The knock on the front door came late one Friday night. It was dark and I wasn’t expecting visitors. When I peeked through the window and saw a strange man standing there, I assumed the worst. He must be up to no good, banging on the door of a stranger at such an hour. I spoke to him through the tiny window in the door, keeping it firmly locked shut. He said he was from France and that he was supposed to stay at my neighbor’s short term rental, but he was locked out with a phone that didn’t work in the U.S.
Having just returned from foreign travel, I could imagine the fear in such a situation. His French accent and the exhaustion in his voice rang true. So I stepped outside with him. I helped him use my phone, but when the situation was not resolved, I left him outside in the cold and the dark presumably to sit on the neighbor’s porch all night. I went inside, threw up my hands, and dramatically announced, “What am I supposed to do?”
Pari, who had watched the entire scene unfold, calmly replied, “Indie, that’s Jesus out there.”
Yes, folks, Jesus is a French man with nothing between him and the cold night but a thin hoodie and a cigarette to keep him warm. And Jesus’ messenger from heaven, stirring me to do the right thing, is a Hindu woman standing in my living room, arms crossed, giving me the “you’d better not turn away Jesus” stare.
As we were driving French Jesus to a hotel room, which Reverend Vicki agreed to pay for from her discretionary fund (shameless plug for this fund which helps all sorts of folks in a pinch including me a couple times), he told us how tired from travel he was and how confused and lost he felt. He said it had always been his dream as a boy in the south of France to come to Nashville. “I love Nashville,” he said, “but Nashville doesn’t love me.”
“I love Nashville, but Nashville doesn’t love me.”
Have you ever felt like that? I have. Not so much like that in Nashville, though I know some who do. But like that elsewhere. There have been times I could have echoed the thought, saying instead, “I love Tennessee, but Tennessee doesn’t love me.” “I love my job, but my job doesn’t love me.”
Or, saddest of all, “I love the church, but the church doesn’t love me.”
Most of us know the pain of exclusion. Let’s ask ourselves, when are we leaving our sisters and brothers, like French Jesus, out in the cold, huddled in nothing but a thin hoody, feeling lost? The answer to this question is, I think, what convinced us to take the risk to open the doors of St. Philip’s to be a food distribution site for Second Harvest several years ago, so friends in our community have enough to eat. It is what spurred our friend Chick Westover, who passed from this life recently, to work tirelessly to open the door through the Room in the Inn program to the people in our community experiencing homelessness. It is the thing that kept a group of St. Philip’s parishioners working through an anti-racism class during adult Sunday School last Fall.
As a diocese, we will be hosting conversations in several locations about liturgies for same-sex marriages, conversations requested by a resolution brought by folks in our diocese who have felt they are standing outside a shut door. It is easy to see others, even our friends, even those we worship with on Sunday, as somehow suspect if they don’t share the same political views, or interpretation of scripture, or race or sexual orientation or any number of things we use to divide us. It’s easy to throw up our hands in our living rooms, saying “What am I supposed to do?” knowing the person outside the door might be French Jesus or Republican Jesus or gay Jesus or immigrant Jesus.
But Jesus shows us another way. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock (Rev. 3:20),” he says. Let’s step out on the porch, welcome Jesus, and find him a safe place to lay his head. You never know. Like my French Jesus, he may show up at your door the next day to thank you, hand you flowers, and invite you to visit him if you ever make it to the south of France. That doesn’t sound half bad to me.