SCRIPTURE: Ezekiel 11:16c (CEB) - larger reading Ezekiel 11:14-21
I've provided some sanctuary for them in the countries to which they've gone.
Have you ever been to a church where you didn’t feel welcome? You went in and looked around the foyer area and no one greets you. You proceed through the doors into the sanctuary and find yourself a seat in the back row and begin to prepare yourself for the worship time. People come filing in and many are talking with one another, because it seems they all know each other, but still, no one offers a hand to be shaken or says hello. As you look around, you even notice some making eye contact with you and when they notice you seeing them, they turn away quickly or pretend they are looking beyond you at something else. The service goes by and when it is done, you linger around for a while in the foyer area again, reading some of the bulletin boards to see what things the church is involved with and still no one says boo to you. Finally you leave, feeling a bit slighted, and tell yourself you will never visit this church again.
The experience shared in the story leaves us with the feeling that we are living in a different world. Most of us have had that experience at one point or another in our spiritual journey. We didn’t fit in, we were not included, we were ignored, overlooked, bypassed, made to feel ill at ease. Do you know what I’m talking about?
The Israelites had been scattered. They were living in a foreign land. They didn’t speak the language. Their customs was different. They simply didn’t belong, but nevertheless there they were. Even in a foreign land the promise from God is that he has provided a sanctuary. A safe place to land. A sense of security and peace. Is that an experience that you can relate to? I sure can and it isn’t a comfortable feeling either.
Like the person in the story we just cannot wait to get out of there. Away from “those” people and their unwelcoming attitude. Boy, we will never go back there again! What’s wrong with them anyway?
And then the thought hit me – does my place of worship feel like a foreign land to somebody else? Do I make eye contact? Do I make others feel welcomed? Do I extend myself beyond my circle of friends to include the stranger? What am I doing to make my holy place a sanctuary for the stranger within our midst?
OUCH … that hurts when we place this idea within the context of our life and our church. Now, the thought process starts as to what we can do to make it a different experience of the “stranger” within our walls. Oh, yeah, one more thing… could there be someone who is there every Sunday, but leaves with the feeling that they are a stranger… a foreigner in a foreign land? That’s a double OUCH!
And then to take another step totally in another whole direction are there people in this world who need a sanctuary because of their status in this world? They might be illegally in our country or struggling with a lifestyle that is not necessarily accepted by our society or just because of their gender that are being persecuted or even worse they become nothing more than a commodity that is bought and sold in the marketplace. Sanctuary has multiple meanings depending on where you stand. God provides a sanctuary for us, but is he calling for us to become a sanctuary for others?
God, I don’t like the feeling of being unwelcomed so help me to open myself up to others so that a true sanctuary will be provided to all those who need a safe place to land.