For the week of February 4, 2019
Last week, we began to explore the concept of culture. We identified two major types of culture—the macro culture and the micro culture. As we think of the faith we find ourselves in, it is important that we immerse ourselves in the scriptures which have formed and shaped the culture of faith that speaks to our time and space. Along with those scriptures, we are a product of our traditions that have been passed through the generations.
Our macro culture is Christianity. Simply put, Christianity is a faith rooted in a Trinitarian perspective of God, in which God reveals the self through three persons, while remaining one being. We have God the creator/father; God the Redeemer/Son; God the Spirit/Sustainer. Throughout the Christian traditions, this remains the bedrock of our belief.
Often we struggle to get our mind wrapped around this notion of God coexisting at all times within the confines of oneness. To help, imagine the H20—water. The molecule of this substance remains the same makeup, but is revealed in three unique ways—ice, liquid and gas/steam. The essence remains the same, while being unique in its expression. Or, another way to think of it, did you see those widget spinners? They are three sided connected at the center. While still, they are clearly unique in a static state. But, if you flick the spinner and they start spinning, it appears as one.
Why this Trinitarian theology lesson? Simply put, God exists within community within God’s self and, in God’s immensity of love, births the cosmos into being and invites us into this intertwined relationship. The vastness of God allows space for welcoming the creation God has spoken into being…mind blowing!! As God is in union with self, so too God extends that union to you, me, your neighbor, enemy, stranger…you get the point. God welcomes us to participation in life and in love. This week, we’ll see this extravagant welcome played out in Jesus’ story.
Think for a moment of a place, or experience, in which you received the most extravagant welcome. What was the occasion? How did it make you feel? Did the extravagant welcome extend beyond yourself to others? On the opposite side of an extravagant welcome, can you recall a time where you were not welcomed? Where you knew you didn’t belong or fit? How did you feel?
We know when we are welcomed for we remember the embrace of others. They have a way of touching our soul. Deep within us, we are held fully in that embrace. That’s the thing about an authentic welcome—you know it with the core of your being. I think that is why the theme song to Cheers was so popular
Sometimes you want to go Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came; You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same; You want to be where everybody knows your name.
There is truth in this song, for it reaches the depth of our human experience. Most have known the feeling of rejection, of not being included or unwelcomed, of being a stranger and hypersensitive to every glance and comment. It is in this environment that humanity has continually struggled. In Jesus’ time, this was equally true. Those deemed unholy were cast out from their community and labeled with words like ‘sinner,’ ‘unclean’ or ‘unholy.’ They longed for a welcome. In Matthew 12:9-14, Jesus is challenged about living by the law and, in essence, interprets the law in light of God’s desire to welcome and heal the division in our world. For disease was believed to have originated from some evil or unrighteous act. Jesus’ response was a healed man and a religious establishment that cared far more about being ‘right’ and missing the point of Jesus’ action—to heal is to give the gift of wholeness. Welcome is such a gift!
Not too long ago, Pastor Brandon invited the congregation into a time of silent prayer and reflection. It wasn’t but a few seconds later that one of our youngest members began to coo into the stillness. It was a remarkable moment, in which our expectations were shattered by the beauty of a child babbling in the sacredness of that moment.
Honestly, I wondered how many would be upset by this child’s noise in the midst of their silence. To my delight, many walked out of worship commenting that their favorite part of the service was the child’s noise! There was an innocence in it and a reminder that life is full all around us!
There’s an old saying that is crippling—a child should be seen, not heard. The intent is clear, children shouldn’t be children. This isn’t new, of course. In Jesus’ time, there was a clear expectation that children were on the margins. The ‘real’ stuff of life was among the adults. In Mark 10:13-16, Jesus takes an opportunity to give us eyes to see the real stuff of life—that children are often the great teachers in their simplicity and trust!
The extravagant welcome is an inclusive welcome. It extends from old to young. It embraces those on the inside of the club and those on the margins. This inclusiveness allows us to see the fuller image of God and community. For when we believe that everyone is a teacher—namely, that each can teach another something—then we have ears to hear and eyes to see! If you don’t think so, just ask a kid to look at the clouds and what they see! Their world is so vivid and alive and reminds us of how majestic everything is! Perhaps the noise of children is the most important noise in the church!
In this Trinitarian belief, we hold that the Holy Spirit is stirring within us, among us and through us. God is not dormant or far off but intertwined within the spaciousness of this confining moment. As I read the scriptures, I continue to be drawn deeper into this ever increasingly wider stance of grace, love and acceptance.
This makes sense, for the macro culture tradition of our church, the Congregationalist, is one in which each is valued and it is believed that the Spirit is working through each of us. This makes sense as the start of this movement, in 1620, began with a minister by the name of Rev. John Robinson, standing by the side of a ship leaving port enroute to the Americas, by the name of The Mayflower. Some of his final words were recorded as such…
“I charge you before God…that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow the Lord Jesus Christ. If God reveals anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth by my ministry, for I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word.”
Did you hear that?! More truth is to come spilling out of these scriptures as we read, embrace and are molded by these scriptures. Or, as the writer of Hebrews declared, “God’s word is living, active and sharper than any two-edged sword.” It has the ability to speak into our being and remind us of our truest self. That self is but a mirror of the Christ! For when we awaken to the welcoming embrace of God, the rigidity and me-ism begins to melt away until all that remains is our truest self—love! And that self, the loving self, is able to love God with all our hearts, mind, body and soul and love our neighbor as self!
Often Jesus uses parables and stories to paint a picture of a spiritual truth that is deeper than mere words or directions. Instead, he invites us to imagine! So, I want you to take that beautiful imagination of yours and imagine… There is a great banquet hall with the finest of foods and drink. Within it is the greatest band you have heard and the décor is top notch. The ambiance sets the celebratory note and as you prepare to enter, there is a cheer of “Welcome!! We’re so glad you are here!” As each passes through, this chant erupts again and the party rages on!
In Luke 14:16-24, Jesus takes this image and gives us a taste of the great banquet of heaven. Read this passage and see if you can imagine this place and why anyone would not accept the invitation!
Notice that this gift is extended first to the ones who would expect it (the religious community is the people who say ‘no’) and then it is opened to all. Even with all those who came, there was plenty of room! If that doesn’t speak to a limitless God whose embrace knows no end, then I don’t know what does! In fact, whenever we dare to be unwelcoming, we simply stop being about God and God’s way.
Those of us who call CUC home must be extravagant in our welcome of others. Simply put, we are the people found out in the highways and byways of life who have wandered into a party started long before us and become the cheering squad that erupts with “Welcome!! We’re so glad you are here!” Imagine if that was our cultural norm as a community for all people! Truly then we would be living into our mission to “Engage and Embrace ALL!!”
Perhaps no chapter of scripture is richer in the extravagant welcome of God than Luke 15. Within this lengthy chapter, three parables are shared. One is about a lost sheep, one about a lost coin, and one about a wayward/lost son. I would encourage you to read these three parables and pay close attention to the response of each!
In the Common English Bible translation, the refrain is “Celebrate with me…what was once lost is now found!” There is an immensity of joy in heaven, and on earth, when that which is far off, or lost, is suddenly found! Just imagine losing your wallet or wedding ring and then finding it!
Perhaps the clearest real life example happened in the hallowed rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. I remember as a newcomer, a fellow that had been sober for some time who suddenly disappeared from meetings. After a few weeks, he walked back into the room at the start of a meeting and the place erupted with joy. People were excited to see him and when he shared he had relapsed, they simply replied, “Welcome back! We are so glad you are here!” Tears swelled in his eyes as he was fully embraced out of an extravagant welcome. No one beat up on him, or belittled his slip, but instead affirmed that his presence was gift enough, and therefore there was reason to rejoice.
May we continue to cultivate that extravagant welcome not only in our church, but also in our lives. You have been welcomed into the wondrous presence of God who calls you beloved…may we honor that in all of our brothers and sisters as well!