“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to!Matthew 23:13
Sometimes it’s the little things that make such a huge difference. A comment in response to a column; a letter affirming that at least one person in the world was impacted positively by a book; a thank you note after a Sunday School class; someone touched by a kindness; a child offering a hug.
For Rebekah this week it was a story a friend shared about the impact of a message on a vulnerable soul.
Are you welcome in church?
The “Am I welcome?” (or not) question is very real, and comes up more often than we know. My friend’s grandson “Adam” is a gentle and loving young adult who lives with ongoing challenges generally classified under the umbrella of autism. He and his mother left their church (they live in another state) when they could no longer deal with the “not welcome” subtext. Now they don’t attend church at all, except when they visit Wake Forest.
Jesus said – “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.” (Luke 17)
A couple of months ago, during Rebekah’s “Top Ten Bible verses” message series, Adam and his mother came to WFPC. During the sermon, the young man patted his heart with one hand and touched his head with the other. He repeated this action many times.
At lunch, given the opportunity to explain what he meant, Adam said – simply and with a lot of conviction – “This is how church should be; this is how it should be…”
“Somehow,” the young man’s grandmother said, “Rebekah’s sermon really resonated with him.”
I would be the first to agree that Rebekah is an exceptional preacher, but I am inclined to believe that what really happened was more along the lines of, Rebekah’s spirit really resonated with him.
There is what I like to call a “supercharged spiritual sensibility” in many individuals who think differently, who are equipped with brains and emotions that do not easily conform to the often unimaginative standard most of us represent, sitting comfortably in the fat section of the bell-shaped curve.
“But my servant Caleb thinks differently, he has a different spirit and follows me completely.” (God – Numbers 14:24)
All God’s Children:
Adam (maybe I should have called him “Caleb”) felt something at church that day because God’s spirit is not hemmed in at all; he could sense Rebekah’s authenticity and it made him feel welcome.
Not just Rebekah, but the welcoming spirit of the church. Not, “We welcome people who are out of the mainstream,” so much as, “We welcome all of God’s children.”
The important point is that there is no distinction. What Adam senses, every time he attends WFPC, is not only that he is welcome, but that he belongs.
This (just a few examples) is what The Beloved Community looks like.
- Welcoming Adam because he is God’s child.
- Welcoming me because I am God’s child.
- Treating one another with respect.
- Valuing others enough to follow health guidelines because our freedom is for their wellbeing.
- Serving communion to everyone who wants to come.
- Listening to people we disagree with.
- Serving the needy without judgement.
- Feeding the hungry and Building Habitat homes with other churches rather than arguing about doctrine.
Too much of religion and too many churches foster the idea that God is subject to our restrictions and prejudices, that some are “in” and some are not, that people can build a fence around the table of communion, that another church has to be wrong in order for them to be right.
– It’s as if they believe that God belongs to them rather than the other way around.
Sadly, much of the public face of religion looks just like that. It is no wonder Adam felt unwelcome.
Let me say once again how deeply I feel this truth, one that I often express: “Jesus is God’s invitation to come home!” When the Pharisees worked to slam the door shut in the face of those wanting to enter the kingdom, Jesus was very clear as to how wrong they were.
The Pharisees were wrong then; they are wrong now. Jesus said, instead, “I am the gate.”
Come on in. – DEREK
Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.”– John 10:6-7