The Caveat to Welcoming Everyone

We recently had our church discernment process to choose a motto to put beneath our new name “Daniels Run Peace Church.” It came down to choosing between “Living Love, Growing Justice, Welcoming Everyone” or just “Living Love, Growing Justice.” Some of us thought that our new name implies that we’re welcoming and we didn’t need to explicitly say it in the motto. Others thought it’s important to say it anyway.

I was initially on the side of not needing to explicitly say it but noticed that many of the newer people in our church voted for “welcoming everyone.” You were telling us something and I changed my mind. We should never take our ability to welcome everyone for granted. So, what does welcoming everyone look like?

We can learn a few things from Jesus’ unsolicited advice on humility and hospitality when he was a guest at the house of a prominent religious leader (Luke 14: 1-14). People who wanted to be important were honored to be invited and jumped at the opportunity to smooze, to see and be seen. Jesus pushes their buttons with his remarks about the social dynamics of this dinner party.

Such dinner parties happen all the time here in the DC area, especially during elections. People paid $50,000 a plate to attend a recent political fundraising dinner. I wonder who made the seating arrangements and how they decided on where people sat? How much jockeying was there to be recognized or to get a strategic seat beside the more important people. William Lamar IV says that Jesus’ alternative of humility cuts against the grain of our culture:

This is a profoundly un-American impulse. This nation is not humble. Americans assume that American political, economic, and foreign policy prescriptions will fix a world much older and often much wiser. Many American churches—which often seem more American than Christian—lack humility as well. Chauvinism animated their theological forebears to take the faith of the wrongfully convicted Executed One and use it as a tool for plunder. A similar chauvinism is evident in their own dog-whistling around Muslims, immigrants, sexual minorities, and black and brown people, God knows America and many of her churches need Jesus’s unsolicited advice (The Christian Century, Aug., 17, 2016: 20).

Accordingly, there’s a caveat in the fine-print to our welcome motto, “You are invited to join us in following Jesus.” It takes lots of grace and humility but we’re determined to help each other grow in things like loving the least, living in peace with all people, caring for creation, spiritual practices like prayer and meditation, studying the Scriptures, and caring for our bodies. We’re not an anonymous crowd with little regard for each other.  Instead, we’re a body that lives.

We give more than lip service to being Christian and don’t assume that the words American and Christian fit together seamlessly. So, if you resist confronting those places in your life that are more American than Christian, you probably won’t feel included in our church. And that’s okay. Still, my prayer is that you can see this more as an invitation than as an exclusion. It’s an invitation to join us in a faith journey. It’s a journey that invites and walks in solidarity with the poor and disabled. Together we look forward to being part of that great dinner party in God’s new world coming.

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2 thoughts on “The Caveat to Welcoming Everyone

  1. Margie Van Nostrand

    Earl, I really enjoyed this! Thank you! – your words certainly provide inspiration for another message to San Diego Mennonite Church – Margie

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