Prejudices not welcome here…

Yesterday we were thinking about the welcome that we give, and the welcome that God gives us… and it reminded me of the church welcome bulletin that has begun appearing in the last few years… rather than just saying ‘all are welcome’, its a bit more extensive…

WELCOME! We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rake or could afford to lose a few pounds We welcome you if you can sing like Pavarotti or are like our vicar (who can’t carry a note in a bucket). You’re welcome here if you’re just browsing, just woke up or just got out of prison. We don’t care if you’re more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury, or haven’t been in church since little Jack’s christening. We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome keep-fit mums, football dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome you if you are having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like organised religion – we’ve been there too! If you blew all your money on the horses, you’re welcome here. We offer a welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because your grandma is in town and wanted to go to church. We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throat as a kid or got lost in the local oneway system and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts…………and you!

Of course, there is the age old tension with things like this- you’re welcome so long as you don’t mind us welcoming others…and we’ll protect you so long as you don’t mind us protecting others… which means that although our welcome is wide and inclusive, it has edges too- if you can’t or won’t cope with other people being welcomed, or if you want welcome to mean ‘unconditional trust and total acceptance’- If everyone’s welcome except the fascist/communist/crazy-eyed loon/martian delete as applicable or fill in your own preference… that means our welcome has limits. Which, if you think about it, has to be ok.

Anyway, we were thinking about the welcome God gives to Gentiles- you know, the horrible foreign people like me (and probably you too), the ones who weren’t blessed enough to be born into the covenant… and how the book of Acts describes the shift when it became apparent that God really does welcome all people… go and read chapters 10 & 11 for the actual and reported events, but here’s what I said yesterday:

I said at the outset that this morning we’re thinking about welcome- but there are things that get in the way- prejudices… they’re pretty much the opposite of love, and yet all of us who call ourselves Christians, who try to follow the commands of Jesus, have them. We try to dress them up as wisdom, or reasonable, we may genuinely think that its normal… we can almost certainly see other people’s prejudices much more easily than our own…

In our society there is still casual sexism, there is thoughtless ageism towards young and old, there is financial discrimination, and that’s without even going near to the borders and mentioning refugees. There is prejudice against different parts of the country, and different parts of the same town. If we genuinely think that we are without prejudice, then answer me this- how is it that we allow anyone in our country to go homeless, naked, or hungry? We do these things so easily- this morning since I’ve arrived here I have shown prejudice against those with mobility problems, those with reading difficulties, those for whom English is a second language, those who are deaf… just by leading our service.

But a large part of prejudice stems from fear- fear of the unknown. And today there are many who don’t know God, and so they are afraid, and are prejudiced against God and those who claim to follow him. So how do we respond to that fear? By love- love one another was a command to love each other- other believers yes, but also the ‘not yet’… Jesus demonstrated the breadth of God’s love in the stories he told and his actions- the people he spoke with and healed, the places he went. And then the disciples began to do the same- healing and teaching a wider and wider group of people until… Peter… Peter had the same expectations as the other disciples, the same ideas about who God loved, and who he shouldn’t associate with, until God told him otherwise. Now, there are themes and ideas which appear in the Bible in different places, and that helps us to grasp that they are more significant than other things which are only mentioned once… In Acts we have the Gospel retold, repeated explanations of who Jesus is, and here, repeated twice in 2 chapters- Peter visits Cornelius, and then we have his own account to the other brothers in Jerusalem… to emphasise its importance, but it also emphasises how challenging this was… love the gentile while they are still foreigners, welcome them without waiting for them to become just like us, expect their lives to be transformed- yes, but not to become clones of me and you… its hard for us to recognise how hard this was, how huge a change it was… this was changing centuries of what it meant to be a follower of God… and it’s an indication of how Peter had grown and matured, of how the brothers in Jerusalem recognised that God was at work, of the power of the resurrection in their lives that they listened to his words and accepted them…

So, if you’re at all serious about following God, then pray for, and expect that your prejudices will be shaken up this week.

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2 thoughts on “Prejudices not welcome here…

    1. It’s not mine and I couldn’t find the original source so go ahead… I think the first time I saw it was on the website of a roman catholic church in the U.S., with the pope instead of the archbishop of Canterbury

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