“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2
Recently, I participated in my first Baptism. Having a freshly printed Seminary Degree, and the designation of “Reverend” in the bulletin gave me, I thought, all the tools I would need to assist in this baptism. When it came time for the pastors to put our hands in the water and place the water on to the child I was surprised. First, I was surprised by how warm and inviting the water was, and, secondly, I was surprised by the feeling of connection to this child I had never met before.
Many mainline churches adopt St. Augustine of Hippo’s definition of a sacrament as an outward and visible sign of an inward grace. As Methodists, we affirm that “Baptism is an expression of God’s love for the world, and the effects of baptism also express God’s grace.”* When I placed my water-warmed hand on that baby’s head, a child whom I had never met, the Holy Spirit was initiating that child into a fellowship of believers and affirming a grace that had been there before that child was knit together in his mother’s womb. It was a powerful moment—one that no piece of paper or designation in a bulletin could equip me for.
We interact with strangers every day. On our commute to work, at a coffee shop, at social events, and at restaurants we are surrounded by people who are anonymous to us. The people, though anonymous to us, are known by God. Just like God did for that baby, God, before all of time, imparted grace onto each and every person we encounter. The morning of that baptism I was situated in a place that required and enabled me to be a part of sharing a window into God’s grace. But committing to making all of our interactions grace-filled is a different story.
This means every time we are cut off in traffic or disagreed with in a meeting or have our views questioned in our Facebook comments, our response will look more like the surprising, spirit-filled, and grace-laden imparting of waters, rather than the wall-building, slanderous, and vitriolic fury that might want to come forth.
Committing to Grace means seeing the little glimmers of the divine in all that we meet, and responding to them, not as faceless, nameless, anonymous strangers, but as known children of God who are a part of a holy and mysterious fellowship with us.
When we wade into those waters of grace, viewing others as known rather than unknown, we might be surprised by how warm and inviting the waters are. We might be surprised by the connections and communities that will be initiated, and we might be surprised by how close the Triune God is to us.
* By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism