A Welcoming God
‘…The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come”…’ (Revelation 22, 17).
One of the few criticisms levelled at the great Welsh rugby team of the 1970s was that it was easier to get out than to get in. Indeed, barring injury, the team remained unchanged for much of the decade in spite of the fact that many other talented players were around at the time, some maybe even better than those in the team, but getting in the team was for them well-nigh impossible. So much so, that a number of them chose to leave behind the amateur game of Rugby Union and become professional Rugby League players. The problem was, of course, that there can only be fifteen players in the team at anyone time. With God, the eternal God, the God not bound by time or space, or any of the limitations that are characteristic of the created order, anyone and everyone, anywhere and everywhere, anytime and every time is welcomed, none are turned away because there is room for all. And such a welcome is not entirely passive: God isn’t waiting to see who turns up, rather God is actively seeking out those who would not otherwise realise that there would be a welcome for them if they did turn up, in order that they might indeed receive a welcome for God. Those for whom nobody else would have a welcome – the Coloureds, The Irish, and those ‘with dogs’ of not that long ago. Nowadays More likely to be Gays, Arabs, and those ‘with pets of any kind’. In the end, it is all to do with how welcoming we are, how hospitable we are towards others, most particularly those who are not as we are…
“As a way of life, an act of love, an expression of faith, our hospitality reflects and anticipates God's welcome. Simultaneously costly and wonderfully rewarding, hospitality often involves small deaths and little resurrections. By God's grace we can grow more willing, more eager, to open the door to a needy neighbour, a weary sister or brother, a stranger in distress. Perhaps as we open that door more regularly, we will grow increasingly sensitive to the quiet knock of angels. In the midst of a life-giving practice, we too might catch glimpses of Jesus who asks for our welcome and welcomes us home.” (Christine Pohl).
The Gospel, if it does not have an unconditional appeal, is not the Good News it claims to be; the Gospel, if it does not include an all-embracing welcome, is not the Good News it claims to be; the Gospel, if it does not entail a universal mandate, is not the Good News it claims to be. Why? Because God, the God revealed to the world in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the God who is being made known in and through the active ministry of the Holy Spirit, God is nothing at all if God is not Lord of all. All are welcome, or none are welcome. Limited atonement can only be a contradiction in terms as far as the Christian Gospel is concerned.
“Jesus’ command to love our neighbours is a command to love all strangers precisely because we too have been strangers to God and welcomed in.” (Kester Brewin).
As a church we have been involved over the last few years in the welcoming of strangers – Iranian converts to Christianity – claiming asylum in this country. As far as the politics of immigration is concerned, one is bound to concede that any Govt of any persuasion is likely to find itself ‘’between a rock and a hard place,’ but that should not be used as an excuse for the way we treat those who arrive in our country, for whatever reason. It cannot be right that the Govt. of the day should have as its stated intention in such matters, ‘the creation of a hostile environment,’ in the hope that by making life as difficult as possible for people it might at least deter some from coming. The problem with such an approach is that those who will be most easily deterred will be those who are most vulnerable, who most need to be welcomed; those with the wherewithal to shield themselves from such hostility will be largely unaffected. The law will take its course, but while it does so, and it can take a long time, it behoves us as a church, acting in the name of a welcoming God to welcome into our midst whoever might find themselves coming through the doors. Which brings me to what is in essence a very simple point, but one that is too easily overlooked. The Psalmist puts it thus:
‘I would rather be a doorkeeper in the House of my God…’ (Psalm 84, 10).
Many of you involve yourselves in the life of the church, and without your best efforts the church couldn’t function. No one is more or less important than the other, but in the context of our worship today, I want to say to those of you who act as door stewards, never underestimate the significance of the welcome you extend to folk as they come through the door. First impressions count for a lot and it is up to you to ensure that anyone and everyone who comes into our building to worship on a Sunday morning, that they are made to feel that they are welcome; that this place – albeit only for a brief while – that this place really is for them ‘a home from home’, perhaps even a ‘sanctuary.’ Nowhere is the sense of a Welcoming God made more explicit than at the Communion Table, to which we come ‘not because we must’ but ‘because we may’,‘not because we are strong but because we are weak; not because we have any claim on the grace of Christ but because of our frailty and sin we stand in constant need of God’s mercy and help; we come not to express an opinion, but to seek the presence of the Lord.’God is, by definition inexhaustible. ‘The God of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.’ Indeed, God will not rest until all are indeed made welcome. ‘God’s House will be full.’ But, what sort of welcome will God receive from us; the God who in Jesus is forever gently knocking at the door of our hearts. As far as the life of the Christ of God is concerned, there will always be a welcome for each of us. As far as each of us is concerned, how welcome is the Christ of God in our lives?