Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Welcome time

The Gospel text for March 14th—the Fourth Sunday in Lent—is from Luke 15. It’s the story Jesus tells about a young man who leaves home, squanders his inheritance, becomes excessively hungry, and then comes home to the arms of a welcoming father. You might know it as “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.”

However, upon further thought, we see that there’s more to the story than just the prodigal son. We could also call it “The Parable of the Grumpy Brother.” This brother is upset that the other brother has returned home. He gets irritated that things aren’t going to be done like they were back in the good ol’ days when he was large and in charge. He becomes uncomfortable with his father’s radical hospitality.

Then again, we could also read the story as “The Parable of the Welcoming Father.” The father welcomes his child back, with open arms. He runs out to meet him, and kills the fatted calf—a sign of abundance and hospitality. This reminds me of God’s welcome for all of us. No matter what we’ve done, no matter our past, God loves us and welcomes us home. This is a story about forgiveness, welcome, and hospitality.

As church people, it’s easy to fall into being Grumpy Brother, especially when newcomers
challenge our deeply held understandings of what it means to be church. As Christian people, we are called to be Christlike. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. He touched people with leprosy. He crossed all kinds of social, cultural, and religious boundaries.

It’s easy to say “All are welcome,” but that phrase raises questions. Some people have not felt welcomed at places that say “All are welcome.” What does that mean? To what are we welcoming and inviting?

At Amazing Grace, we are at an opportune time for thinking about welcome. We have suburban development growing around us. We have a church denomination that has been struggling with various issues of welcome. We have a beautiful and diverse spectrum of thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and lifestyles among our members at Amazing Grace. It would be helpful for us to think about adopting a congregational welcome statement.

This welcome statement would explicitly name and invite people to be part of life together with us. It could be printed on our bulletins, newsletter, and website. I would love to see it on wooden Burma Shave-style signs leading up our driveway. Whether we adopt such a statement or not, the process of discussing and thinking about it would be a formative set of conversations.

We will start come conversations about welcome during the next Pizza with Pastor Paul on
Friday, March 12 at 6:30 p.m. I invite and welcome you into the conversation.

Pastor Paul

This is my pastor's column from Amazing Grace's March newsletter.

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