[This is the text for a speech originally prepared for the Ladies’ Brunch for the combined Portland and Salem Spokesmen’s Clubs held on April 28, 2013. I was not allowed to give it, but today (May 10, 2014) there was a sermonette that covered the same general material and I thought it worthwhile to provide my own commentary on the same general material.]
On September 24, 2012, just before the Day of Atonement, I arrived unannounced in Portland, Oregon, a perfect stranger to nearly everyone else around. Since I find being a stranger to be awkward and uncomfortable, I looked to the Bible to find advice on what to do when you’re a stranger in town. Looking at the story of Jacob, I found three tips on what someone in my position can do to overcome being a stranger, and I thought I would share those tips with you today if you ever find yourself in the position I was in.
First, it is important to know that God is with you. Jacob fled from death at the hand of his angry brother for stealing his blessing, and along the way, he had a dream in which God showed him a stairway between earth and heaven. Realizing that God was with him, Jacob consecrated a stone and said that the place where he slept was the very house of God, giving it the Hebrew name Bethel. Sometimes God is more subtle in showing that He is working with someone, such as by saving someone the fate of being arrested as a political prisoner and being forgotten in some foreign prison and by bringing them unharmed, except perhaps a bit traumatized, into a new area. We may not know for what purposes God has brought us to a place, but we know that it is God’s doing and that He will be with us.
Second, Jacob found a reason to stay. In fact, it did not take him long at all to find a reason to stay when he met the lovely Rachel and kissed her. Now, I am not nearly such a bold person myself when it comes to young women, but clearly meeting a wonderful girl is a good reason to make a temporary visit into a longer one. Laban gets a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to being deceitful in selling his daughters for fourteen years worth of hard labor, but at least he can be given credit for supporting the courtship of his daughter. Speaking from personal experience, not all fathers are very happy when someone takes an interest in their daughters.
Third, Jacob found a way to belong by being a hard worker. One of the fastest ways that a person can fit in is to find a job and do it well. Jacob started by helping out Rachel, and soon found himself a part of Laban’s crew of shepherds, and no doubt well-respected for his willingness to work hard for her hand, and later for his own wages. A good work ethic helps to build a good reputation, and I have kept pretty busy myself here in Oregon, whether it is in my regular job, reviewing books for scholarly journals and publishers to acquire a reputation concerning historical and religious books, or in singing, speaking here in Spokesmen’s Club and even providing the occasional snacks in the local congregation.
From the life of Jacob as it is told in the Bible, we can learn at least three tips for how a stranger in town can find his way. First, we have to know that God is with us, that He is blessing our efforts and guiding our path as He wishes. Second, we need to find a reason to stay in a given area. Forming strong relationships gives us plenty of reasons to stay. Third, a stranger in town can belong by finding a job or task to serve in, developing a good reputation through hard work. If we can learn and apply these lessons, we will not be a stranger in town for very long.