This life is full of the oddest surprises. Some leave you in stunned silence. Others make you laugh. Or cry. You never know who will walk through your door and you’re not always sure you know what it means when they do.
When our surprise walked through the door, I had to laugh.
I had only been a pastor for six months and despite the pushback I was getting from the church’s elderly members, we were growing. So, on one particular Sunday morning in January, I was getting ready to lead the church’s first new members class in many years.
The class was meeting in the church office, a small converted house that had once been the pastor’s manse. The 11 class members trickled in. But as they did so, a 12th person slipped into the living room. I’d never met this 12th person before, a man with longish hair who looked to be in his early 30s.
As he walked up the two steps to the front door, I greeted him. “Hi, I’m Pete,” I said.
“The name’s Mel,” he replied.
“Hi, Mel. We’re about to start our new members class,” I said, hoping he’d get the hint that this wasn’t where he was supposed to be. He didn’t.
“That’s great,” he said, as he brushed past me and took a seat. And then he added, matter-of-factly, “God told me to come be with you today.”
Really? Hmm. This might get interesting, I thought.
He continued: “I walked from Salem to get here.”
That caused my eyes to open a bit wider. You see, Salem is about a 45-minute drive from where I was pastoring in Lebanon, Oregon. And according to my map app, it’d take 11.5 hours to walk that distance without stopping.
“I walked through the night to be with you.”
I quickly did a second appraisal of the man before me and saw that his clothes looked tired. Not dirty. Tired. As if he’d been walking in them through the night.
“Well, we’re glad you’re here with us today, Mel,” I said and then began my class.
We were well into the class when our visitor said, “I go by Mel, but my full name is Melchizedek.”
Now, if my eyes got big earlier, they got bigger still with that. Melchizedek is the king of Salem and our visitor said he came to us from Salem. Also, Melchizedek is only mentioned in three places in the Bible: Hebrews 5-7, Psalm 110, and Genesis 14. The passage I was set to preach that morning was Genesis 14 — and there was no way our visitor could have known that. No human way of knowing. Even the congregation didn’t know it.
I was sitting across from Melchizedek from Salem on the only Sunday in my 14 years of pastoring that I’ve ever preached on Mechizedek of Salem. Mind. Boggled.
The morning continued apace from there. I bustled from my class to the sanctuary. Led prayers. Preached from Genesis 14. And as I talked about Abraham giving a tithe from the spoils of war to Melchizedek, I looked at the offering baskets and wondered if we should do the same. So, during the fellowship time after worship, I and a few who had been in the new member class asked Mel what he needed.
He said he was tired from his night-long walk (no surprise there) and needed a place to rest before heading to the next place God was sending him, so we arranged for him to stay in a motel in town. And he said he was cold, it being January in clammy Oregon, so Rick gave him the fleece jacket he was wearing. That’s all he needed. A pretty cheap tithe.
And that was it. Until Tuesday.
Monday was my pastor’s Sabbath. So, when I was back in the church office on Tuesday, I told the church secretary about the experience. And she said, “Look over there. What’s that?”
I walked over to where Mel had been sitting during the class and there was one of the leather fingerless gloves he’d been wearing. I turned it over and saw that stitched into it was a lion and a single word: KING. (By the way, I still have that glove.)
He’d come from Salem. God had sent him. His name was Melchizedek. I was preaching about “him.” And now, his glove proclaimed him king. The pieces stacked too high to be a coincidence.
About eight years later, I was preaching about all of the angels that appeared in the story of the birth of Jesus. I talked about how the words angelos in Greek and malak in Hebrew don’t just refer to supernatural beings, but simply mean “messenger.”
Angels are God’s postmen. And we are “good angels” whenever we share the euangelion (Greek: good news, good message, gospel).
And then I told the story of Mel to the congregation for the first time. And sitting in there listening was a man who had been a part of that class year before but had moved on from the congregation soon afterward. A brilliant graduate of MIT and the CEO of a company, Ralph came up and talked with me afterward.
“I’m a science guy,” he said. “I tend to reject supernatural explanations for things. But I’ve never been able to explain this event any other way. He was an angel. We were visited.”
Yep. We were visited.
I was a pastor on shaky ground with the powerful people in the congregation, and I needed the message of God’s basic, simple Presence with me and favor toward me. It was a message Mel delivered loud and clear. Others were on shaky ground with faith and received their own faith-strengthening message.
But mostly I just shake my head and laugh at the experience.
Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
Sometimes, we entertain angels. And sometimes, angels entertain us.