There is a question that has been asked by many in and outside the church (think body of Christ). Why should we welcome all people? Well, some would say because we can have more members and more members means more money to run the church with. Others would say because we want to grow so we can do more things, have more programs, offer more opportunities to serve. Another group might say we really don’t want to welcome more people into the church, because you will have more expenses, the new folks may not even look or sound like us. Still others would wonder how we do this welcoming thing.
Here is the Biblical answer: Because Jesus commands us to. But you all knew that. However, the previous answers do have truth in them as well. So, let’s pose this question to ourselves: Why does St. Paul’s Lutheran Church welcome all people? Answer: Because it is what we do and it is who we are! Not that we do it perfectly and, it still scares us. Being Lutheran we struggle to take the welcome out into the world. Yet we do, and we will, and we will call it “inviting”.
Yes, we are called to invite all people into a relationship with God and neighbors by way of Christ’s love. All four of the Gospels share the words of Jesus that we should invite, include and receive every- one. This is quite a target audience and so we should have great success. Not so much.
It is our human nature, our inclination to seek out those most like us and in doing so we narrow the scope of our inviting. The real problem with this approach is that the people most like us here in Omaha, seemingly have a lot of better things to do. Be- cause, for most folks who share our demo- graphic profile, the church isn’t the only show in town. In fact, the stereotypical vision of the church is judgmental, hypo- critical and aloof. Who wants to be a part of that kind of organization? However, we do connect with these folks, but our chal- lenge is to show them we are not the stereotype we have been made out to be.
Then, there are those who have little or no church background at all. They come out of quite different backgrounds, but they are sensing that something quite profound is missing from their life. The cultural norms of work & play, family and friends, sports and entertainment are just not filling the void, so they search.
These searchers cannot be put into one kind of box or another, they range across the human spectrum. They are not necessarily a big group, but they are an important group, for they are more open to a relationship with God through Christ. These are the folks, whether because of God’s Spirit, life challenges, or they have a questioning soul, are looking to religion as a possible way of filling the emptiness.
Then, we have a group who dislike the church because of how they have been treated by the church. Once upon a time, these folks had been raised in the faith but felt compelled to leave. Some of them are angry at God and therefore, the church. It is to these folks that we are called to speak and show God’s Grace. You have heard the story of the ninety-nine and the one (sheep). These folks are the one and so we are called most urgently by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to seek and find them. There are a lot more of these folks than you may think.
Another group are those who are just simply lost or hurting. They are afraid, lonely, struggling, having little support nor com- fort. Whether they are in this state of being because of economics, emotional pain, physical or social injury or rejection, when you seek out and love the least of these, you are inviting Christ himself into our church. These folks are not going to help us make our stewardship goals. In fact, they might be a bit costly with no economic or resource payback. But, like I said, when you invite them, bringing the broken, the lowly, the rejected, the despised, and the sinner into the church, you are bringing Christ.
We are called to be a congregation who welcomes those we have invited or brought into this community of faith. St. Paul’s is pretty good at the welcome, but we still have a way to go on extending the invitation. The first step is the one that takes us outside the church and into the lives of others. Amen!