The work of the Gospel is laid out today in our Romans passage: Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
This is not the work of pastors, but of all of us. This is not the work of the Welcome Team at church, or the Greeters, or just for the Ushers. This is the work of EVERYONE!
And do we welcome just at church? No. We do this in our daily lives – at school, at work, at the store. Everywhere and always. We live lives with open arms, welcoming others into a life of grace and love.
Paul also encourages us to “to live in harmony with one another.” This takes all of us!
It was just a couple days ago that many of our youth left Oklahoma and traveled to Triennium, the every-third-year national gathering of Presbyterian youth held at Purdue University in Indiana. It is spiritual renewal, worship, and togetherness wrapped in a big package. It is a retreat to end all retreats.
This year’s theme is “GO!” It’s time to GO and SEE! Opening worship was led by one of my favorite Presbyterians, Rev. Rodger Nishioka, who spoke of good news and encouraged our youth to claim their place in God’s kingdom. To paraphrase him: The “you’re not enough” messages are lies. God chose a bunch of stinky, outcast SHEPHERDS to carry the good news of salvation. How dare you say you’re not enough! The shepherds go and seek. I hope you are ready, friends let’s go and see. (Rodger Nishioka
How true this is! In all our lives as Christians, we need to step up and share our gifts, our ideas, our leadership skills. Often I see the children leading with joy. I see our youth bubbling up with new ideas, but sometimes dashing their own hopes with feelings of “you’re not good enough,” or simply too stretched for time – drawn to too many places.
We need to prioritize what’s really important! Paul knew that welcome was really important. This is something so many of us can do – irrespective of age. A simple “Glad you are here!” can go a long way at transforming a youth group, or a Wednesday night potluck dinner.
We may have differences in the church. We may have different ideas about how things should go and what we should do for our next mission project, or whatever – but we can all agree that we carry the same good news – from the same source – Jesus Christ. We are called to live in harmony and welcome, just as Christ himself welcomed people of all sorts.
That also means recognizing our cultural context and current struggles. We do a disservice to the good news if we ignore oppression or injustice and try to sweep away today’s context where racism, sexism, and ageism pay huge parts. And so living into this Romans passage means recognizing those who may not be experiencing the full welcome of God in our churches today.
Christ reached out to children, women, those with leprosy, Samaritans, even Gentiles! Lordy! So this is why you see many Christians engaged in the “Black Lives Matter” movement, because it is our job to stand up to injustice wherever it is found, and get involved in movements that seek empowerment for those for whom justice is elusive. It is as blogger Stephen Mattson said recently, “Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Women’s lives matter.”” Identifying victimization and responding is a huge part of our life together. We don’t stand over an accident scene and shout “All lives matter!” We reach down and respond to those in distress.
All these things are an essential link to truly living a life of welcome.
So let’s live with ARMS WIDE OPEN, welcoming others and striving for joy, peace, and hope. Harmony will come. Some of that we can leave to God to sort out. But in the meantime, our job is to be the best instruments of invitation and inclusion we can be. To truly WELCOME all.