A few days ago, I got a knock at the door and was delighted to see standing there the couple who had looked after our house and our dog for the summer while we were away on sabbatical. They were leaving to return home to India the next day, just before the end of their Fulbright Scholarship term at Emory.
It was lovely to see them again. Having dropped off our key and chatted for while, they asked, "Can we take a picture..." Delighted, I heartily agreed and got up, preparing myself to stand between them. "...with Lilly?" - our dog. "Of course", I said wistfully. "We became quite close over the summer", they explained. "That's lovely," I replied. "Do you want to take her with you?" They laughed as I gave our dog a fateful look.
It's great to be wanted, isn't it? And it has been so good to be back at All Saints' and discover that nobody changed the locks to my office door while I was away! Thank you for your warm welcome back and thank you even more for the profound gift to our whole family of the past three months of sabbatical. It has been a full and rich time, one whose lessons will no doubt emerge for me over the years to come.
One lesson I carried back that is already clear is the power of welcome. My first stop on the sabbatical was a return to the school in India where I was a teacher 23 years ago. I had some apprehension about how it would go. Would I be welcomed back in? Would I even be remembered? As it turned out, I was offered a lesson during those weeks in India about the remarkable power of welcoming someone back home. People reminded me of times we shared, things I said or did—the person I was. I could not have hoped for more.
All of us get the chance to welcome, to say to another human soul "you are exactly the person I want to be present with right now." That is a simple act of hospitality, but it opens the door to the kind of mutuality God intends for the whole world in right relationship with itself.
I give thanks that welcome is a hallmark of our common life at All Saints'. So I invite you to come and feel it for yourself, especially if you have not been here for a while—you can come home again. Thanks be to God for that truly restorative gift.