It's amazing to be a part of a growing church and see new faces at worship service every week! And because Austin, Texas attracts so many people, I'm never sure if the stranger is a local or a member of our network of churches. Either way, meeting strangers is such a beautiful part of life.
Recently, the topic of strangers has been prevalent in my life as many new people have entered my life in unique ways. This has lead me to explore what quantifies a 'stranger'. In my discovery, I've seen two overarching categories of strangers:
People who are brought together by commonality. New colleagues, classmates, and those met in settings of similar interest like a running club, a civic organization, or church fall in this category.
People who have been put in our path by circumstance. These include the passenger you sit next to on the plane, a next door neighbor, and the homeless person you pass every day by the train station. For these individuals, it takes more effort to find out what commonalities exist.
At times, a lack of compassion limits our ability to make connections with strangers. I was recently convicted during at a homeless service project I attended a few weeks ago. One of the organizers admonished society's indifference towards individuals experiencing homelessness and living on the streets. Often, our society ignores and regards them as invisible, at times treating them as subhuman. But, the love of Christ should compel us to treat them as they are...people, human, and children of God.
I realized I had to confront my own lack of compassion. Sure, I offer money and food, but it stops there. I don't ask for his name or inquire about her life. After confessing to the organizer that I was overwhelmed by the idea of not being able to provide substantial assistance, he gently responded, "just follow the spirit". The instruction was so simple, yet profoundly powerful.
Extending a hand of compassion and encouragement is a true act of service. During a stand up performance by a Christian comedian, I was struck by a story he shared that highlighted how we can make a difference in the lives of strangers.
He told us about being a recipient of a 'pay it forward' gesture at a Starbucks drive-thru. Jokingly, he decided to 'receive the gift' and was not compelled or guilted to pay for the car behind him. The window cashier was deflated about his decision to stop the trend of the 14 cars prior to him! He explained humorously, "The only person in that scenario who really gave sacrificially, if you want to call it that, was the person in the front of the line". Let that simmer - what he said was so true. The true act of giving is extending beyond your means (financial often times) and setting out to meet a need.
Why do I share these things? It's no coincidence that in Hebrews 13 the author writes detailed instructions on how to love each other and show hospitality to strangers: "Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it."
Our ability to keep on loving one another extends into how we treat outsiders. From inviting 'complete' strangers into our homes to hosting disciples we don't know personally, we are able to exercise our love muscles more and more and develop a bigger heart for doing the work of God on Earth.
How does your treatment of brothers and sisters spill into how you treat strangers? How can your heart towards strangers make you more loving and compassionate?