How is a church like a chemo infusion center in a cancer hospital? The similarities dawned on me last night as I was feeling tired and tearful after a long day of lab work, doctor appointments, and another infusion treatment. My regimen is to go in every three weeks for immunotherapy infusions as part of a clinical trial for Stage 3 Melanoma, which—without treatment—offers a discouraging prognosis. My tears were likely a side effect of the drug, though exacerbated by a sobering experience.
The receptionist in the chemo infusion center yesterday was not very welcoming. She was busy, scurrying around and trying to take care of everyone. Her job was to usher me to my infusion chair and provide me with fresh pillows and a blanket while I waited for the nurse. When the receptionist saw me, she motioned for me to follow her as she rushed ahead, calling back to me, “You get the last chair we have.” I quipped, “Is it the worst chair?” She replied, “Pretty much, there's no TV in this one. But hey, just be glad you get a chair. One woman had to wait two hours for a seat this morning.” And then she marched away.
I sat there in the “worst chair in the house,” which was practically in the hallway. Every sick and tired cancer patient in this crowded chemo center was staring at me, and me at them. And my eyes filled with tears. Not in self-pity, but in sadness. It felt like a factory.
Then I remembered the last time I was there, when a happier receptionist greeted me. Simultaneously my nurse had approached with a big smile and said, “We've been waiting for you—I saved you the best seat in the house!”
The point is not that I deserve the best seat in the house, nor that everybody has to roll out the red carpet for me. Not at all. The point—as I pondered it last night—is that a chemo infusion center is one place where the most compassionate, loving, and caring people should be assigned to work. Because the patients coming in there all have cancer, all are hoping and praying that their treatment works. For some, this is their last chance, and they are using every bit of energy to get there. Some are weak, nauseated, and trembling from the effects of the potent infusions.
As I considered what a chemo infusion center represents, I realized some similarities with what a church represents: a hospital for weary sinners. How do those of us who are greeters, ushers, nursery workers, teachers, elders, and pastors welcome the weary and sin-sick folks who come in search of hope? Those who are longing for a Savior, and who finally muster up the courage to put one foot in front of another and walk into a church? Jesus once compared his ministry to that of a doctor—which would make his church a hospital. Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
As a pastor, I feel convicted to be more like the welcoming nurse. To greet people with a smile and warm words, even when I'm busy, so that they sense that Jesus has “saved the best seat in the house” for them. As Christ's followers, we represent hope for those who walk through the church's doors. May they see and sense Jesus in us.