I woke up this morning with the weight of a nightmare still hanging around me. I was glad it was nearly time to get out of bed because there was no sleeping to be had after that point. I had dreamt that one of you had gotten abducted out in front of our house. It was strange to watch the whole scene unfold in my dream, and as I woke I was determined to talk to you about stranger danger. I got out of bed, went to the bathroom, headed downstairs, squeezed a lemon into my water, and I was still thinking through the best way to approach the subject with you without making you afraid.
The thing is, I don’t want you to be afraid.
I don’t want you to think every person you don’t know might kidnap you.
I don’t want you to fear the stranger.
This whole stranger-danger thing? I’m just not convinced it’s a good way to raise you, even as my nightmare tapped into one of my own deepest fears–not being able to keep you safe.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being honest and forthright with you about the struggles of life in our broken world. In our house we talk about injustice and poverty and racism. But there’s always a pressure in my chest when I think about trying to talk to you about stranger danger.
And I’ll sound a little preachy on this point, but it’s because of Jesus.
The narrative of scripture reinforces that idea that the stranger is Jesus. From the old Testament story of Abraham welcoming the angels, to Jesus talking about himself being served when we clothe the poor, visit the imprisoned, feed the hungry, it seems to me that the vocation of Christians is to love even in the face of potential dangers. That when we welcome those who are other, those who are different, those who are most in need of hope, we welcome Jesus.
I’m convinced this is not a metaphor.
Today in Sunday school, we talked about the last chapter of Luke, the resurrection appearances of Jesus, including one of my favorite narratives of all of the Gospels: the road to Emmaus. There is such richness to the story, which reads like a parable because it is so full of meaning. The two disciples are met by Jesus on a 7-mile journey, but they don’t recognize him as the risen Christ. Still, he walks along with them. Jesus asks them why they are sad and discouraged, and they respond with surprise,
"Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who has not heard...?"
Are you the only stranger…?
Today, when I read this passage aloud, I heard this line differently than I have in the past. I heard the irony of the question.
Because, of course, Jesus is the stranger.
And then a few verses later comes the revelation of his true identity. How, how is it revealed?
Girls, it is only because the disciples have insisted on being hospitable to the disguised Jesus! They insist on him staying with them because it is late, they welcome the stranger, and then they let the stranger be the one who breaks the bread.
They let the stranger become the host.
They let the stranger offer something to them.
And the stranger is revealed as Jesus in one miraculous moment of bread-breaking. That means bread-sharing, girls.
A shared table. With a stranger.
The choir sang a rendition of O Holy Night today in church as part of the cantata. The line
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother
gets me every time.
It’s so radical because the slave is the complete other, right? Someone at the bottom, oppressed, at the mercy of captors. It is a good reminder that someone we would recognize as completely other than us is our sister. That the vulnerable is our brother. That the poor is our sister. That the broken and abandoned and lost is our brother. That the lonely is our sister.
That the stranger is our brother.
Jesus is our brother.
Jesus is the stranger.
You know what else is a refrain of scripture, right up there alongside the stranger being Jesus? The command to fear not.
And get this, Jesus had to say that to his disciples, his friends, even when they did recognize him. Because he was showing up in ways they didn’t expect.
Think about that for a minute.
Truly, He taught us to love one another, His law is love, and his gospel is peace.
I’m going to teach you to fault on the side of love, rather than fear.
I’m going to teach you to fault on the side of kindness, rather than distance.
Girls, I’m going to teach you to fault on the side of welcome and hospitality, rather than avoiding the stranger.