A Gracious Welcome

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In Psalm 87, it’s nothing short of astonishing to read who will all be welcome in Zion, God’s holy city. The psalmist looks forward to the day when the people of Egypt (referred to as Rahab), Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Cush will all be counted as part of God’s people. Throughout the Bible these nations are regularly antagonistic toward Israel – distrusting and fighting one another. Yet Psalm 87 promises that it will not always be that way.

If you were to update that list of surprising people entering God’s presence with 21st century language, I suspect you might come up with the welcome statement Monica & I read at Custer Lutheran Fellowship when we worshiped there during our Black Hills getaway a few months ago. Some of the individuals or groups listed may raise an eyebrow or two – but probably not any more so than the Egyptians or Babylonians of the psalmist’s day. 

This welcome statement with its specificity reminds me that the Holy Spirit seeks out and is at work in way more individuals and groups than I often give Him credit for. I’m sometimes quick to think that the problems and sins of other people are worse than my own. And so this welcome statement challenges me to reconsider whether there are people I’ve labeled as beyond God’s reach and therefore not truly welcome to worship at Trinity CRC

We want it to be of public record that those of different colored skin and heritage are welcome here.
We want it to be known that those who suffer from addiction to drugs and alcohol (whether recovering or not), and their families are welcome here.
We want it to be known that women and children are welcome here and that they will not be harassed or abused here.
We want it to be public record that in this congregation you can bring children to worship and even if they cry during the entire service, they are welcome.
We want it to be known that those who are single by choice, by divorce, or through death of a spouse, are welcome here.
We want it to be known that if you are promiscuous, have had an abortion, or have fathered children and taken no responsibility for them, you are welcome here.
We want it to be known that gossips, cheats, liars, and their families are welcome here.
We want it to be known that those who are disobedient to their parents and who have family problems are welcome here.
We want it to be of public record that gays and lesbians and members of their families are welcome here.
The young and old, the rich the poor, all of the broken are welcome here.
Let it be public knowledge that we at Custer Lutheran Fellowship take seriously that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
We want it to be public knowledge that we are justified by the grace of God, which is a gift through the redemption, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We offer welcome here because we believe that while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly.  That’s us.  Christ did not die for us after we showed signs of “getting it all together.”  Christ loved and still shows love to us while we are yet sinners.
Sinners are welcome here – sinners like you and me, and like our neighbors.  Let us not condemn the world, but let us proclaim to a broken and hurting world, God’s forgiveness and grace.
We want it to be of public record that since we are a sinful people that we will not always be as quick to welcome as we should.  Let us be quick to admit our sin and seek forgiveness.
May God give us the grace to welcome and forgive one another as Christ has welcomed and forgiven us.

(Used by permission. Custer Lutheran Fellowship’s welcome statement was written by their former pastor, Chuck Hazlett.)

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Maybe I've missed something along the way, but I see absolutely no conflict whatsoever in any way with being "welcoming but not affirming." We – personally and corporately – *have to be* if we wish to get up in the morning and look ourselves in the mirror, much less evangelize or serve our neighbors. 

Have we assumed differently? Has our biblical opposition to sin really given us the idea that really bad sinners (i.e. people who sin differently than me) really are beyond repentance? I pray that's not what we think – and I pray that’s not what people outside the Church think. After all, the God who said, “Go and sin no more.” said it after invading our sinful world and stepping into our flesh. Paul doesn’t “become all things to all men” so he can reject them out-of-hand. When Paul wrote “and such were some of you,” he testified that the gospel reaches into all sorts of people’s lives and gives them new life and repentance.

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