by Rev. Laura Barclay
A couple of months ago, I wrote an article entitled “The Power of Persistence,” which I cut from a sermon I delivered recently. The whole point of the entry was for Christians to encourage themselves to live out an active prayer, answering the door when our neighbors knocked and were in need. Somehow, I’ve always found that my sermons have a way of challenging me either when I’m writing them or in the weeks after, but I’ve never faced a more direct challenge that I did a few weeks ago.
It was a late Saturday night, and my husband and I were exasperated with some home projects that including putting up a very complicated ceiling fan and light fixture. It was now 11:45pm, and we’d been at it for a few hours. Parts of all shapes and sizes were strewn about our dining room table with confusing directions to piece it all together. All of a sudden, the doorbell rang. We hesitated for a second, wondering if we should answer the door. It was late, the streets were deserted, and we were tired. After a few more seconds, Ryan and I went down the steps and opened the door to a man who looked both tired and upset. “Do you have a problem with black people?” he asked. My husband, a community organizer, answered no and said, “What do you need?” He continued by talking about his experiences with some local non-profits that had treated him very poorly and refused him services. Before long, he was sitting on our step, pouring his heart out about how badly people treat him on a daily basis. He had asked for a little bus money somewhere in the conversation, which we gave him (we don’t usually do this—we’d rather direct people to services or give food), but he still stayed, telling his story.
Pastoral listening ensued and my tiredness and fear of answering the door at night abated. As children, we are taught to fear strangers and not answer the door, which is healthy and appropriate to some degree. For some reason, that fearing of the stranger seems to be hard to let go in our adult life, and can keep us from embracing fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
After about a half hour of discussion, we encouraged him to visit a local church that had a good homeless ministry. He nodded approvingly, and said he wanted to be around people that would treat him as an equal and not look down upon him because of racial or economic prejudice. He walked off toward the bus station, but his impact stayed with me. I turned to Ryan and said, “We both wondered whether or not to answer the door, and I just preached on this a few Sundays ago!” Ryan responded that my sermon was the first thing he had thought of when the door rang, and that’s why he’d answered it.
I don’t say this to pat myself on the back. On the contrary, I am humbled and alarmed at how close any of us are to turning our backs on others simply because we are tired. At any point in our lives, we can find ourselves playing the various roles portrayed in Jesus’ parables. Though we might try to be that Good Samaritan, we might find ourselves playing the role of the priest passing by the wounded man on the road. This was a helpful lesson in humility to me to practice what I preach!