God’s Guest List
June 11, 2017 Pastor: Larry Gaylord
Topic: Evangelism & Community Scripture: Psalm 147:1–147:11, Luke 14:15–14:24
Psalm 147:1-11; Luke 14:15-24
Today’s parable is one of four parables at church camp last week. It illustrates the spirit of welcome toward all. Such welcome is a mark of the kingdom of God. When campers, counsellors, and staff show kindness and caring, especially toward those who are new or feeling down or awkward: that’s a sign of the kingdom. A couple of campers fell and got injured. One did a face plant into a piece of furniture while walking in a dark cabin. There are teeth marks in that furniture. Thankfully, all his teeth are intact. The good news was the quick and caring response of counsellors. The feeling of “I belong” makes such a difference in the lives of young people, and those who are not so young.
The Bible story might be an indicator of existence in the early church under the teachings of Jesus. We get the strong impression that people who were different, and differently-abled, were part of the fellowship. People who were excluded by society because of their physical challenges were instead embraced by the Christians. The faith community said in word and deed, “God loves you, and so do we. Come and be part of God’s family in full acceptance.” Christians also provided practical help, such as food for the hungry, guidance for the blind, and assistance to those of limited mobility. It was a powerful witness.
This weekend our area hosts the Summer Games of Illinois Special Olympics. Events are held at ISU, Kingsley, and Normal West. Welcome is expressed by a parade, a street dance, and families’ supporting their athletes, and volunteers and staff who help make it all happen. Some of our members are among them. This morning we remember the athlete who passed while participating in one of the events. We pray for his family and friends, and for first responders who tried to save him.
The main character in the parable really wanted people to be at the dinner, and would not be discouraged or deterred. God is persistent in efforts to reach out and invite. The last instruction was a general invitation to everybody. There’s a comical picture of people being almost dragged in to the banquet. Scholars tell us that if a wealthy person back then had invited the public to a banquet, most would have eagerly responded to this rare opportunity.
We strive to be a welcoming and inviting church. Matt and I and the session often hear new members say they have felt welcomed and accepted here by the congregation. We can be optimistic that many are ready to be welcomed. I saw one church’s website that said, “Join us for worship: it’s not that bad.” Possibly a more positive approach is warranted.
We learn from the parable that the heart of God is as big as all humanity. The Holy Spirit has been at work in a person’s life long before we met that person. Presbyterians aren’t too big on compelling anybody to do anything. That is in part a reflection of our faith in God’s sovereignty. We do have a role to play, inviting and welcoming those who come into our orbit.
We also realize that people experience God’s welcome in many ways—through worship, small groups, music groups, helping with a mission project, a property or landscape need, attending a baby shower, or acting with other church members for social justice. There are many entry points. Recently a family joined whose initial contact with church was Playmates Preschool. At each point, we have an opportunity to interact in a nice, welcoming way.
The Christian community’s purpose is to be a sample of fellowship with God and others. Many of us have experienced the opposite, when a church gives the cold shoulder to those who are new. We don’t want to be like that. It’s the Lord’s community, an open table, and it includes all who live with challenges, and all who seek a spiritual home. Its call is to be a light to the world, and a shining city on a hill. Acceptance, love, fun, and meaning constitute its very being. May the Lord empower us by the Holy Spirit to be that kind of church, and that kind of people, in Jesus’ name.