The brightly lettered sign on the door said “All welcome, come as you are”.
Pete looked at his his wheelchair and asked “even me?” and then he continued down the street. How would he get up the stairs?
Next came Sue and Cathy. They looked at the sign, and the beautiful stained glass windows and for a moment thought about going in. But then they remembered the last time they had been, and the clear message that folks like them were “bad”. They knew they weren't welcome as a couple.
Next down the block was a young family. “Let's go see!” shouted the youngest. But the kids tended to be noisy, they had trouble sitting still. Not wanting to cause trouble the parents quickly walked away, dragging the kids with them.
Finally came Fred and Alice. They thought it would be nice to have a warm place to sit and maybe a cup of coffee. But they looked at their shabby clothes and their unwashed faces and knew that their presence seemed to make others uncomfortable. So they went down the street to try and find a meal.
Meanwhile, oblivious to the people passing by and wishing they could come in, the congregation sat looking around the half-empty sanctuary and asked themselves: “Why aren't there more people here? We are such a friendly group?”
The Gospel message is clear. The love and grace of God are offered to all of God's people. But even then we see the struggle to understand what that means. Even Jesus has to be taught about God's amazing welcome. It takes a foreign woman challenging his prejudices to show Jesus that, as an old hymn says, “the love of God is broader than the measures of the mind” (see Mark 7:24-30).
And still the world struggles. Every church I have attended has described themselves as warm and friendly. Every church wants to believe that all are welcome in their midst. But the reality people experience is far different. The story told earlier plays itself out over and over across this country. But God is still calling us to a new way.
God is calling the global community to be a place where all are welcome. All. Regardless of age, or physical/emotional/mental ability, or gender, or race,or social background, or economic status, or marital status, or sexual orientation, or any of the multitude of other ways we have of dividing people; despite all of that you are welcome in the Family of God.
This is the challenge for the world, to live out God's amazingly broad and open welcome. We will sometimes fall short. Sometimes we fall short intentionally, sometimes we don't even know it. If we are going to do better we need to be challenged. Otherwise we are as oblivious as the congregation in the story. What barricades do we put up that keep others out of our clubs, our businesses, our communities? How do we go about breaking them down?