As I write this, the endless problems of Brexit continue and the postponement of the event has done nothing to alleviate people’s anxieties. Regardless of our political views, it is true that Scotland has always looked outwards towards Europe and the world and Edinburgh has aye been a very cosmopolitan place. Scots have generally welcomed others and historically, in turn, have populated the furthest reaches of our globe. But having said that, we are always rather wary of folk that we don’t recognise and they arouse in us a feeling of suspicion which is hard to ignore.
In my last parish, on one Sunday, the congregation had an unexpected visit from a very smart unknown man in a dark suit. He stuck out like a sore thumb because he chose to sit alone in a pew in which no-one ever sat and in a remote part of the kirk that hadn’t seen a worshipper since the place was built. Despite me making a big thing of welcoming him, he sat quietly, head down and throughout the service he seemed to be scribbling notes in a little book. At the end, before I could even shake hands with him at the door and quiz him about his identity, he shot off like greased lightning.
The next weekend, all became perfectly (and slightly frighteningly) clear. It turned out that he was a part-time journalist for The Scotsman newspaper snooping in on our worship incognito and he wrote an article about the church service which was published the following Saturday. I received four stars for my sermon, which I thought was OK and he described me as “gorgeous” which I wasn’t so sure about! So he was forgiven for the initial consternation he caused. Just as well everyone had been nice to him and had given him a warm welcome. It just goes to show that we never can tell who the stranger in our midst might be.
The Bible is full of instances where the stranger or visitor is made welcome. A very deeply held middle eastern trait even to this day. And so, in this respect, Islamic and Jewish cultures are quite similar to our own Scottish characteristic of extending hospitality. We read in our Christian scriptures of this hospitality often being followed by wonderful and unexpected things. And we know that Jesus himself put into practice the advice we find in the Book of Leviticus (a book not always regarded as politically correct in so many ways): “count him as one of your own countrymen and love him as yourself for you were once strangers yourselves”.
Whatever the realities of Brexit, the last thing we should do as Christian people or indeed Scottish folk of any religion or none, is to become xenophobic because we never have been like that. Shady men in black suits, unknown strangers and unexpected visitors should be welcomed as indeed should all who draw near to our fellowship this Summer regardless of where they might come from.
Whether you intend to stay at home or go away over the holiday period, I wish you all a very happy time. And whilst I cannot promise a four star sermon every Sunday, there is always plenty of room in the kirk pews for visitors. And whether you ever drop in or not, I really do hope that, in your journeying, you receive some four star sunshine.