After serving at my first congregation for nine years, I was called to serve on the staff of large urban church in midtown Manhattan. Three weeks prior to my official start, the senior staff invited me to join them on their annual retreat. I arrived at the retreat center and entered the dining room where we were to begin our time together over lunch. I clearly remember the deep feeling of anxiety that swept over me as I saw the staff members engaged in conversation and laughter on the other side of the room. They had already served together for a number of years. I was a stranger. I was so grateful when someone saw me and came to walk with me into their circle.
We quickly forget that even our most treasured colleagues and friends were once strangers. A student recently told me that he will never forget the first person at the Seminary who remembered his name. As we begin this Lenten journey, may we seek ways to extend hospitality and grace to others, especially those who we do not know. May we learn the names of those we interact with each day. May we seek ways to “no longer be strangers.”
On this Ash Wednesday, as we see the sign of the cross marked on the foreheads of those around us, we are reminded that by this amazing, sacrificial love of God in Jesus Christ, we are no longer strangers. We are bound together as a dwelling place for God. May we live this out each day.
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