Often, when I have interviewed with churches, I will ask them to describe themselves without using the words “Welcoming,” “Friendly,” or “Outgoing.” One of the reasons I do this is because I think these are words what we really do not know the meaning of. We may think we know what they mean, but when I look at various congregations, it seems that that understanding was not present.
In our reading from Romans, Paul tells us that we are to welcome each other as Christ has welcomed you. That we are to welcome each other for the glory of God.
So, if we are to welcome each other as Christ has welcomed each of us, what does that mean?
Well, that is a question that I cannot answer for you. That is a question that I can only answer for myself. I can tell stories about being rejected by congregations and denominations that I had devoted my life to. I can tell stories about family and friends that chose to let me know that I created too much difficulty to bother with. I can tell you stories about judgment leveled against me because I did not conform to someone’s preconceived notion of what it meant to be Christian.
Now, some of you may be drawing conclusions as to what I am talking about. And in some cases, you would be right, but in other cases you would be very wrong. I have lost friends because I believed that God could and would save anyone. I lost friends because I believed that God’s love was greater than anything we could do here on Earth. Something as simple as believing that Christ’s gift on the cross was meant for everyone has caused me to lose friends.
In the situations of my life where people have turned me away, I am sure if you asked these people, they would all claim to be friendly and welcoming. No one wants to think of themselves as cold and judgmental. And in the stories I could tell, I am sure all the people thought they were doing the right thing. But in each of these situations, what I felt was not welcoming at all; what I felt pushed me farther away from the love of God. I don’t think that what I felt from these people who claimed to be Christians was what Jesus had intended.
How did Christ welcome people? Did he pass judgment on them? Did he speak of them with contempt and fear? Did he make comments about people just within earshot? No. When Christ welcomed people, he welcomed them with love and with compassion. He invited the sinners and the outcasts to eat with him. He extended forgiveness to the adulterer. He embraced the downtrodden and he healed the ones who were excluded from society. He became the servant to those whom society called outcasts and died for us all, even as we continue to flaunt our gift. This is the welcome Christ gave to us and the welcome we are to give to others.
I want you to take a moment. Think of a time when you were not welcomed. Think of a time that you were shunned, hurt, or cast out. What did they do that made you feel left out and alone? What happened that let you know that you did not belong?
Now think of a time when you were welcomed. Think of a time when you felt lost and someone brought you in and made you feel at home. What changed? What helped you to feel that all was ok? What was said that let you know that you were indeed welcomed.
To be welcomed as Christ would welcome us is to have