Readings: Leviticus 19:33-34 (various translations), Secrets of Heaven 1473 (see below)
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Photo by Tim Mossholder: https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-white-wooden-welcome-sign-3643925/
Welcome to the second week of our series: Exploring Mission. Each week we will be exploring an aspect of our church’s mission statement and connecting it to the spiritual ideas that drive it. Many times it is very easy to get caught up in the details of our lives and work - I know my life is driven by my to-do list - and we forget why we are doing the things we do. This series is an attempt to bring us back to the *why* of church and spiritual community.
So today, we are going to focus of the part of our mission statement that says we aim to create welcoming, open and nurturing spaces - physically, emotionally and spiritually.
As we heard in our reading today, the Old Testament in particular contains repeated entreaties to welcome people who are variously translated as the stranger or the foreigner or the sojourner. These different words get at different aspects of the concept: stranger speaks of newness to a place, foreigner speaks to having belonged elsewhere, and sojourner is someone who will stay in a place for a time but maybe not forever.
Either way, the most important part to note that the welcome is anchored in empathy; God asks the Ancient Israelites to remember when you they were a stranger or a sojourner, like in Egypt, to remember how it was when they were welcomed and cared for during time of famine. God says, remember that and the pay it forward and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And it goes without saying that this principle applies to the modern church as well. This timeless exhortation to empathy and hospitality is just as relevant now as then.
And, I also want to widen our interpretation a little bit, because as much as it is important to focus on the literal words in our text, the inherent trap contained in that language is that it necessarily creates an in-group and an out-group, those who already belong and those who don’t. You can’t have a stranger unless you have a group who is already defined as belonging. Where there are groups of human beings we also often find gate-keepers and paternalism and self-satisfaction.
However, when we look at the text through a Swedenborgian lens, we understand that the stranger and the sojourner are parts of ourselves, that even people who have entered this church, this space, a hundred times, they are bringing some part of themselves that embodies being a stranger or being a sojourner. This experience is not one that is intrinsic to people *out there* but one that we all share, in different ways.
For we heard in our Swedenborg reading that the representation or the metaphorical meaning of a sojourner is a change of state - a change of state of mind, state of heart, state of being. A movement or a progression of one state to another.
And isn’t *that* what we are all looking for when we seek out holistic and nurturing spaces and community? We are looking to feel something, to learn something, we are looking to be moved, to experience a change that takes us a few steps further on our own personal journey.
In a welcoming, open, and nurturing space, we might find that we are able to move from being disconnected to connected, disengaged to engaged, isolated to communal, unfulfilled to fulfilled, harmed to healed, disenfranchised to empowered, despairing to hopeful, judged (including by ourselves) to accepted, exhausted to renewed, defensive to curious, fearful to courageous, to name just a few.
This is why we add the three descriptive qualifiers to our statement on welcoming space: physically, emotionally, spiritually. Yes, we absolutely want to welcome people physically, this is the most basic tenet of hospitality: yes, please come through our door, come into our space, we want you here. But people also contain multitudes…and the kind of welcome, the kind of nurture that they might need, might be deeper, might be unseen, might take time, might only be something that God can do. The existence and the maintenance of welcoming, open and nurturing space is more than just that first invitation, it is instead an ongoing endeavor, for the invitation to cross our many personal thresholds is something we all need over and over again.
Therefore, I believe our philosophy of welcome needs to be holistic, recognizing that the stranger can be found on multiple levels and in multiple ways. And, always, we draw on God’s reminder to us to anchor in empathy. Remember when you were in Egypt, remember when you were hungry, when you were sad, grieving, lonely, hurt, confused, and a stranger to yourself. Remember when you were brought into the circle, remember how it felt to find respite, to find community, to find acceptance…and so now, go and do likewise.
From Shalonda Ingram, NURSHA project founder, and place-making ministry leader at The Church of the Holy City:
Happy and Blessed Lunar New Year!
I am grateful for the opportunity to practice allyship with members of the Church of the Holy City Wilmington community.
I assert that the aim to create welcoming, open and nurturing spaces - physically, emotionally and spiritually is materializing. The placemaking ministry that I am fortunate to lead, is a wonderful demonstration of how the mission statement is operating in the lives of engaged people.
Since the placemaking ministry was welcomed onsite: artists have produced impactful multimedia content, Green for the Greater Good has a consistent place for their weekly civic planning meetings, members of the church are learning new technology platforms and collaborating to be of greater service.
These collective outcomes have required openness to newness: new ideas, new people, new meeting schedules, new investments and new ways of being. These collective outcomes have required nurturing: of the physical building and materials therein, nurturing of relationships and at times nurturing one another emotionally.
As we continue to grow our collective practice of physicalizing this portion of the mission statement; I invite you to contemplate a quote from The Tao Te Ching is a Chinese classic text written around 400 BC and traditionally credited to the sage Laozi:
“Thirty spokes join one hub.
The wheel’s use comes from emptiness.
Clay is fired to make a pot.
The pot’s use comes from emptiness.
Windows and doors are cut to make a room.
The room’s use comes from emptiness.
Having leads to profit,
Not having leads to use.”
– The Tao Te Ching
May we each continue to create the emptiness within ourselves, to be of use. May we authentically share space, time and our journeys with one another in meaningful ways. May the balance be restored.
And so it is. Amen.
New International Version
33 “ ‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.
34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
New Revised Standard
33 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.
34 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: I am the Lord your God.
New King James Version
33 'And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him.
34 The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
American Standard Version
33 And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not do him wrong.
34 The stranger that sojourneth with you shall be unto you as the home-born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were sojourners in the land of Egypt: I am Jehovah your God.
King James Version
33 And if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him.
34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
Revised Standard Version
33 "When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.
34 The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
Secrets of Heaven 1463
That 'sojourning' means receiving instruction becomes clear from the meaning in the Word of 'sojourning' as receiving instruction, and it has this meaning because sojourning and passing on, or moving from one place to another, is in heaven nothing else than a change of state… Therefore every time traveling, sojourning, or transferring from one place to another occurs in the Word nothing else suggests itself to angels than a change of state such as takes place with them.