s uncomfortable for us for any number of reasons.


Homeless people tend to ask for money … awkward.


Homeless people remind us of our own vulnerability in fragile economies … uncomfortable.


Homeless people are often dirty and smelly … ewe!


Homeless people endanger our perception of the good life we have … depressing.


So, we treat the infestation of the homeless just like we would any other … we remove the things that attract them to our house. Just like sealing up food sources from the rodents who want to infest our homes, we remove the humane bathrooms and commodities from the homeless.

And maybe that’s why we also tend to forget that Jesus, at His birth and throughout His ministry, was “homeless”. He and his family depended upon the hospitality of others … Jesus had no place to lay his head and depended on His followers to give him housing and food and even a good place to relieve himself.


Maybe that’s why this piece of art found at “Monastery of the Pilgrim Church of St. Peter” (the ancient ruins of Capernaum) struck me. If you zoom in, you will see that the title of the piece is “Homeless Jesus”.


Soooo, how do we … the church … show hospitality to the homeless instead of treating them as pests in our lives.


Well, that’s a complicated question, but maybe a way to start is as simple as finding ways to provide their communities with humane bathrooms. What if our churches in areas of dense homeless populations found a way to provide safe secure access to restrooms?


What if our churches that do not have a homeless population would invest in shower trailers and bathrooms for disaster sites (a common ministry for some churches in other areas of the country) and provided some of those trailers for homeless camps?


Or better yet, maybe we actually learn to SEE them and to pray for them when we encounter them in our life. Not the shallow prayers of Larry the Cable Guy … “Lord bless all the children in Africa” … but genuine prayers where we not only lift up the homeless to Christ, but we listen for Christ’s response in our life.


And no, our actions won’t solve the problem of homelessness in our world, but it will make a difference in the lives of a few. And in the end, we might just discover that we have entertained angels unaware.

 

Prayer:


Lord, open my eyes to see You and your Spirit in the homeless. Open my ears to hear your direction in my life. Open my heart to learn to say “Yes!” to the prompting of your Spirit. Amen.

 

Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran


Executive Minister


American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains


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