Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Entertaining Angels Unaware on a College Campus

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”     Hebrews 31:2

This past Sunday, September 1, I found myself on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, grilling food for college students who were coming to worship at Pres House.  Pres House is the campus ministry center for the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Grilling allowed me the opportunity to greet students stopped who stopped in for worship and a meal.  Many others walked by on their way to the Memorial Union or up State Street.   Most were in pairs or small groups.  A few lone students walked by, hurrying on their way to meet up with their friends.  Yet, every now and then, I noticed that solitary figure, walking alone, not hurrying to catch up with any body, maybe because there was no one they had arranged to meet.

Seeing those individuals reminded me of my own first weeks at away at college and the loneliness I felt as I made the transition from home to my dorm room.

I spent my first two years living at home, commuting to Vincennes University.  So it was with great excitement that I headed off to Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana. I was excited!  No more living at home!  No more living under the watchful eyes of my parents or for that matter the congregation, since we lived in the manse across the country road from the church where my dad served as the pastor. I was finally going to be free to experience the campus living at its finest along the many adventures that dorm life offered, or so I thought.

The Hick From French Lick, Larry Bird, may have made the campus hum in 1979, when he lead the Sycamores to the NCAA basketball title game against Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans.  But that was the year before I arrived on campus.  It was now 1980 and he had moved on to play for the Boston Celtics.  As for Terre Haute, well, it was still Terre Haute.

Attending college in Terre Haute was for me, the pits, and believe me, when I say the pits, I mean it.  Terre Haute was known for several things: 1) a former mayor who had a “shot to kill” police policy; 2) an infamous “Red Light” district; 3) a paper mill that made the whole city smell like rotten cabbage!

While I was in college, the comedian Steve Martin called Terre Haute, Indiana  the "Most Nowhere Place in America" and “the armpit of America.” 

When the Old Testament Psalmist referred to “Sheol,” the place where God did not even dwell, I felt he was referring to Terre Haute, my new home.

Within two weeks of experiencing the finest of campus life and dorm living, I was homesick.  I was so homesick that I could not even eat!  I struggled with my classes, in part because I struggled to even go to class.

One morning, I drug myself out of my dorm bed for a 8 am class.  Already late for my class that was all the way across campus, I dressed, and headed out the door only to discover it was raining – and I did not have an umbrella! No matter, the rain would hide the homesick tears running down my check as I walked all by myself, a lonely, solitary student on his way to a class, all the way across campus.

As I walked to class in the rain, another student passed by on the other side of the street. We were two strangers, students going in opposite directions, but only one of us had an umbrella and it sure wasn’t me!  Then this stranger did the most remarkable thing.  She crossed the street.  She spoke to me, offering to walk me to class even though it was in the opposite direction of where she was headed. Why she did this, I don’t know?  Who she was, I don’t know?  If she mentioned her name, I don’t remember it.  What I do remember is that this stranger shared her umbrella with me, walking me across campus to my class.   In her act of kindness I discovered that the presence of God existed on the campus of Indiana State in Terre Haute, Indiana!

In the sacred spaces called college campuses, in the university students who inhabit them, I pray you will be open to the Godlike image that dwells within and among each of them.   In extending a simple act of hospitality to even one of them walking by you on campus, you just may have “entertained an angel unaware.”   Who knows, maybe one of them just might share their umbrella with you?

“Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only those who see, takes off their shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries…”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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