I heard an outstanding sermon recently at the Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta. Dr. Bill Britt is an excellent preacher and this was one of his best. His topic was "A Church With Open Doors" and he emphasized the need to show hospitality and welcome strangers.
Dr. Britt repeated a story that he heard from Dr. Fred Craddock about an experience in the early days of his ministry in rural East Tennessee. The atomic energy facility, later called the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, was being built in Oak Ridge. People working on the project were moving into the area and the landscape was changing.
Dr. Craddock was the pastor of a small church in Oak Ridge at that time. He suggested that the church needed to reach out to the new folks, many of whom were living in temporary housing on the hillsides of the community. The response to that suggestion was that those people were there only temporarily and they "wouldn't fit in" with the members of that congregation.
That sad story brought to mind a personal experience from my childhood. When I was eight years old my family moved from a rural community in south Alabama to the city. We lived just a few blocks from the heart of downtown Mobile. My parents were uneducated working class people. It is certainly accurate to say we were not affluent.
The St. Frances Methodist Church sat on the corner of St. Frances and Joachim streets. It was a church of prominence and influence in the city. As I grew into my teens I walked past that church frequently on my way to and from my home just north of that intersection. On some evenings I would see boys running around and having a good time.
I decided to join in the fun. So one of my friends and I went to the church one night when we saw the boys playing outside. We discovered that they were members of a Boy Scout Troop that met at the church and we went with them to their meeting. As we were leaving the Scout Master stopped us and said, "Boys, I think it is best that you don't come back. You just don't fit in here."
That was my first and only time to attend a Boy Scout meeting until I was an adult. I learned that the Boy Scouts was an exceptional organization and that scouting was one of the outstanding programs making a positive impact in the lives of boys and young men.
I have often wondered what difference it would have made if that scout master had welcomed me and Steven instead of rejecting us.
The irony of my story is that I have been an ordained minister for over 42 years in the same denomination as the church that sponsored that scout troop. Throughout most of my adult life I have been a strong supporter of the Boy Scouts. St. Frances Methodist Church no longer exists.
And the church in Oak Ridge is now a barbeque restaurant.
Jesus' disciples said, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or naked or thirsty or lonely or sick or in prison (or wanting to join a scout troop) and did not help you?" He replied, "Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these (those who didn't fit in), you did not do for me."
"Whoever has ears to listen should pay attention!" (Mark 4:23, CEB)