Thursday 7 March 2013

I've really enjoyed our series on Welcoming. It was great to preach on Becoming a Welcoming Community on 24 February at the 8am service. In hopes that people who go to our other services might also like to know what was said, here it is below.

You have to read the story in Luke 7:36-50 to get all the references. It's basically about a Pharisee who invites Jesus to dinner but doesn't bother to welcome him, and a sinful woman who sneaks in to the party and does. There's a picture of it by Rubens that may help.

However I think Chris's talk at 10am on Communitea was much better. Remember those three fab words that guarantee a good welcome? Fancy A Brew?

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Try to imagine what it was like the first time you walked in through a church door…? The person who welcomed you was literally a godsend. They transformed that experience from intimidation to intimacy… Try to imagine how this woman was feeling as she came into the house where Jesus was… So embarrassing! Everyone staring at her!

Why didn't Simon the Pharisee welcome Jesus? Perhaps he'd invited Jesus to put him on show? Perhaps he'd even invited Jesus to sit in judgment on him as others did – he was a Pharisee after all.

But because of it, look how differently they welcome Jesus. Simon has no real welcome for him. Washing the feet, giving a kiss, anointing the head with oil – these were all standard courtesies given to an honoured guest. Simon did not welcome Jesus. His heart was hard. The woman gives it everything. Simon the righteous Pharisee has been outchristianed by a sinful woman who responds to Jesus with a welcome.

The welcome we give others is closely entangled with the welcome we give to Jesus. Simon doesn't welcome the woman – she's a sinner, she's no right to be here, and she's embarrassing my guests - and he doesn't welcome Jesus either. "As much as you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me." Again and again the real state of our relationship with God is revealed by the way we treat others. More of this later in the series.

So how to become a more welcoming person: we needn't start kissing each other's feet!

·         the heart – the key difference between Simon and the woman, just as it was between the Prodigal Son and his older brother. The woman's heart is broken, Simon's is proud. If we really get it that God welcomes us, our hearts will be soft.

·         Compassion. Altruism requires an act of imagination, to be able to put ourselves in the other person's place. That's what we've been doing as we've thought about this story – putting ourselves in the characters' shoes.

·         Look past our immediate circle. Surveys have repeatedly shown that churches that believe themselves to be extremely welcoming are not nearly so welcoming to visitors. We are welcoming to our friends – but sometimes we need to look over their shoulders and see who is on the outside of the circle. A welcoming community helps by changing our culture

·         our home – the setting in both examples today was the home. One of our key values from Acts is hospitality – see Acts 2:46b. Is the home the final barrier to welcome? An Englishman's home is his castle – a refuge against the struggles and storms of life. We value our privacy – dare we let others share it?

So let's remind ourselves in communion: God has welcomed us, let's welcome others.

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