How Do We Welcome Others?

BaptismRecently I preached to a small group of people. The sermon came, in part, out of the number of people who had recently told me about how they had not been welcomed in the church or were leaving their church home because of how they felt when they walked through the doors. The important question for any ministry, How do we welcome others and is it a reflection of God being welcome in our lives?


Tonight we’re going to talk about dangerous grace. At first, something like dangerous grace seems like we’re combining two opposites. Danger is something we try to avoid and grace is something we long for.
So, what are we supposed to do with a dangerous grace?

Let me tell you a story to start. One evening, a Seminary professor visited a high school youth group. He was talking about this text we have tonight – the Baptism of Jesus. The professor had prepared a speech all about the significance of the event – that it was being revealed to everyone that Jesus was God. As the professor finished with his whole speech, he probably relaxed slightly — the lesson has been taught and probably taught well. But, that was when a guy in the crowd, without lifting his head said, “That ain’t what it means.” So the professor asks, “What do you think it means?”

The youth says, “The story says that the heavens were opened, right?”

“Right”

“The heavens were opened and the spirit of God came down, right?”

“Right”

The boy finally looked up and leaned forward to say, “It means that God is loose in the world. And it’s dangerous.”

And that is what this lesson tonight is telling us – God is on the loose. God came into the world – as Jesus, and God came, breaking through the heavens as a voice and descending dove. God cannot be contained in heaven or some far away place, God cannot be put in a box on a shelf or even kept within a single building. God is loose in the world. And it is dangerous to have God loose in the world.

The fact is, it is dangerous anytime we have something that will change everything. That will do new things. That will challenge us. It’s dangerous because we don’t know what will happen next.

Tonight marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and it was indeed a dangerous ministry. Jesus was dangerous because he wasn’t going to quietly slip through the world. He would challenge us. He wouldn’t play it safe. After his baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness, and it was dangerous. Jesus taught in the temples, and it was dangerous. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and it was dangerous. Jesus confronted authorities and turned over tables – it was dangerous. He didn’t go the quiet route. He went with the dangerous route. Jesus came and troubled the waters. He changed everything. Jesus put his entire life on the line. God, loose in the world. It is dangerous.

And it’s new – the whole world had been waiting for something new. We hear it all through the prophets and our readings tonight. And this was the one we had all been waiting for. God makes it clear – this is it. God is loose in the world in a spectacular and dangerous way.

So the honest, but very hard question is – Are we willing to welcome the unexpected? Are we willing to welcome a dangerous and life-changing God? Especially are we willing to do this when we aren’t always very good at welcoming each other.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people recently – not all in this church –
that have felt unwelcomed by the Christian church as a whole. People who feel they can’t come to church because their child will be “shushed”. People who feel they can’t come because of a visible tattoo, because of a crippling disease. People who don’t feel welcome because of their race or gender. People who don’t come because of who they love. People who won’t come because they don’t want other people to know they’re pregnant, they’re divorced, they’re unemployed, they’re sick, they’re grieving, they’re drunk, they’re homeless, they’re lost. They want to avoid the uncomfortable. It’s too dangerous.

And those already on the inside, don’t want to feel uncomfortable when other people come in. There’s danger all around — no one knows what will happen.

One of these people is a good friend of mine that felt unwelcomed and just plain rejected by the church she goes to with her parents. A number of things were troubling to her and It all started to take a very physical toll. When she talked to the church leaders about it, she and everything she is, was rejected. They weren’t willing to welcome her into the church because they thought she was too dangerous. They called her a sinner. They told her she was wrong. They told her she needed change her ways to be accepted by God. Do we ever react this way to something new?

Now, earlier I said we would be talking about dangerous grace. Here’s where the grace comes in. I was reminded of this definition of grace today – a definition that works better than most for me. Grace is accepting that you have been accepted.

This is the dangerous grace that we teach. A grace where it doesn’t matter where we’ve been. It doesn’t matter where we are going. It doesn’t matter who we love. What we look like. We are accepted. We are beloved. We just have to accept that.

And when we accept this – when we accept that God loves us, when we welcome God into our lives in this way – That is when God is let loose not just in the world, but when we let God loose in our own lives. That is when we are changed. That is when our hearts are opened and the unknown happens. When God is loose in our lives, we begin to see God in all people – this is how we let others in, how we welcome a stranger, a friend. This is how our dark corners are given light and how we light the path for others. When we accept this dangerous grace and we let God loose in our own lives – that is when everything is new. Everything changes.

That’s when it starts to feel dangerous because we have no idea where God is going to lead us: God might send us wandering in the wilderness. We might be sent to heal another person’s brokenness. We might be sent to be healed by another person. God might send us to turn over some tables, so that we can make room for everyone. When God is loose in our lives, we are compelled to follow. When God is loose in our lives – we can’t help but share that grace with others.

Are you willing to welcome a dangerous grace into your life? Are you ready to let God loose?

This is what we celebrate. This is why we are here — God is loose in this world and God wants to be loose in our lives. God is bringing us a dangerous grace. It is what we have been waiting for. It is what those around us are waiting for us to share.
Amen.

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