Matthew 10:40-42/ Romans 6:12-23
Radical Welcome of God’s Reign
When I was in the theological school in New Jersey, I did my internship at a Methodist Church in the neighboring town. They prided themselves in being an open-minded and progressive congregation; they had a gay senior minister who had just come out as gay and an African American associate minister. Just like our church, they were renting their building to the local AA meetings. Some members of the AA group started coming to church to worship with us on Sundays. When they did, some old white members of the congregation felt uncomfortable about black and Latino people filling their pews. Then one day, a white old lady, who was walking to church, felt nervous and scared because a black man was walking behind her. She thought he was following her. She called the police, and the black guy, who was a member of the AA group on his way to worship with us, was told by the police that he couldn’t come to church for a while.
This is the reality of the North American society dominated by white people. My old American church proclaimed that all are welcome, but the reality was not always welcoming to all people. This is due to racial biases and subtle racism that are “not visible to naked white eyes”, to quote a black comedian. The United Methodist Church claims that all are welcome. They claim this at the beginning of the Holy Communion, but their law doesn’t punish individual ministers who refuse communion to the members of the LGBT community. My old American congregation claimed to be welcoming, but a black man got barred from coming to church because of a white member who racially profiled him. Our United Church of Canada that I chose over my beloved Methodist Church because of their deep concern for social justice hurt me with racism. We should start seriously reflecting on what kind of justice and what kind of welcome we mean when we claim, “All are welcome.” As a church (United Church of Canada), we need to face our subtle biases and reflect on what it means to be a welcoming church.
Let us, as Sicamous United Church, start this process with today’s scripture reading. You may have felt a bit strange when we read today’s New Testament text. If you did, it’s because our denomination does not talk about sin and eternal damnation much. It’s not that we disregard the doctrine concerning sins; we just don’t focus on the sins as much as we do on God’s grace and love, and also, we don’t use the judgmental traditional church language. The point is, however, that God hates sin, and that if we belong to God and Jesus, we should not sin. Let us shortly review what sin is. According to the biblical teachings, there are two types of sins. We call them ‘the sin of commission’ and ‘the sin of omission’. Although the Christian church has always believed in both types of sins, there has been an overemphasis on the sin of commission, doing wrong and bad things. There have not been enough concerns for the sin of omission; the good things that we are taught to do but fail to do. We are taught to follow the teachings and examples of the one we claim to follow.
Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” This is what we heard from today’s gospel reading, but he also said in Matthew chapter 25 that what we do to the least of us is what we do to God. Then, what we fail to do to the least of us is what we fail to do to God. You see, what we might think as being welcoming might not be good enough for God. As disciples belonging to God’s reign, our standards have to be up to God ‘s standard. As Jesus said in Matthew chapter 5, we should be perfect as God in heaven is perfect. This is the standard we are aiming for. This is the standard Jesus requires of us.
We as God’s people are called to be welcoming because this is how we welcome God. However, since we established that none of us is without any bias, we need to radically shift our boundaries of whom to welcome, accept, and love. The love of God’s kingdom is radical because it includes even those who are difficult to love and accept. That old lady in New Jersey, no doubt, knew that she must be loving and accepting. She was just overcome by her prejudice against black men that day on her way to church. The truth is that this woman is not an isolated or special case. One time or another, we all find ourselves in a similar situation where we are subconsciously taken over by our biases. We are all in this together. We have to challenge each other and grow together because God requires more of us. We are all guilty of sins of omission; we fail to live and love up to God’s standards. There are a lot of discussions on racism going on right now. Let us take this as an opportunity to check our own hearts. I urge you all as white people to check your white privilege and listen to the voices of the people of colour, of their experiences of racism. As we celebrate the multiculturalism of this country, we need this radically welcoming spirit more than ever. Let us take the gospel teaching to welcome God by radically welcoming and loving others and let them into our hearts.