“So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. "The son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' "But the father said to his servants, `Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate,” [Luke 15:20-24]
Hi, my name is “Visitor.” I came to your church this morning because I’m searching for something. I’m not even sure what it is I’m searching for. I guess I feel empty. I’ve had so many disappointments in life, I guess I’m just searching for somebody who’s really sincere. Do you know what I mean? I think I’m looking for someone I can trust. I know that God is supposed to be good, and so I guess I’m looking for people like Him. I’m not looking for scandal or drama –I see enough of that everywhere else. But is there such a thing as a little piece of heaven here on earth? I guess that’s what I’m searching for. I keep looking, and I want to find it. From the moment I walk in among you, I guess I don’t want to feel awkward. Do you know what I mean? I guess I don’t want to feel like a stranger –even though I know I am. When I welcome people into my home, I go out of my way to make sure that they feel welcome. I usually say something like, “Make yourself at home,” or, “Can I get you something to drink?” I really want my guest to feel welcome –like they really matter to me, and that I’m excited that they have come into my home. I guess that’s what I’m looking for… I want to know that I’m welcome and people are thrilled that I’ve come for a visit. Oh, and when a guest leaves my home, I let them know that they are welcome to come anytime. I want them to not only remember that the door is always open, but that I care and really want them to come back. They are not an “outsider” anymore, no, I want them to come back. I guess I’m searching for that too. I know a church has people who have to welcome visitors. I even know that you probably have people that are paid to do those kinds of things. But I guess I’m not looking for just a professional kind of caring. I guess I’m looking for a family that cares. I want to know that you all care about me, just as much as I care about you. When I walk in the door, it’s great to see that everyone is excited that I’m there, not giving me strange glances, like, “Who is that?” I guess it means a lot more when the “general” church member is happy to greet me and welcome me. And it’s really exciting when those people say, “Hey, you’re welcome to come and sit by us. We’re glad you’re here!” I know sometimes people get used to sitting in the same place every week, so sometimes I get nervous about where to sit. I mean, I might sit in the wrong place and make someone mad, and I don’t want to do that. But when one of you says, “Hey, come over here and sit by us,” then I already feel like I’m not so much of an outsider anymore. And I really like the tokens that you give me when I leave. Those are nice. But I guess it means even more when an “average” church member asks me if they can buy me lunch, if they can give me a call, or even if they show up on my doorstep to say, “We’re really glad we could serve you.”
I guess what I’m really trying to say is that I want to know that I matter to you. I would love to be part of a family where people say, “We would love for you to be part of us because we care,” (and really mean it). I think that’s the way God is, I mean, He really cares about us, right? I’m not really looking for religion. I’m looking for something more than ritual. I’m really looking at what’s below the surface. I’m looking for meaning. And I’m looking for more than external beauty. I’m looking for the kind of beauty that comes from the inside. I know that I’ve made many mistakes in life. I know I’m not perfect, so I’m not surprised that other people aren’t perfect. But I am looking for something better than what I find everywhere else. I’m looking for a way to God. I’m looking for God with skin on. I’m looking for hope. And I hope that you can offer that to me. That’s why I’m here today. It took a lot for me to come through those doors. It took a lot to even turn into your parking lot. The fear of the unknown can be pretty scary when you’re a visitor. But now I’m here. But I’m not just here to observe. Should I be here? Is this the place? Have I found hope?