Sunday, April 16, 2023

We welcome everyone. . .

We have a treasure trove of neat little sayings we use to describe the church's welcome.  Come as you are.  We have no strangers at our church.  Everyone is welcome.  We are a friendly church.  All of them seem to try a little hard, in my view.  Oh, I get it.  I know what we are trying to say but I am not sure that the cutesy way we frame our howdy is understood or appreciated by God as well as the visitors.

It strikes me that Jesus was not always all that welcoming.  He certainly did not give the Pharisees a break.  He called the Canaanite woman a dog.  When volunteers came to Him, He seemed more inclined to dissuade them than encourage them.  To the woman caught in adultery, He said "Go and sin no more" -- probably the hardest thing anyone ever asked her to do.  Ouch.  I guess you had to hit Jesus on a good day.

We want to say that all sinners are welcome here but who would actually say that?  It is bad enough that the first words out of our mouth in the Divine Service are a confession of our sin in which we own them before the Holy God.  Do we really want to put on our sign boards Hey, Sinners.  Y'all come!  Of course, it is exactly the kind of thing a diversity, equity, inclusion goal mighty say:  All are welcome here!  But are they?  Does Jesus let us come with all our sins hanging out or is our Lord out to do something with those sins?  Do we really come as we are?

Of course, we should be warm and welcoming but we also need to admit that God does not welcome us as sinners and then leave us with our sins.  Indeed, that is the whole point.  We come as sinners but God refuses to leave us in our sin.  Neither does He place the burden of those sins on us.  He does the unthinkable.  He places the burden of our sins on His sinless Son, our Lord Jesus.  God comes to sinners but does not join them in their sin.  He eats and drinks with sinners but does not approve of their sin nor countenance their unrighteousness.  Ours is not a welcoming God but a saving God.  He meets us where we are but refuses to leave us there -- covered in the muck and stench of sin and its death.  

All are welcome here but not in the sense of us welcoming all the different points of view of all those who come.  Just the opposite.  All are welcome to live with us under the cross, surrendering our will to His, and as a people whose convictions lie under the Word of the Lord that endures forever.  God does not welcome sinners in the sense that He welcomes their sin.  There are plenty of lists of sins and sinners in the New Testament (including the letters of Paul).  None of them come with the promise of eternal life and the Kingdom of God that endures forever.  Not one of them.  All of them live in the shadow of the cross where they have been made new.  All of them come with the call to hate evil and do what is good.  We are not welcoming new and different interpretations of His Word.  Our Lord is looking for disciples and followers -- not for co-managers.  

Don't forget that it is Jesus who insists the path is narrow, the gate is small, and the way is hard.  He does not pretend to promise us earthly victories but instead is painfully blunt about the cost of discipleship.  Many are called but few are chosen.  Jesus welcomes sinners but He does not approve, understand, or accept their sins.  The Church's welcome is not a slogan but a cross in which the forgiveness is always bigger than the sin for those willing to confess the sin but with nothing for those who are not shamed by their sins.

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