Welcome!We say it when company comes. It’s a warm and pleasant word to say, which you can’t really do without smiling. Welcome is a word that we try not to use with insincerity. And yet, it’s a word that’s most often used in the artificial context of trying to sell something. People who go to Moe’s Southwest Grill for the first time are often startled by the cacophonous scream that goes up every 90 seconds from behind the counter: “Welcome to Moe’s!” In our daily lives, we are often welcomed into businesses by people for whom it is just part of the script and a requirement for their job.
In churches we know, just as businesses do, that welcoming visitors is very important if we want them to come back. So we make sure everybody gets a handshake on their way in the door. Then we take a couple minutes to greet one another as part of our worship service. The pastors shake everybody’s hands on the way out of the service. Then, those visitors who are brave enough to share their mailing address receive a freshly baked loaf of welcome the following week.
But at Burke United Methodist Church, our welcome comes from a deeper place than a mere anxiety about customer satisfaction. We believe that welcome is God’s basic message to us and that welcoming others is the mission of God’s people. God invites all of us to be a single community called the body of Christ where everyone cares and everyone belongs. The problem is that we are caught up in sinful habits and attitudes that create conflict and push us away from each other. We cannot get untangled from these alienating habits and attitudes on our own; we need a way to make peace with ourselves, which is what God offers us by unilaterally making peace with us.
The most welcoming thing that God has done for us was to come to Earth in the form of a poor carpenter’s son named Jesus who spent his life with people whom society had left out in the cold: fishermen, shepherds, prostitutes, tax collectors, and homeless people of all kinds. People who were unwelcome became welcome at Jesus’ table. Jesus didn’t just live as an outcast; he died as an outcast on the cruelest form of the death penalty that the Roman Empire had to offer: a cross. But Jesus transformed this cross that was the ultimate rejection of a person in Roman society into a sign that God specifically welcomes people who nobody else will, even those who have been crucified.
Welcome is more than a mat. It’s more than a smile. It’s more than the color of paint on your front door. Welcome happens when we follow the lead of a savior who laid down his life for us in order to lay down our lives for others. If you haven’t been welcome at a church before, please forgive our betrayal of the savior who has welcomed us. Please give us another chance to welcome you and we promise this time it will be different.