The heart of a stranger

Good morning, Friends!

Once again, welcome to everyone who’s here this morning! I appreciate you taking the time and trouble to be here. I know it isn’t easy for everyone. I hope you all know what an effort we make for you to be healthy and safe, coming here.

There are so many people who are hungry for God’s word. Many people are here with us today in spirit. They’re praying at home. They’re watching today’s message online. They wish so much they could be here. Our hearts go out to them, and we include them in our prayers and worship.

Today I want to introduce a special guest to you. Last summer, we were approached by a congregation down in Asheboro, who asked if we might rent some space to them.

They’re a church which reaches out to the Spanish-speaking community. They’ve been established in Asheboro for a few years with a building of their own.

They have 10 or 12 families from here in High Point, who’ve been commuting down to Asheboro every week for worship and Bible study. It’s a long drive, and they wanted to find a place here in High Point where they could meet and save these families the long drive two or three times a week.

We talked about it at Ministry and Counsel. We asked some questions, and we met with their pastor. We agreed to try it for three months and see how it worked.

While we were outside holding drive-in services, they met outside in the picnic shelter. Now that we’ve moved indoors again, they worship in the chapel.

It’s working out very well. They pay us rent, to cover the gas and electricity they use. They meet here at 1:00 on Sunday afternoon, and at 6:30 on Tuesday evening.

The name of the denomination is La Iglesia Apostolica, which means the Apostolic Church. The name of the congregation is Fuente de Misericordia, which means Fountain of Mercy. That’s so beautiful!

I only speak a little Spanish. I’ve visited them several times, and they know that Spanish isn’t my first language. I usually write out what I want to say in English first, and then translate it. It usually takes me a couple of hours.

They’re very kind. They only laugh a little when I mispronounce things! They wear masks, just like we do. They respect our facilities. They take care of everything and clean up after themselves. They’re great neighbors!

What I want everybody here to know about them, is that these are people of prayer. The first Sunday they came indoors, some of them arrived a full hour ahead of time.

They spent a whole hour praying, giving thanks to God for a place they could worship. They thank us and bless us, all the time in their prayers. They pray for the same things we do – for health and safety, for jobs and families. They always pray in the name of Jesus.

I want to introduce you to their pastor, David Recendez. He always calls me “Pastor Josh”, I always call him “Pastor David”. He’s originally from Mexico, and he speaks excellent English. His wife is Grecias. She’s from Nicaragua, and she is also completely bilingual.

They have a new baby boy, born last summer. He’s as cute as can be. David’s two brothers help with the music, and Grecias is one of the music leaders. It’s a very close-knit group.

David, please come up here so people can see you. I’ve invited David Recendez to introduce himself, to tell you al little more about his church, and to talk for just a couple of minutes about the vision he has for his group in the future.

[Special guest – David Recendez]

[Return to regular service]

Our Scripture today is from the Old Testament, from the book of Leviticus. It’s one of the five books that Moses is said to have written. Some of the oldest beliefs and some of the oldest sayings in the entire Bible are here.

What I’m going to read to you is part of a collection of God’s commandments for how people were to live, what they should do and how they should treat each other. Let me read from Leviticus 19.

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.

Leviticus 19:33-34

The people of Israel had a very mixed record when it came to dealing with people who were not like them. They fought their neighbors. They tried to get rid of the people who spoke other languages and worshiped other gods.

They were warned, over and over again, not to adopt the practices of the nations all around them. They were told not to let their sons and daughters marry people from other groups. And there are ugly, horrible stories in the Bible about how they treated other groups sometimes.

But deep in the Bible, there’s also this commandment, a commandment from God, about treating these other people well.

It’s almost as if there are two different ideas in the Bible – one voice speaking against people from other nations, and another voice saying to treat them well. There’s a voice of hostility, and a voice of hospitality.

Today’s reading is the voice of hospitality. It’s the voice of welcome and inclusion.

God says, “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.”

You know that famous line, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” form the gospel? It actually comes from today’s Scripture, and it refers to our neighbor who comes from another country, who doesn’t speak our language, who may not worship the same way we do.

This all traces back to a time when things were different, and the people of Israel were the ones who were strangers and foreigners instead. For hundreds of years before the time of Moses, the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt. We all know the story.

Jacob and his family had to leave their native land of Israel, because of a terrible famine. They had to leave their country, or die. So they went to Egypt. And instead of being refugees, they became slaves.

Time went on. The Egyptians treated them worse and worse. God was only a distant memory to them. Then God called Moses, to lead them back to freedom, to the land they’d almost forgotten about.

It took forty years for them to make their way back home again. Forty years in the desert. They rebelled against Moses. They even rebelled against God. But they made it. They made it home. They crossed the Red Sea, and they crossed the desert, and they crossed the River Jordan. Home again!

But God said, “Never forget what it was like for you and your family. Never forget that you used to be the ones at the bottom.”

In the book of Deuteronomy, God says,

When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

When you beat the olives from your olive trees at harvest time, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.

When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean your vineyard afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.

Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do these things.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22

I remember last week seeing one of those things on Facebook. It said, “100% of the people in this country are Native American, or former slaves, or refugees, or immigrants. Take all the time you need to think about that.”

I guess I’ve known that all my life. I grew up knowing that my father’s family came here, looking for a new home. They arrived here 400 years ago, next month. We call them Pilgrims.

The first year the Pilgrims were here, half of them died of disease and starvation. They would have all died, if it weren’t for the hospitality of the Wampanoag people, who showed them how to find food, and shared what they had with my family.

I grew up knowing that everybody in my mother’s family came here from Ireland in the 1850’s. They came because of a terrible famine. A quarter of the country died, and half the country emigrated.

When they got here, nobody would hire them, because they were foreigners. They lived in shanties down by the river. They had no schools. No one offered any help.
This stuff is in my blood. It’s in my DNA.

Here at Springfield, it’s the same thing. People came here in the 1700’s, looking for land they could afford. We built farms and schools. We prospered.

Then, in the years before the Civil War, half the families in the meeting left, to move to Ohio and Indiana. They believed that slavery was completely against the will of God, and they left everything behind them, to move to places where slavery was illegal.

Talk about sacrificing for what you believe. Each family only took what they could carry, what would fit in a saddlebag, or a wagon. Everything else got left behind.

Then in the years right after the Civil War, more thousands of Quakers from this area left in another wave, because the war had left them with nothing. We should know what it means to be poor and homeless, because it’s a part of our own church’s story.

In the book of Exodus it says, “you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

Of all people in this whole area, the Quakers at Springfield should know about this stuff. Because we went through the same thing.

You’ve heard people use the phrase that so-and-so “never knew a stranger.” Often that’s because they lived through some hard times, and they knew what it was like. They knew the heart of a stranger, because they’d been strangers themselves.

When I visit with Pastor David and his people, they welcome me. I don’t have to be fluent in their language to read the joy in their voices when they pray. Their ways aren’t exactly like our ways. When they all start praying, you can hear their prayers all the way out on the street!

There’s nothing in the Bible against that. The Bible says, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Psalm 100) Our neighbors from Fountain of Mercy understand that. Maybe we can learn from each other now and then.

This is something that Springfield has never done before. I said this a couple of weeks ago: in the middle of one of the worst years any of us has ever lived through, our church opened its doors to share our space with some people who don’t speak our language.

That’s a miracle! It isn’t something we thought about doing. We might have gone another hundred years without making this move. I might have ignored Pastor David’s letter when it came last summer. Springfield might have said no.

But we said yes, and here we are today. We’ve got new neighbors. We’re making new friends.

They are Christians like us. We share a love for Jesus. We speak different languages, but you know what? God hears us both.

I want to thank all of you for being so open-minded and open-hearted, especially during a time of stress and uncertainty like this. I think we made a good decision.

I want to thank Pastor David Recendez for being here with us this morning. After worship here, he has to hustle and get ready to lead his congregation at 1:00.

Just as you pray for Springfield, I want to ask you to pray for Pastor David and his church. They’re not strangers. They’re here under our own roof.

They are hard-working, decent people. Most of them work long hours, and sacrifice to be here on Sunday.

One of the children in their group is a beautiful young girl who has to live in a powered wheelchair. She comes up the ramp in order to come in the building.

She has the most beautiful smile you ever saw. Her whole face lights up when you say hello to her. I hope you’ll meet her sometime, and see the love and care that her parents and her older sister have for her.

It is worth the time to welcome people. In one of the books of the New Testament, in the book of Hebrews, it says: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have welcomed angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

My hope is that Springfield Friends and Fountain of Mercy church will learn to be angels to each other.

May God bless both of our churches, and help us both to grow, for Jesus’ sake.
Amen.

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