Photo by Tom Strecker on Unsplash

Welcoming people in from the storm

Rev. Susan Sparks

September 11, 2018

This summer, my husband and I were sitting on the dock at our cabin in Northern Wisconsin. It was around 4:30 p.m., and we were doing what we usually do about that time: fishing, eating cheese curds and sipping a festive beverage or two. In short—nothing.

As we sat doing nothing on that lazy Wisconsin afternoon, we heard a rumble of thunder in the distance. Within minutes, the sound grew closer and stronger. Then, almost out of nowhere, a ferocious storm blew in. As we scurried into the cabin, the winds began howling across the lake, and the storm sirens in town started to wail.

Huddled in our living room, we listened to the tempest outside. Then, shockingly, amidst the claps of thunder, we heard a knock on the door. We peered out and it was our next-door neighbor. Utterly drenched, he came in and told us that his 2,000-pound pontoon boat had just been picked up in the storm and flipped upside down on the lake.

In the middle of his telling the story, another knock was heard, and there was our neighbor who lived across the lake. She was in the area when the storm hit and got stuck because all the streets were blocked with downed trees. We pulled out candles, food and drink, and sat together in the shelter of the cabin as the storm raged on.

What else could we do but welcome them in from the storm? It’s too bad we don’t follow that ethic in our nation and our world.

Every day, our neighbors come to our house, at our door, to find shelter from the storm.

And everyone is fighting some type of storm. We may not see the tempests immediately. People love to pretend that everything is perfect and lovely—God forbid we show vulnerability or admit we need help. Regardless of the faces people show, everyone has their storm.

Some storms are personal, like the storm of a difficult relationship or a family issue. A personal storm could also be a physical one, such as chronic pain, or a financial storm.

It could also be part of a national or global storm, like the storm of hatred and judgment toward our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. Or the storm of racism and bigotry toward our brothers and sisters of color. There is the storm of ignorance waged against our Muslim brothers and sisters. And then there is the immigration storm that is raging in our country.

Every day, people from all over the world come to our house and stand at our door, asking for shelter from the storms of poverty, tyranny, oppression and religious persecution.

And what do we do when our global neighbors come to our door?

We slam it in their faces. And if that’s not bad enough, we take their children. Of the more than 2,600 children separated from their parents at the border, nearly 500 remain in U.S. government-funded shelters without their parents.

I imagine God in heaven, watching all this going on, preparing to yell down to Earth:

“People! Have you read my book? It’s pretty well known. I bet you’ve heard of it. It’s called the Bible! If you had read it, you would see that I provide ‘justice for the orphan and the widow’ as well as love strangers, ‘providing them food and clothing’ (Deuteronomy 10:18).

“You might also remember that I said, ‘When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt’ (Leviticus 19:33-34).

“And, if you’ve read nothing else, surely you remember my son Jesus’ powerful words in Matthew 25:42-45: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me. … Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

Something must change. And it can. Sharing hospitality and welcome is not that complicated. Just like on that stormy night in our cabin, it comes down to two basic things: food and shelter.

Sharing hospitality and welcome is not that complicated. Just like on that stormy night in our cabin, it comes down to two basic things: food and shelter.

First, we must feed the people. Sure, that can mean literally offering food through a food bank or soup kitchen, or cooking something to feed someone in need. But food can mean so much more. People are hungry in their hearts—hungry for affirmation/acceptance, hungry for respect and dignity, hungry for love. And we must be the ones to provide that food to all we meet, no matter the storm that brings them to our door.

We must also offer shelter. That can mean literally providing a place by supporting a homeless shelter or participating in the national sanctuary movement to help protect our immigrant brothers and sisters. It can also mean providing people with a spiritual or psychological safe space from the storm by welcoming them unconditionally and listening without judgment.

A few days after the storm on the lake, as I was flying back from Wisconsin to New York City, our plane banked right over the Statue of Liberty—the symbol of our nation—which reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” How tragic that those beautiful words have been eclipsed by our nation’s hate, ignorance and greed. But thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.

As Rachel Held Evans writes in her new book, “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” (Nelson Books, 2018), “The story isn’t over. There are still prophets in our midst. There are still dragons and beasts. It might not look like it, but the Resistance is winning. The light is breaking through.” 

Brothers and sisters, every single person we meet is going through some type of storm. And every day, people come to our house, to our door, looking for shelter.

Don’t shut them out.

Welcome them with hospitality. Offer them food and shelter. Let the light break through.

“Just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

The Rev. Susan Sparks is pastor of the historic Madison Avenue Baptist Church, New York City. Adapted from a sermon delivered there on June 24, 2018.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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