“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.” Romans 12:12 (NRSV Holy Bible)
After thirteen months of retirement from ministry at St. Matthew’s, I realized I missed working. Three weeks later, I had a very part-time job in another church. It is an urban church and as such I greet people each week who come to ask for food, a bus token, or other kinds of help. The first few times I was awkward in my response. I quickly realized what I have really always known. I lead a sheltered, privileged life.
When I began offering hospitality to strangers, some who have lost their way through poor choices, some who live with mental illness, and some who lost their careers and even working three jobs, don’t make enough money to make ends meet, I was occasionally frightened. What would he or she do when I said we don’t have money in the church and all I could offer was a bag of food that would last for a meal or perhaps two? I found a few turn away in a huff yet most accept the food with a humility that is heartbreaking. Many ask for prayers. I discovered my fear unfounded.
Recently a beautiful older woman came to ask me to make copies of documents that she needed to mail. We sat and I listened as her story of suffering unfolded. When I said I would help her, her face glowed in what could be described as rejoicing in hope. We figured out a plan and she returned two days later. As I copied her documents, she made a desk of the sofa in the narthex. She worked diligently for much of the day. Her only request was to borrow a stapler.
When her documents were sorted and placed in envelopes that I offered to mail, the look of hope once again returned to her face. When I looked into her eyes and called her by name, tears sprung to her eyes as she said, “You said my name.” We hugged good-bye and she returned to the street. My life was made richer by knowing her.
My prayer, as we enter this new year 2017, is that we will take our lead from Saint Paul’s words written to the Roman almost two-thousand years ago, “May we rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer, contribute to the needs of saints, and extend hospitality to strangers.” And may we always choose to do so in love.