I met Will just this morning in the parking field. He smiled from the backseat as I approached his family’s car to give them directions for unloading luggage. “Welcome to Rockmont,” I said. “Or should I say, ‘Welcome back?’”
“It’s ‘Welcome back,’” he replied with that same inviting and eager smile. “I’ve been here three years.”
I knew then that I would need guys like Will to welcome me to camp this session. I’m new this year, or I feel new as I return to camp after having spent 23 years away. I go into every session feeling something like a wandering stranger because I do not know anyone just yet. I remember what it was once like to know everyone at camp, but now I know what it’s like start out again not knowing anyone.
Tonight, I was offering an official welcome to Deer Campers at their evening Retreat, and I encouraged the returning campers to reach out to the new ones. I talked a little about how it feels to be the new guy. “New people like me really need people like you to know my name and welcome me into your camp. It can be tough to be the new guy.”
From out of the ranks, Will blurted out, “Welcome, Stan!”
It was a great gift, and yet another beautiful moment in this summer.
It would be a mistake to dismiss the holiness of hospitality. Hospitality is not just about setting a beautiful table with the right décor. It’s about welcoming vulnerable, lonely strangers into companionship and community. Hospitality is also central to the biblical story. So much depends on our welcoming one another. Abraham gave shelter to three strangers in the heat of a day, and the Lord was among them (Gen 18). In Jesus “the word became flesh” and moved into our midst, vulnerable to our welcome . . . or our rejection (John 1:14). And according to Jesus, one of the key indicators of our readiness for his kingdom is whether we visit or receive the lonely and disregarded: “I was a stranger, and you took me in” (Matt 25:35).
You might say that we cannot fully know what God is up to in the life of Jesus until we learn how to welcome someone who needs it. You might also say that welcoming and being welcomed gives us a window into the very heart of God’s love for us.
It’s happening all over camp tonight. Counselors are making room for nervous campers. Campers are welcoming cabin mates from all over the country – even all over the world. Old timers are welcoming newcomers into the stories and traditions of a historic camp that grows and changes with every new member. Strangers are becoming friends. Friendships are expanding. God is at work among us.
Tonight’s Scripture: Mark 1:14-20
Story: The Calling of the First Disciples
+ Where do you see yourself in the story?
+ What’s the good news?