by Robert J. Young
The Church is a place where people can belong. Such is a bold claim. One can only wonder if the real is anywhere close to the ideal. Think with me!
Refugees, immigrants, illegal aliens. Many US citizens lump them all together in one group--undesirables, unwelcome, threats to our economic, social, and general well-being. How dare they think of trying to become part of "us!"
The sentiment was so strong in California that voters passed Proposition 187 to exclude illegal immigrants from medical, educational, and welfare assistance. Whether we still need or want those who will pick the crops at wages U.S. citizens will not tolerate is unclear. What is clear is that we don't want to pay for the basic physical needs of these people. The sentiment seems clear: "Kick the bums out. These people are a liability."
The problem is not a new one. Almost 2000 years ago, a man from Egypt traveled to Jerusalem to attend worship services. We are not certain why. As an ethnic Ethiopian, he could never attain full Jewish status. Strike one! Still he worshiped the God of the Jews.
The man from Egypt was also a eunuch. Deuteronomy 23:1 is certainly clear about his status--he was forbidden to enter the assembly of the Lord. Strike two! Still he sought God.
He had a few things going for him. Certain aspects of his life encouraged his acceptance--he had possessions and the prestige of high position. Yet his ethnic background and personal history were a liability. The Bible does not tell us how he was received in Jerusalem, but one can imagine that he noticed the flashing neon sign: "No foreigners wanted. No eunuchs allowed." Perhaps a less than warm reception coupled with a heart that desired to intimately know and worship God were factors in his receptivity when Philip miraculously appeared on the desolate road to Gaza.
He really did not want much. Few demands. Only a plea from hopeful eyes and quivering lips, "Is there room for me? Could I follow this Jesus? I'm a foreigner, and despised by many. Can I become a Christian?"
You already know the story, do you not? A man who had always been on the outside looking in was for the first time invited to come inside. The Bible concludes the story by noting: "And he went on his way rejoicing."
Let 2000 years pass. Another person attends worship services. We do not know why he chooses to worship in this church on this day--he has never been there before. Perhaps he simply wants to worship God. How will this outsider be received? Strike one?
The background of this stranger--much experience in the immorality and various forms of evil of the world--is well-known in the community and to most members of the church he chooses to visit. Strike two?
He really doesn't want much. Few demands. Only a plea from hopeful eyes (if you show enough care that he makes eye contact with you)--a plea that crosses quivering lips. "Is there room for me here? Can I follow Jesus with you? Can I worship God with you? I'm a stranger, despised by many? Can I ever be a Christian?"
Do you know how this story ends? Neither do I! This stranger who is now on the outside looking in has not yet visited us, and we have not yet decided whether we will welcome him inside so that he may learn of Jesus and be saved. Will those who visit our assemblies "go on their way rejoicing" because they found acceptance and belonging and security and salvation? Or will they sadly look elsewhere to find the church that is like the NT church--a place where people belong? You and I will decide. Shall Acts 8 be repeated in our day? Are we that kind of New Testament church? Or some other kind?
©, 2001, Robert J. Young
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