Meditation: Open our eyes, dear Lord, to those whom you have sent to us, that we might see You as well. Amen.
For my birthday, Dick got me a new bumper sticker. He knows me so well, and knows what will please me!
It’s going on as soon as it gets above 50 degrees. It reads: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” -Verna Myers
Because- we all know it- there is a difference between being tolerated and being embraced. Being invited to the party- being tolerated, but never quite belonging… that’s a terrible feeling.
Shi-shu is new to the school, wearing her brand new clothes. The tags have just been taken off. She has an accent, and is still on the English learning curve, so she doesn’t talk much. She sort of hangs on the fringe of different groups, trying to find a way to fit in.
Erin is having a sleepover, and her mom said Erin needed to experience to people of other cultures. Shi-shu must be lonely, being new and from a different country. Diversity is good. So Shi-shu gets the invitation. And when she gets there, she sits there on the very end of the couch, trying to fit in, but really just being uncomfortable because the other girls all know each other, and are talking to each other. It’s not that they’re trying to ignore her; they are not unkind. But really, they’re uncomfortable too, and so they go into the comfort zone of the friends they know
That’s diversity- being invited to the party… but sometimes diversity ends up “being tolerated” because it’s the right thing to do. But being actively included- that’s something else again. That’s being asked to dance. That’s being talked to: not just for a couple of minutes, but being actively included in the conversation, and inviting other people into the conversation, so someone like Shi-shu feels like she’s actually getting to know people, and people are actually trying to know her.
A couple of years ago, we went through some exercises called “triangulating.” This is the good kind of triangulating, where we meet someone we don’t know, and we try to find out a little about them. And we find out they like gardening, and we know that John over there loves to garden, so we call John over to the conversation. That’s triangulating- making it possible for a guest to be included in the larger group.
Sometimes, one person is designated as the person who ‘talks to the new people.’ And so that one person and the guest stand in a corner with a cup of coffee and talk. But that’s not inclusion; that’s just one person fulfilling their job. Inclusion means that John comes over and joins the conversation, and then he calls over Harriet, who is starting some squash from seed. And then someone mentions Common Ground, that meets every Wednesday. It’s a group that discusses gardening over homemade soup, and would you like to come with me next Wednesday?
That “drawing someone into the larger relationship” is Inclusion. And inclusion feels good. It feels like we might just fit in here, like we might just belong.
Abraham and Sarah were the forebears of the Jewish faith. But they didn’t know they were going to be forebears of a nation; they were barren, and had no children. It was the great sorrow of their lives. When three strangers came to Abraham, he put on his best inclusion apron. That’s what you did in the Ancient Near East, there in the desert. The desert is a harsh, unforgiving place. When strangers come, you feed them, and treat them like friends.
So, as was his custom, Abraham ran into the tent and asked Sarah to start cooking some bread, because they were going to have 3 more people for dinner. Then he went back to his 3 guests and made sure they were comfortable- made some small talk. Then he went out and killed the fatted calf and put it on a spit to roast. Then he ran back to his guests while everything was cooking, to let them know that they were very special to him.
Little did Abraham know how special they would be to him. These 3 strangers had been sent by God to tell Abraham and Sarah that, even though they were over 90 years old, they were about to become parents: the greatest desire of their lives.
The Christian Letter to the Hebrews, recounts this transforming day for Abraham and Sarah when it says, “Let our love for each other continue. Do not neglect hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some among us have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1-2)
Have we entertained angels without knowing it? That’s the whole premise of that TV show, Touched by an Angel. But the word “angel” doesn’t mean a floaty thing with wings. In Hebrew and Greek, the word angel literally means ‘a messenger of God.’ Someone who brings God near to us; someone who invites us to dance- not just to come to God’s house, but to eat, and laugh, and dance at God’s feast.
When we open our hearts to the strangers and guests among us, maybe it’s not just us doing the including. Maybe it’s God, asking us to join in the dance. Maybe it’s us who are being included in God’s realm.
Today is our first Dementia-Friendly worship service, where we invite people with different forms of dementia and their families to come to the party which is Emmanuel. Dementia can be so hard. It’s easy to feel isolated, frustrated, alone. People with dementia need to be thoughtfully, intentionally included.
And so, we take the next step, and ask them to dance: to come near, and we get to know the people we haven’t spoken to before. We learn about them; delight in the things we have in common; learn about the things in which we’re different, knowing that we’ll never really understand what they’re going through… but trying to understand anyway.
Then we invite other people who we do know to join in the conversation, so that what we’re forming is not only a one-on-one conversation, but a community, a relationship that includes all of us. And as we do this, we join in the dance in which God is including us– all of us- as we become the Kingdom of God, and the Children of the Eternal Embrace. And in doing so, we may be entertaining angels without knowing it.
In the name of the One who includes us all, and will never let any of us go; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
GREEK SCRIPTURE Hebrews 13:1-2
Let our love for each other continue. Do not neglect hospitality to strangers,
for by doing that some among us have entertained angels without knowing it.