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Welcome, It is Who We Are Called to Be

Opening the Circle Romans 15:7 Sept 6

Hospitality: Welcome, Come In! Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).

1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me." 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs 9 so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: "Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name." 10 Again, it says, "Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people." 11 And again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples." 12 And again, Isaiah says, "The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him."

7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

A teenage boy entered the sanctuary of a church. It was the church to which his parents and kid brother belonged. In fact, they were there every time the doors opened! They were there too much. As he slumped down in the chair that was as far away from the altar as possible and pulled his ball cap low on his forehead, he dropped his head into his hands and settled in for a nap. He didn’t know why he was there. He could sleep more comfortably in his bed. He didn’t want to be there. Church was a drag—a religious institution focused on its own survival and uninterested in people like him.

Just as he was moving into pre-sleep, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up into the face of a woman he did not know. Great, he thought, I must be in her personal chair. She can have it! I’m going home.

But she didn’t ask him to move. She simply placed a bag of butterscotch in his hand and said, “I’m so glad you’re here this morning. I bought this for you because I heard that you really like butterscotch. I do, too! There aren’t many of us around.”

He didn’t open that bag of butterscotch for a long time. In fact, he hung it on the wall of his bedroom right beside his heavy metal posters, his guitar, and his poems of emptiness and longing. A reminder of grace. A sign of WELCOME.

Years later, just out of his teens, that same young man entered a different church. He was feeling pretty good about being there. He wasn’t there for the sermon or music. In fact, if he had timed it just right, he would miss most of that. He was there because someone he loved asked him to come for a special day. He had awakened early that morning, showered, put on his jeans and a T-shirt, and pulled back his long hair, anchoring it with a ball cap.

As he stood in the narthex, waiting for the service to end so that he could greet his loved one, he heard someone speak to him.

“Young man.” He turned and extended his hand in greeting. He was surprised when his hand was ignored.

He was speechless when the person continued. “Young man, you either need to take off your hat or leave the building.”

The truth of our own humanity is that each of us has the capacity to be the butterscotch lady or the hat man.

We are the people who WELCOME.

I am called to welcome,

YOU WERE A STRANGER AND YOU WELCOMED ME. (Matt) Good and Faithful Servant: Our eternal souls are shaped by our ability to welcome or ignore. To be open to the close the heart. Open doors..

We have within us the ability to be the open arms of Welcome that Christ extends for whom church—Christianity—is a foreign and strange land, even when their values or thoughts about church are different from our own.

We also have within us the ability to withhold hospitality in order to protect what we falsely imagine to be “our own”—our own church, our own class, our own space, our own truth.

During the First Century, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Christian Church in Rome. Scholars believe that the book of Romans, the longest of Paul’s letters, offers the core of his teachings about what it means to live faithfully and obediently.

Some suggest that the letter is his response to the question, How does a sinful person find salvation before a righteous God? Paul takes sixteen chapters to explain his answer: Through a faithful response to God’s prior act of grace.

Throughout the letter, Paul looks at various aspects of church life through the lens of this fundamental truth: Our salvation—the possibility of our living liberated lives—is anchored in our faithful response to God’s gracious activity in our lives and in the world.

In the fifteenth chapter of his letter to the Roman Church, Paul addresses the issue of hospitality, particularly as it relates to the inclusion of those who come with different backgrounds, stories, beliefs, and practices. What is his encouragement?

Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).

What would it mean for our congregation to welcome the stranger in the same way that Christ welcomes us? What would it mean for us to anchor our acts of hospitality in our response to God’s gracious activity in our lives and in the world?

It means, I believe, that we need to be radically invitational in every part of church life. There are so many amazing and life-giving things going on in our church. How will those who are strangers experience those things unless someone invites them—to Sunday school, a men’s potluck, a women’s Bible study, youth group, worship, a prayer group, or some other activity or event?

You are here this morning because someone at some time invited you to experience some aspect of church life. Praise God! Give thanks for the courage and hospitality of that person, and pray for God to guide you into extending an authentic invitation to someone else.

Welcome is seen in much of what we do in our church. We celebrate the many ways that our Sunday morning hospitality teams go the extra mile: to answer the phone, to keep the coffee flowing, to introduce guests to others, to help guests find a class or information, to lead in worship. They lead us in these ministries of welcome and would, no doubt, encourage us to follow their lead even if we aren’t an official part of a team or committee.

The ministry of welcome belongs to all of us, and it belongs in every nook and cranny of this building—as well as in every gathering and activity and service project that moves us beyond these walls.

I would assume that most of us have been in social situations when we felt totally excluded. I’m sad to say that I’ve visited some worship services and Sunday school classes where I felt like an outsider. I’ve participated in parents meetings, team practices, work parties, and community network groups where I was ignored—tolerated at best. These experiences do nothing to inspire our return.

Worse than that, they undermine the work of the Spirit. How can we explore faith in God when the community representing God is so close or so well-organized that there is no room for another? The very things we celebrate—friendship, intimacy, and love for one another—sometimes can get in the way.

“We have our four-some.” “Our dinner group is full right now. You will have to bring your own chair.” Turn by the old post office, go in back door and turn right in the room that use to be wall papered.”

People need safe and open spaces for spiritual exploration. Some newcomers will need to create what is comfortable to others, even it is less than comfortable for us. (We are already in, do we open the door or close it)

Invitation, welcome, inclusion, support. Becoming a fruitful, vibrant, growing congregation will require nothing less than adaptive WELCOME

Welcome in our attitudes,

practices,

and values.

Growing in our collective demonstration of welcoming Hospitality will call for a change in our behaviors in order to accommodate the needs and receive the talents of others.

We must be willing to welcome others as radically as Christ welcomes us.

There is no more profound way to focus our hearts and minds on the Welcome of Christ than to share in Holy Communion, for it is to this table that all are invited.

One of the important things about being United Methodist is that Communion, that holy spiritual meal for our spirit.. is not limited to those who have taken a class, or been immersed, nor do they even have to understand what they are doing…it is a meal of welcome.

Come as you are, and become who God has created and called you to become.

All are welcome. It is in the grace we receive in this meal that all are included in the universal love of God. All are fed and nourished in the way of faith.

Ya’ll come in , take your shoes off, stay a while, you hear…

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