The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."
And let everyone who hears say, "Come."
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. (Revelation 22:17)
"Welcome" is an active verb. It is something we do. It is a gift we offer. And it is always gracious.
"I've always said, 'To know us is to love us.'"
We were discussing evangelism at a church council meeting. The member who said this went on to say that many first time visitors to the congregation just didn't give us enough time. Her point was that if the first time visitors would make the effort to get to know us as a congregation, they would eventually come to appreciate this congregation, and make it their own. But, it would take effort on the part of the visitors. Basically, the responsibility was seen as entirely being the visitor's. It was their responsibility to come, to get to know, and in turn, to love. It required quite a commitment on the visitor's part. It was no accident that most of those who did come, and stay, were people who already had a deep faith and commitment to the Church.
"Well we have to put 'All are Welcome!" on the church sign". On numerous occasions I've challenged my congregations to think about this statement and what it means. A more truthful statement would be "Most are welcome. Inquire within." The truth is that we have a limited capability to be gracious and welcoming to "all". We are to quick to come up with the "except. . ."
A young person who is transgender was finding his place within our congregation and offered this suggestion: "The congregation says it wants to grow-- why don't we make the effort to reach out to all the 12 Step groups that meet in our church? And why don't we consider becoming a Reconciling in Christ congregation and make it clear that GLBT are welcome as well?" Mostly because I wanted to see what the response would be, but partly because I felt it was a good question, I put the matter before the congregation's council. The response of one of the members was "Of course all are welcome, but if we have to say gays and lesbians are welcome we will leave the congregation."
When we read scripture, we will hear either an exclusive word, or an inclusive word. In the first case, there are many passages of scripture high in judgement and condemnation. Case in point, just two verses after the above passage it reads "if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person's share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." And yet in verse 17 it says "everyone", "everyone", and "anyone".
The older I get, the more I wonder, what part of "All" do we not understand. In Romans 3:23 & 24 it is written "since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are (all) now justified by his grace as a gift,".
Today is Mother's Day and we honor and give thanks for our mothers and the love they have shared. Of all the things we could say about mothers, I think one thing stands out. And that is the capacity of a mother (or a father, for that matter) to love 'all' their children.
And I'm struck how often we think less of God's capacity to love, than we do of our mothers. For we are too quick to believe that God will condemn to eternal punishment the vast majority of his 'children', who he created.
In contrast to our tendency to judge, stands this one Word. Come! Like a mother calling out to her children God calls out to us, simply, "Come!" Anyone who wishes, is invited to come, and to take the water of life as a gift.
When I showed up at the AA meeting that I now attend regularly, I approached the door apprehensively. I was greeted with the words "Welcome, we are glad that you are here." Underlying that welcome was the knowledge that anyone who showed up at that door, at that time, was there because they desperately needed to be there.
My hope and prayer for the Church is that we might also realize that everyone who shows up at our door, does so because somewhere deep in their soul they heard the voice of God say "Come!" and secondly, that we might then be as welcoming as humanly possible simply because these, whoever they may be, are God's invited guests. Think about that -- no one gets there unless they are invited, and everyone is invited.