Nobody should ever be turned away from a church. I’ve always said that and have believed it, but I had to put it in practice the other night.
It was my birthday, and we had a party at church, upstairs in the hall. My son Tim’s roommate Garth sings in a great band, The Rooks, and they played for us. They sounded terrific.
A friend from choir, Laura, works as a caterer, and she did a great job of making all these beautiful cakes. A group of fellow choristers sang a funny song.
And Carol and both of our sons spoke so beautifully that I had to wipe tears from my eyes; some of the tears, mind you, were from laughter.
It was completely overwhelming. I’m glad I don’t have to turn 60 again. I don’t think I slept a wink all night afterwards, processing it.
And I kept thinking about the guy who hadn’t been invited, whom I’d never really seen before.
He was big, never took off his coat or hat and stood in the middle of the room, looking a little bewildered.
A homeless guy has just wandered into my birthday party, I thought. We feed some 200 people every Saturday at our church soup kitchen and this looked like one of the guests from that.
But this was not the soup kitchen. It was a private event. I was heading over to him to tell him just as much, figuring I’d politely ask him to leave.
Wait a minute, I thought. This is a church. Should anybody be turned away from God’s house?
Of course other thoughts went through my mind: What if he was here to make trouble? What was under that coat? What if he was casing the joint to steal something?
The other day at coffee hour, some homeless guy stole money from the donation jar. What if that’s what he wanted?
But some higher instinct held sway. “Hi,” I said, walking over to him. “I’m Rick. This is a birthday party for me. Would you like something to eat?”
He nodded his head.
I got him a plate of hors d’ouvres and told him he was welcome to stay. He nodded. He stayed there in the center of the room for a long time, smiling and swaying to the music. At some point I looked for him again, and he was gone.
I’ve always loved the parable in Luke (14:12-24) of the man who gives a big dinner and when no one comes, he sends his servant into the city streets to welcome the poor, crippled, blind and lame.
I don’t know who invited this guy, but I was glad he was there. I hope he had a good time.