Week of November 6, 2013

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

I noted this past week that on October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated on what was then known as Bedloe’s Island, just across the water from Manhattan Island and Wall Street. Lady Liberty, the work of sculptor Frederic- Auguste Bartholdi, with help from Gustave Eiffel on the engineering of his modern-day Colossus, was a gift to the United States from France to commemorate our nation’s centennial celebration. President Grover Cleveland was present for the dedication of this iconic statue that rises 305 feet into the air and welcomes visitors who enter our nation through New York Harbor. Sitting strategically nearby Ellis Island, it was the sight that inspired countless immigrants who entered the United States throughout the late nineteenth and into the early twentieth century. Soon Emma Lazarus’ poem adorned the site, and today is placed prominently in the Statue of Liberty Museum. Her poem and the grand statue stand as a powerful word of welcome to all who enter our country through our major city’s harbor:

Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me, I lift
my lamp beside the golden door.

The statue and the poem stand as a powerful expression of welcome to all who long for freedom. I also have always thought that it offers a wonderful word of hospitality on behalf of our nation to the world. We have not always lived up to the ideals expressed in Lazarus’ poem, but the ideas it articulates are among the noblest and best our nation knows. We have always been a nation open to immigrants, and the gifts they have brought to enrich our life are an important part of our national story.

Of course, the notion of welcoming strangers in our midst is a large and powerful part of our whole faith tradition. I have always loved the practice of our Jewish brothers and sisters who leave an open or an empty chair at their Passover meals. It is a powerful symbol of welcome and hospitality to the stranger or the newcomer. One of my favorite passages in the Old Testament comes from Leviticus 19: “And if a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not oppress the stranger. The stranger who dwells with you shall be to you as the citizen among you: you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” This is a Biblical call to radical hospitality to the stranger, the alien, the outsider, the newcomer. Once we feel at home in a community or a church or our place of work, we too quickly forget what it felt like to be new, a stranger or an outsider in that place. Remember what it felt like to be a freshman in college? Or do you remember the first day of work or the first days after moving into a new city or community?

I will never forget the feeling of being an outsider or an alien that accompanied the year of graduate study as a student at Edinburgh University in Scotland. Nothing was familiar, and everything was strange and new. It seemed the Scots spoke a completely different language! I will never forget the simple kindnesses extended to us. They came as gracious, lovely gifts. A smile, a genuine, simple word of welcome, an invitation to coffee, a question or a comment about my own country…all of these taught me the crucial importance of hospitality. Why is it that we so quickly forget how unsettling it is to be a stranger? All of us would do well to recall these feelings we all have had of feeling out of place, new, an alien, and then use these memories to prod us to be more mindful of the powerful good we can do in becoming a more welcoming, a more inviting and hospitable human being. Sunday morning at First Presbyterian Church should be the most hospitable place in the world! We gather to worship and follow who said, “Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Let’s remember that we are seeking to be a church family whose life is marked increasingly by Gratitude, Hospitality and Generosity. These are the very marks of Jesus in our midst.

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

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