With this week’s sermon and eletter article, we enter into our third and final Touchstone: Welcome. We’ve saved Welcome for last as it is, potentially, the most challenging of the three. Why might it be more challenging? Because, it’s one thing to encounter broken and messy people in our neighborhoods, homes, workplaces, and schools. It’s another thing to welcome them into our community to join us in our journey toward Christoformity and Presence.
We desire to be hospitable because, first and foremost, that is the character of God. God loves foreigners and gives them food and clothing (Deuteronomy 10.18). Furthermore, God’s gracious and hospitable character is displayed in Jesus’ parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14.15-24), where those least likely to be invited are welcomed to the feast that represents the final and full coming of the Kingdom of God.
Likewise, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to “practice hospitality” (Romans 12.13), and the closing verses of Hebrews exhort us to “show hospitality to strangers” (13.2). In fact, the Greek word we translate as “hospitality” is literally two words put together meaning “love of strangers”. Furthermore, Paul exhorts us to “do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6.10).
In one of Jesus’ most provocative parables, he warned us, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14.12-14) And we dare not forget the account of the “sheep and the goats” in Matthew 25.31-46. There we are taught that to invite a stranger into our home is to invite Jesus. Is there any image more challenging concerning our calling to welcome others than the image of Jesus in what Mother Teresa called his “distressing disguise”?
In addition to welcoming the last, the least, and the lost, in Romans 15.7, Paul reminds us, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (ESV) There, more specifically, God speaks to those of us who know Christ welcoming one another, as sisters and brothers in Christ. We are to welcome those from outside of the community of faith as well as those who are already a part of our community.
Because God is hospitable and Jesus lifts hospitality up as a key virtue, we practice hospitality towards all people, wherever they may be on their journey of faith, and however they may find their way to our doors.
We become a more welcoming congregation when we receive into worship and community those who are most like us and those who are “other” than us: as we engage in ministry with and to the emerging young adult population and the people of the Bauer/Miller neighborhood; as we grow in our ethnic diversity; as we remain open to challenging, but important conversations on topics relevant to our community (race, LGBTQ, immigration, etc.); and we welcome one another and pursue healthy relationships as sisters and brothers in Christ with those who are already a part of our ECC community.
So much of the division that characterizes our nation these days has crept into the larger Church and damaged our mission and witness. Even so, we believe it is possible to become a community of people who are able to differ with one another while being gracious and loving toward one another, as well. And so we desire to be a place of hospitality, grace, and community for all people.