“...for God has welcomed them”
Prayer: Thank you, O Holy Spirit of God, for letting the power and blessing of scripture speak to us once again. Amen.
First of all, I say “thank you” to each of you. Not only have you welcomed me back from my summer sabbatical with love and positive thoughts, but before that, when I first started the project, you encouraged me to engage the summer months in a meaningful way. Consistory created the space for me to do the groundwork for this topic of all-inclusivity in our church, and you as a congregation supported and emboldened me. And, I am grateful.
Two weeks ago, I resisted the temptation to bombard you with all the ins and outs of my project, but now that the project is out there for all of us to read and digest, I’m still not going to bombard you… at least I’m not going to try to… But, I have to say that given today’s scripture reading from Romans, I am tempted. Because the topic of all-inclusivity is a part of my thinking and dreaming for so long, I began to see connections to it everywhere! When I read the passage from Romans, I was like “Wow! It’s amazing how all-inclusivity stands out in that passage!” And, you’re probably like, “Really? I don’t see it!”
Well, for me all-inclusivity does stand out. Let me tell you why I think this is true. One of Paul’s main points throughout all of his letters is that the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is not just particularly for the Jewish people, but it is universally for all people. If you read Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters throughout the scriptures, there’s this very noticeable tension between both camps. That is why I read our passage by inserting reference nouns, whether Paul was referring to the Jews or to the Gentiles.
Toward the end of our passage, though, you may have noticed that Paul writes that God welcomes everyone, both Jew and Gentile. Everyone belongs to Christ—Jew and Gentile. Every knee will bend. Every tongue shall give praise to God. Each person, says Paul, will be accountable to God. All-inclusive! Paul is trying to bring a fractured community together. Jews and Gentiles need to be one.
So, when it comes to following Jewish laws in the Bible, in this case dietary laws and laws about observing special days, which the Jews are supposed to do, Paul admonishes the Gentiles—don’t hold it against the Jews for following their laws! It’s what they do! And when the Gentiles, who could care less about following dietary laws and don’t bother observing any special days, Paul admonishes the Jews—don’t hold it against the Gentiles for not following Jewish laws in the Bible. They’re not Jews after all!
Instead, Paul lays it out there: everyone, Jews and Gentiles, welcome each other, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over differences. Paul seems to say, “We’re stronger together by what unites us instead of what divides us.” (Sound familiar?) And what unites them is oneness in Christ. So, being one in Christ, you who are Jewish, you ought to welcome the Gentile. You who are Gentile, you ought to welcome the Jews… for all are one in the Lord. God is all-inclusive. It’s what God does! It’s God’s nature.
So, if God is all-inclusive, if the good news of Christ is universally for all people, if God welcomes everyone, I suggest we ought to put on all-inclusivity into our very being. Graft it into our hearts. The message I get for us is that we also ought to welcome all inclusively as well. Then we not only officially can welcome and include people connected to the LGBTQ community, but I suggest we also welcome all-inclusivity by making physical changes in our building, upgrade our technology, by review our language, and by find ways to share with the world that we welcome all-inclusivity because God is exactly that!
If we tie in Jesus’ teaching from Matthew, his teaching is that if God forgives you incessantly, message I get for us is that we also ought to forgive each other incessantly. Christ is our role model because he role models God’s ways for us.
This is a powerful concept especially considering the fractured community that exists in our world today fueled by the sheer hatred some people have of other people, don’t you think? Paul had his fractured community; we have ours. Welcoming all-inclusivity into our consciousness and developing some best practices of inclusivity in our
church can be, I think, our way to bring our fractured community together… “that they may all be one,” as Jesus’ prayer says (John 17:21).
Now, to be sure, all of us have places in our hearts where we believe in all-inclusivity, and we act with all-inclusive welcome. And I love that about us, and about each of you! When a disaster occurs, as we’ve seen with the hurricanes recently, millions of good people come together without regard for distinction. Help is given to people in need. That’s powerful and beautiful!
I am asking us to grow further. The truth be told, welcoming all-inclusivity deeply within requires ongoing work within our inner spirit, I believe. Because if I’m honest with myself and if you’re honest with yourself, the Holy Spirit will identify for us the places in our hearts where we struggle with the demand to forgive incessantly… where we repel the need to welcome all-inclusivity into our very being.
It’s difficult for me to welcome and forgive an abusive spouse or parent especially if that person has no regrets and no desire to grow into healthy practices and good relationships. I struggle with welcoming and forgiving those who offend my sensibilities by supporting the evil lie of white supremacy. Those are just two of my struggle areas, and I’m sure, if you’re honest with yourself, you will see your areas.
But, we can learn forgiveness. We can grow into new best practices of welcome and all-inclusivity. I think Nelson Mandela’s words are correct. He said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite” (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/111810-no-one-is-born-hating-another-person-because-of-the, retrieved September 16, 2017).
I was moved by the story of Daryl Davis, a Black American blues musician who intentionally befriends members of the Ku Klux Klan. First of all, just let that soak in for a second. Once those members of the KKK get to know him, they realize their hatred is misplaced. “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” Davis asks. Over 200 members of the Klan have given up their robes after meeting Daryl Davis. And get this… Mr. Davis keeps the discarded robes in his home as a reminder of what can happen when you sit down to dinner with people who hate you. Daryl Davis studied up on the Klan, and he says that showing that he took the KKK seriously forced Klansmen to take him seriously” (“Invitation to Dinner, Century Marks, Christian Century, September 13, 2017, p. 8).
Isn’t that amazing? It’s the power of the ought… Mr. Davis ought to take the Klan seriously which gives them the opportunity to take him seriously.
It’s the power of welcoming all-inclusivity, in the face of so much hatred built up as a walls of division.
It’s the power of forgiveness, seventy times seven times, even when there is humanly no good reason to forgive.
But, we are people of God first. And, incessant forgiveness is God’s way. All-inclusive welcome, I believe is God’s nature. We have God’s Holy Spirit within us. So, as people of God, we learn and continue to practice incessant forgiveness. We learn and continue to welcome all-inclusivity. We take them on and into us.
Let us be quiet and reflect upon this message for our journey of faith. Amen.