Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Friendly or Welcoming

How many of you, without looking at your bulletin, can tell me what is said, at top, about our church? It’s the part that’s in italics just above the other part that tells us what Sunday this is in the church year. When was the last time you looked at it and really thought about what it says about us?
For those of you who haven’t peeked and don’t really know for sure what I’m talking about it says, “We are a positive friendly group of faithful followers of Jesus Christ, who invite young and old to be a part of our fellowship.”
How many of you remember when this was written? Pastor Gerry Oliver worked with us as we developed this mission statement. Like quite a few mission statements that were created they are often forgotten and not really thought about too much, and that’s really kind of sad. Sad, because the people who constructed this really put some thought into it.
The one part I want us to reflect on today is the friendly group. Think back to when this was put together; what were we thinking about when we decided to use the word friendly? What does being friendly really mean?
The gospel lesson you heard read today from Matthew said that, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,…” or in some translations it says, “Whoever receives you receives me,…” or they might use the word accepts in place of welcomes or receives. But you notice that it doesn’t once say anything about being friendly does it. So what is the difference between being friendly and being welcoming? Are they the same thing? Is it possible to be friendly and not be welcoming? Think about that for a minute.
Now think about the actions of Jesus as he traveled among the people. Was he just friendly or was he genuinely welcoming?
Now before I go too far let me say that being friendly is not a bad thing. It’s just that I believe Jesus expects us to be more than just friendly. If we are just friendly we aren’t stepping very far outside the box. We aren’t being stretched very far.
Being friendly, I believe, is shaking someone’s hand and saying, “I’m sure glad you came to worship with us today,” and walking away to talk to someone else, maybe another friend.
But being welcoming is something altogether different. Welcoming can be defined as, “received with gladness; admitted willingly to the house, entertainment, or company; as, a welcome visitor; producing gladness; grateful; as, a welcome present; welcome news; free to have or enjoy gratuitously; salutation to a newcomer; kind reception of a guest or newcomer; as, we entered the house and found a ready welcome; to salute with kindness, as a newcomer; to receive and entertain hospitably and cheerfully; as, to welcome a visitor; to welcome a new idea.” I personally like the, “admitted willingly to the house” one...Jesus died for us so all of us can choose to be in Father's House! To have freely with grace...I like that one too!
This defines for us all what welcoming should be, what it’s supposed to be. Are we a welcoming group or do we have some work to do? I know that I could do a better job than I do right now.
We really need to understand that when we welcome someone we are welcoming the one who sent them. In the case of the prophet we would then receive a prophet’s reward and if we welcome a righteous person we receive a righteous person’s reward. If we give something as small as a cup of cold water to one of the little ones in the name of a disciple then none of these will lose their reward. The One who sent them, most times, is Jesus.
When we are truly welcoming to those who enter this sanctuary to worship God with us then we will receive our reward from the One who loved us so much he came to earth to die for our sins. Our reward for believing in him is eternal life.
You know this welcoming thing is a little bit like receiving a new baby into a family. If it’s the first child you know there are going to be changes. If it’s the second or third there are still things that have to change to make room for this new person.
It’s like when two people decide to build a life together as a couple. When they make the decision to have their union consecrated by God in a marriage ceremony they may not realize it at the time but there are going to be changes. The families of the couple welcome a new son or daughter into the family and things have to change. Mothers and fathers have to let go of a son or a daughter and at the same time they are to welcome this new person who is taking their son or daughter away from them. Sometimes it’s easy and other times it’s very difficult. This welcoming thing isn’t always easy. In fact sometimes it’s down right hard work.
As I’ve said before what we do in Jesus’ name doesn’t have to be perfect. I believe that he just wants us to get out there and do it. The more comfortable we get in welcoming folks the better we become at it.
So maybe we need to look at our mission statement and think about rewriting it. Or maybe we should read it every Sunday and think about what it means and decide if we are living out our mission as we are sent out into the world.
As it says in The Message, “We are intimately linked in this harvest work.” This is a team effort. Jesus is saying we can start small by offering a cup of cold water and then it builds from there. But we do have to begin.
Let’s go into this week with the focus to welcome our friends, neighbors, and family into this community of faith where God has placed us. Now you realize that these friends, family, and neighbors may be folks we haven’t met yet. All Jesus is asking us to do is make them feel welcome. Accept them into the fold as Jesus accepted us when we were less than perfect.
Thanks be to God for his bountiful, forgiving grace. Amen.

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