Today’s Gospel from Matthew offers this wisdom from Jesus:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread…”
My work as a parish secretary has changed me. Not that I was not welcoming before, but I don’t think I opened doors in the same way, literally and figuratively, that I do now. One of my passions about my work reflects this from The Rule of Benedict that says, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, ‘I came as a guest, and you received Me.” (Matt. 25:35). One thing that I try to do is to never, ever, ever say to someone who has a request, “are you a member here?” Those are the worst words in the Christian language if you ask me!
Today is also the one year anniversary of Pope Francis, who has very clearly called us as church “to come out of herself and to go to the peripheries.” Are we doing that? Or is the question, how exactly do we do that? The Bishop of Rome seems to understand that when we wall ourselves in with a misunderstanding of rules and the letter of the law, but not the spirit if the law, the Church is diminished. How can we transform the world if we are apart from it? And if we keep everyone out? I’m pretty sure that we can’t. And to do so is to give stones instead of bread. So much for asking, seeking, and knocking, so much for the transforming power of Christ.
How many people call or visit a church or encounter “churched people,” only to feel rejected or demeaned, even if unintentionally? When people seek out the church, for whatever reason, they should not get “a stone” instead of bread. I am reminded of this past Sunday’s Gospel with Satan taunting and tempting Jesus to turn stones into bread.
This quotation from Henri Nouwen says it all for me:
“Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”
Whether one is a church secretary like me, (the fancy title is Pastoral Associate for Administration) or a parishioner, or anyone involved in the life of any church, we are called to remember the Benedictine rule of welcoming all as Christ. If people are supposed to know that we are Christians by our love, and we act like gatekeepers to the emperor instead, disdainful gatekeepers at that, then Christ is literally not served.
How have you been treated at church, regardless of the denomination? Do you have stories to share? Good stories are welcome, but please share the regrettable horror stories that are out there as well. You can leave a comment with the story, or ask me to email you, and I will do so.