** A note: we had a baptism at the church I serve on this day**
Every once in a while, the heavens open up, God smiles on me, and I get a gift of a fantastic scripture and a baptism on the same day! A text that talks about welcoming and a baptism; I should just say “do you see the connection??” And then say “Go in peace, serve the Lord” and we’d splash little Parker and call it a day. You’d walk out thinking “that was pastor’s best sermon ever–it was only 2 minutes long. It was amazing!!” And while I think the symbolism is fantastic, you know I can’t let you off the hook with a cheap sermon. Grace isn’t cheap.
I have asked you all more than once why you come to church. And I do this in the hope of encouraging you to think about the fact that the reason why you come to church might be the same reasons someone would start coming to church. And as I am out in the community talking with people who are not members of Elvira Zion, or maybe even who once were members of Elvira Zion the thing I say over and over and over again is please come, you’d be very welcomed. And there is this great hymn (number 641 if you’re interested) called “All Are Welcome” and every time I sing it I think “really, really?!? ALL are welcome?” The chorus goes “all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”
Of course, the verses are good too and have some great ideas. If we were looking for a new mission statement, it would be good to start with this song. In fact, lets look at these verses together. (If you read my last newsletter, you might have seen that I suggested reading the hymns as a way to draw closer to God. “Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live, a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace; here the love of Christ shall end divisions.”
“Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true, where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew. Here the cross shall stand as witness and as symbol of God’s grace; here as one we claim the faith of Jesus.”
“Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine and wheat: a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet. Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space; as we share in Christ the feast that frees us.”
“Let us build a house where hands will reach beyond the wood and stone to heal and strengthen, serve and teach, and live the Word they’ve known. Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face; let us bring an end to fear and danger.”
“Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word. Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace, let this house proclaim from floor to rafter…”
And I think that in many ways we can say without hesitation that yes, Elvira Zion is described in many of those words. And, if we’re being honest, there are ways we can work on welcoming. Now, I want it to be clear, I am not shaming you. I am not trying to make you feel guilty. I feel that part of what I am called to do is to call attention to the places where we are falling short of the expectations that God has set for us. Where are the places that sin is prevalent and what are we going to do about it?
It’s easy for us to baptize Parker today and welcome him with open arms as “one of us” for several reasons: he’s a baby, how could we not, right? He’s got family lineage on his side, which isn’t a bad thing. And, he’s pretty darned cute. Of course we’re going to say “welcome!” It’s when it’s not a baby, or perhaps someone is a stranger, and maybe is a bit unattractive that we might recoil and say “well but….” and then hide behind tradition, or even worse, fear. What do we say to those who have hurt us that want to hear the good news of Jesus Christ so they start coming here? What do we say to those with questionable pasts that need a place of refuge and perhaps a safe place to get a new start? What do we say to those who struggle to place something in the offering plate but we are quick to notice the type of car they drive, or phone they have, or clothes they wear? What do we say to the divorcee, or the addict, or the abuser, or the drop-out, or…or…or…
Many times I have said this (or at least hinted to it) that this is a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. If someone wants to come and hear the good word, or if someone wants to come to this table and be fed, or if someone wants to come to these waters and be splashed in promises never ending then guess what, I am not going to stop them. You did not call me to be your gatekeeper, you called me to be your pastor. If we want to be a welcoming congregation, we have to mean it. We have to welcome all of God’s people and not just the people that look like us, or that work jobs like we have, or that seems to have it all together because I can promise you this, my brothers and sisters, none of us in this room have it all together. We sure put on a pretty show pretending like we do, but really, none of us do. Church should be the one place where broken people can come, broken and then be made whole by water, body, and blood. It should not be a place where the broken feel like they can only come PRETENDING to already be whole. It doesn’t work that way.
Pretty soon, we are all going to make some promises to Parker. And at the core of what we promise him is this: we will always welcome you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or not done; it doesn’t matter if you’re here every week or we don’t see you again until confirmation; it doesn’t matter what you wear, or your group of friends, or what college you go to, or what box you check in the voting booth, or if one day you doubt the promises made to you in baptism. God’s grip on you is so strong it will never be broken. Even if you are never ever welcomed anywhere else, God will always welcome you. The best way we can be a place of welcome is to start seeing each other and everyone we meet just as we will see Parker today: a child of God, washed clean in the waters of baptism, called and claimed, loved, forgiven, and free. This font is full of forgiveness, and all are welcome.