We begin our series of sermons on “Church, what’s it all about?” looking at ‘Welcome’. A fitting theme for our Epiphany service; as in the very act of God calling the wise men to search for the Messiah, God was confirming that Jesus would be a messiah who welcomed all, not just the Jews. We are so used to hearing the story of the wise men visiting it is easy to forget that they came from a different land and were naturally outsiders to Jewish culture as much as the Romans were. This story nudges us to question ‘who is the good news of Jesus for?’ I hope we recognise the good news of Jesus as good news for everyone. In response then we, who have already embraced this good news, are curators for others who may find welcome in it too.
What is it to be welcoming? There are so many aspects to answering this question from the practical “smile and say hello” to a much deeper understanding of what it is to accept all people. Regardless of their culture (as with the wise men) or their social status (as with the shepherds). In some ways welcome is a state of mind where we choose, as individuals and as a Christian community to extend acceptance and grace to people just as we find them. Not only when a person tentatively enters church for the first time but acceptance and grace for all people at all times of day or night and in all places we might encounter them. This of course is how Jesus welcomed people throughout his ministry and is one of his most compelling.
It leads us to ask “How are we welcomed?” Theologically we are welcomed because God says so. In Johns gospel Jesus prays for us all as believers that we might be welcomed and brought to complete unity with God, knowing that we are loved as much as God loved his only son Jesus (17:23). We are welcomed by God, despite our constant and repeated shortcomings we remain welcomed, unequivocally. “You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit, fruit that will last and so whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command; love each other.” These are some of the last words Jesus shares with his disciples and we too are disciples, followers of Jesus. We have been welcomed by perfect love and are in turn asked to extend that love without judgment to strangers and friends (and enemies) alike. Freely we have received, freely we will give.