This past Sunday our theme in worship was hospitality and we focused on Hebrews 13:2 – “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for some have entertained angels without knowing it.” At the close of the sermon I told a story from the Benedictine tradition about the need to open the door every time there’s a knock on the other side, for we never know when it might be Christ himself showing up for a visit.
Throughout my ministry, people have always knocked on the door from time to time looking for assistance. Usually they’re seeking financial assistance - help with a light bill, rent, gas, medicine but sometimes food as well. Long ago I copied Matthew 5:42 on a piece of paper - “give (something) to everyone who asks of you” – and kept it on my desk so that I would remember to make time for those knocks on the door and do my best to give “something” to them. Sometimes that means directing them to MAX; or offering to pray with them. And sometimes it is giving actual financial assistance.
These drop-in visits are almost always an inconvenience. I always have something I’m working on. And the knocks on the door nearly always “disrupt” my schedule. Even though I invite every single person who drops-in to join us for worship on Sunday, rarely in 20 years has this happened. Moreover, some of the knocks on the door come from those who are somewhat regular. Persistently regular. One woman comes to mind. She came 5 or 6 times in one year. Sometimes the church I served gave her something, sometimes we didn’t. But after a year of this happening, I sat down and I told her, “we can’t continue doing this. Either you commit to becoming a member of the church and we can work with you on longer-term strategies – or we can’t help you in this way anymore.” She said, “Yes, I understand.” But she never came back.
One day about 8 years ago, a man dropped in. We sat in the office and he told me his situation. He had a job lined up but wouldn’t get his first paycheck until after his rent was due. He was trying to reconcile with his wife and children and having an apartment was an important part of this. If he could just get $75, he could bridge the gap. I talked with the landlord and verified the $75 deficit and decided to give him the “bridge grant” was looking for.
A month later, he came back. Of course I was in the middle of something and when I saw him I thought “Oh no, not now. I’m busy. I just know he wants something else. Didn’t I just tell him a month ago that $75 was all we had to offer at the time. Why is he coming back?” But I dragged myself up out of the chair and opened the door. I was getting ready to offer my prepared speech about how we had just helped him and it was not our practice to give emergency grants more than once in a six-month period. But before I could speak, he said, “Pastor, I just wanted to come back and say thank you for the $75. I was able to keep my apartment, I have a good job now, and my wife and kids have moved back in with me.” Needless to say, I was surprised, but also inspired. And thankful for the lesson he taught me about how the judgments we can make when there’s a knock at the door and how they are sometimes shattered when we answer it.
Blessings – Michael