(Note: All characters, and churches portrayed in this story are, as always, fictional. The attitudes, unfortunately, are not.)
Don’t forget hospitality, because by it some have unknowingly entertained angels. — Hebrews 13:2
The sermon was about love and hospitality. Sam was unusually touched by the message, and as he and his wife Joyce exited the church, they saw the middle aged man, alone, taking the fastest way to the exit of the church. Sam was pretty sure the man was a visitor. He’d never seen him before, and he did tend to notice these things.
“Let’s treat him to lunch,” he said, turning to his wife.
Joyce was shocked. Never before had Sam suggested such a bold thing. But it didn’t sound like such a bad idea. “Sure.”
The man seemed surprised to be approached after church. He’d been welcomed in a friendly enough way on entering, but he thought he’d gotten past all that stuff. He wasn’t sure he wanted to talk to anyone. “Hello! I’m Sam Chandler, and this is my wife Joyce.” Handshakes were exchanged. “My name is Vernon,” said the visitor.
“We’ve never seen you here before and we’d like to invite you to lunch.”
Wariness and distrust chased loneliness across the man’s face, but he managed to restore a reasonable expression. Excuses popped into his mind, but finally he said to himself, Why not? It’s not like I really have anything else to do.
“OK. I don’t go out that much, but maybe it would be good.” A few friends from Sam’s Sunday School class joined them as well.
Lunch was fine. They talked about the church, about their families. Sam had a large family and a number of grandchildren. Joyce had pictures. Vernon didn’t have any with him. His wife had passed away, but he was living with it. He had one son, but he was vague about the details of his son’s life. The talk turned back to the church and what it was like. Sam looked at Vernon’s very precise and correct clothing, short haircut. He radiated stability.
“I wouldn’t want you to think that our church is just a ‘love’ church based on today’s sermon,” he said. “We uphold high moral values as well.”
“Yeah,” said another church member, “We don’t accept homosexuals in our church like some people do. We’re open, but we’re not that open.”
Nobody noticed the silence. The church members supported one another, a sort of verbal backslapping, and a few derogatory comments were made. “If our pastor insists we weaken our stance on f*****s,” one said, “We’ll arrange for him to find another parish next year. Love is OK, but you have to have limits, moral standards.”
They were all so busy talking that nobody noticed how silent Vernon had become. As they parted, they did remember to invite him to church the next week.
The next Sunday, Sam couldn’t wait to share at his Sunday School class. He had a testimony. He had witnessed to someone and invited them back to church. “He’s not here for Sunday School, but I think we showed him who we are and that we’re a welcoming church. A man like that will appreciate our high moral standards combined with love and a welcoming attitude.”
Others nodded and congratulated him. They were glad Sam was coming out of his shell and becoming a witness.
A few miles away, instead of being in Sunday School, Vernon was seated in a recliner flipping the channels on the TV and nursing an early morning drink. Since his wife had passed away, he’d allowed himself this deterioration on Sundays–only on Sundays. He hadn’t been to church since the funeral.
Across the room was the picture of a well-dressed young man. His son. Next to him, sitting on the end table where it had been for the last week, was his son’s letter. “Dad,” it began in the direct way his son had, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but let me just say it. I’m gay. I’ve tried to hide it from you . . .”
Why had he tried to go to church last week? He had hardly known at the time. He was looking for something. His entire life he’d lived with the tacit assumption that being gay was sinful, and that gays were perverted. Yet when he read the letter and looked across at the picture, he couldn’t find it in his heart to think of his son as something evil. He didn’t know any answers.
This morning he knew what he’d wanted the previous week, what he hadn’t gotten, what he still wanted. He wanted to know how to deal with it. Maybe they could convince him that the conviction of his life was wrong. Maybe they could tell him how to love his son even though he felt his lifestyle was wrong. He didn’t know. He couldn’t work it out. All his business training and skill didn’t provide him with a direction to move, or even a way to think about it.
But he knew that the moral standards of people who could insult his son so casually couldn’t possibly be the way. There is no answer in the church, he thought. He wouldn’t be back.
Nobody can tame the tongue. It’s a relentless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father and with it we curse people made in the likeness of God. — James 3:8-9