The LORD also will be a stronghold for the oppressed,
A stronghold in times of trouble;
And those who know Your name will put their trust in You,
For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.
Psalm 9:9-10 (NASB)
Hymn: "The Season of the Long Rains" Ralph Carmichael
When I graduated high school, my first attempt to find a next step for myself was an art school in Pittsburgh. About six month in, it was becoming apparent that the program wasn't panning out and I couldn't actually afford to stay in my Brentwood apartment and I was quickly running out of options. I had taken up drinking, and smoking, and weed, and none of it seemed a sufficient escape on the night when I found myself really confronted with the possibility that this was a failed venture. I took a walk to clear my head after trying to self-medicate and think through the details, and on the way back I found myself standing in front of a brick Presbyterian church on Brownsville Road at around three in the morning. I went up and tested the doors, which were unsurprisingly locked. I don't know why I felt the need to bother, I hadn't really been serious about faith for a few years and I wouldn't be again for another year or so, but something had been stuck in my mind that this was a place to go. A place of refuge. I sat on the steps and vented to God for a while, and then went home and passed out. The next day, I found I was comfortable with the decision I needed to make and was done with school and moved out within a week.
We still call the heart of a church building the sanctuary. We understand the notion that this is a place where people can take refuge, can find rest, can encounter the God who provides and protects. Is that the image we present to the world around us? If I had not grown up in a church, would I have had the notion, just from our culture or the churches in my town, that the steps of that brick building were a place where I could sit and seek comfort and wisdom? Do the people in our communities see our churches as havens?
A large part of the answer comes down to how they see us. The fact is, no matter how warm and welcoming we make our church buildings, if our neighbors do not feel welcomed by us, they will not want to go to the place we frequent. This is especially true if they know that our church is where we get our notions for what it means to be a good neighbor. If our God is a refuge for the oppressed, and we are imaging God in our lives, should we not be a refuge for the oppressed?
Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, [and] those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.
Hebrews 13:1-3 (NASB)
We may be tempted to see the first line of Hebrews 13 and interpret the rest as only applying to other Christians, other members of our known body. But then who are the strangers? These are not people who attend the same church as us that we just don't know, after all, sometimes they are apparently angels. Should we assume that the prisoners are only those in prison for the sake of the gospel? Or that the ill-treated are only those ill-treated because of their faith? I submit that the same God who told Israel to show hospitality to the foreigner who happened to be among them, and then told us to show hospitality to the stranger, means for us to show His love to all those who cross our paths and to remember those who are hidden from our sight.
Our churches can never be welcoming places if the people who occupy them are not welcoming people. We must consider what our words, and actions, and social media posts say about our willingness to be hospitable to the stranger, the alien, the orphan and the widow, the people who surround us that we may not even realize are watching.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation