Every human being has an inherent need to be loved. Most all of what we do is motivated by that need in one way or another.
I once asked my children what they would do if everyone in the world died and all the world's possessions belonged to them... they would have the ability to use the technology - could fly airplanes, operate cruise ships, run trains, and drive any car. At first they exclaimed they would fly around the world, take all the designer clothes out of the stores, visit the homes of the rich and famous - and confiscate one for themselves - and park a BMW or Mercedes in the driveway.
Not too long through the conversation they realized that without people in those exciting new places, or people to see them wearing those designer clothes or driving the expensive car, it wouldn't be that fun to be rich. Others seeing our riches or experiencing them with us is the big draw.
People are what matter in the world. Without people there is no exchange of love or affirmation, which is our basic need. Why would we want the BIG house, the DESIGNER clothes, the EXPENSIVE car, when a simple house, affordable clothes and a car that runs will serve the same purpose? The yearning for these things comes from secretly believing the lie that we will seem more important, be envied, or rank higher than others when we have these things. This is the same reason we write letters after our name, like MBA and PhD - It sets us apart with a certain recognition advancing our status in a community.
John Steinbeck wrote, "All men's sins are shortcuts to love." Riches and labels of importance are shortcuts to love.
From birth we need affirmation to live. Babies die if they aren't touched and loved. The same happens as we go older, only the "death" isn't physical. We all crave love and most everything we do is pulling us toward filling that need.
In Exodus 22: 20-26, God warns not to oppress an alien or harm a widow or orphan. These were the poor and marginalized of the time the ones who had no affirmation or acceptance in their communities. They stood on the fringes hoping to be invited into to the inner circle.
"If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword;then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans."
Where are the widows and orphans in our communities?
Perhaps their vulnerability isn't so visible, but I'm convinced these poor ones are with us.
They are the new family that comes to church, whom we politely ignore, and the unattractive person just hired in our office who talks too much. They are the bitter, reclusive man who won't look at or talk to anyone - the same man who's teenage son died last year. They are the homeless man near a city monument who waves at the tourist with a smile as she snaps a photo.
Does it really cost us that much to wave back with a sincere smile? Why do we reject these types? Is our propensity to ignore and overlook rooted in a fear of becoming like them?
God is very clear in the Exodus scripture above. Through the prophet the Lord says that he sees the vulnerability in these poor ones, and he will defend them by kicking the likes of us that marginalize them to the outside.
Welcome is so important - welcome is the first sign of reaching toward someone, of affirmation, of love. Warmly welcoming that new family in church, inviting the lady who talks too much to lunch, finding the perfect small gift for the man so pained with loss and guilt that he can never return the gesture, smiling sincerely at a stranger - even a stranger that is creepy... these are the acts of welcoming those who are different into our lives.
These actions aren't easy but they matter, and God sees them.
May I always remember what it's like to be new in a community, lost in a large group, misunderstood by my closest friends, and ugly to some people. And with this understanding, may I be a carrier of love, acceptance and welcome.
May I not cling to the comfort of my "clique" of friends and overlook those that are waiting to be welcomed in.