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Welcome One Another as Christ Welcomed You
Romans 15:7

(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg


Scripture:  Romans 15
15 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. 2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” 4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs 9 so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written:

Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing hymns to your name.”
10 Again, it says,
Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”
11 And again,
Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and sing praises to him, all you peoples.”
12 And again, Isaiah says,
The Root of Jesse will spring up,
one who will arise to rule over the nations;
the Gentiles will hope in him.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.


I want to spend a few minutes reflecting with you on this verse within its context
Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
Another translation (RSV) translates this"

Welcome one another, then,
just as Christ welcomed you,
in order to bring glory to God.

I would like to spend a few minutes reflecting on that theme of welcoming one another this morning. Everyone of us has experienced being welcomed by others. And probably everyone of us has experienced what it means not to be welcomed, whether it is at a home, in a circle of friends, or at a church, we probably remember the sting of not being welcomed fairly well. What did that lack of welcome feel like? How did it wound you?

As a pastor, I have the privilege of making many visits, and I almost always feel welcomed. Peoples homes are open. They are glad to see me. There are however a few exceptions. One time in a previous congregation I called up a young couple to see if I could come to visit. They were polite and kind in their response. We set up a time for the visit, I arrived, I came to a locked door. No answer. No one home. It is possible after three days for people to forget. You know how notoriously difficult it is to remember small things in our busy world. So I called them up the next day, and they forgot. I set up another appointment, and sure enough, when I arrived, they were not home again! I was starting to get the message, but being fairly thick headed and persistent I called a third time, set a third appointment, this time came a few minutes early (to make sure they would be home.) This time they were home. During the visit, Hockey Night in Canada was on so loud that it was impossible to have a conversation. And the TV did not get turned off. And their dog sat in front of me snarling at me, virtually the whole visit, and they did not call him off. I got the point. You can only run into a brick wall so often. I was not welcome and I knew it. They had been giving me a message, they had at first politely let me know I was not welcome, this time they made sure I knew. A pastor in their life was not something they wanted!

As we look at our own hearts, this passage challenges us to ask: Why is it that we sometimes don’t welcome people? What is going on in us that causes us to place barriers between us and others?

I suggest to you this morning that we place barriers between us and others, we do not welcome them for the simple reason that we fear they are going to change us, change who we are and our self image, change our circle of friends, change our families, change our economic status.

Some simple illustrations. If you are rich, you become reluctant to let a thief into your home, he may change your economic status. So we have alarm systems that say “Thieves not welcome.”

If we have a circle of friends in which we feel very comfortable, and we have worked hard at that level of comfort, we often are reluctant to let someone else come in. They might change the dynamics of the group. And so by our back turned, by our conversations directed only at friends, we put out the message, “Newcomers not welcome.”

Maybe we feel we are good upstanding people, and if we associate with someone who is not, well, it might affect us, or our children, or our family. And so by our subtle prejudices, by our lack of action, by our indifference, we put out the sign “People who are different need not enter.” And the danger of religion as Miroslav Volf in his wonderful book “Exclusion and Embrace”(72-79) points out, is that sometimes this prejudice, sometimes this un-welcoming posture, is seen as a virtue. The people in Jesus time were experts at not welcoming. It was seen as a virtue if a person did not associate with sinners, what they might call low-lifes - like tax collectors, prostitutes, divorcees. The Israelites after all were children of Abraham and followers of Moses and their status as the people of God was contingent on their uprightness according to the laws of Moses. They had a sense of holiness as God’s chosen people by which they wanted nothing to do with that which was impure, unclean, unholy. As part of their religion, they virtuously excluded others for fear that it might change who they themselves were. They abandoned the needy among them. They avoided every non Israelite, the Gentiles, the unclean. Like the story of the good Samaritan, it was their religious duty to walk on the other side of the street and avoid the wounded individual in the road who might defile them.

We do not welcome, because we fear that someone new may change us.

Our passage says, Accept (Welcome) one another, then, just as Christ accepted (welcomed) you, in order to bring praise to God.
This passage tells us that Christ welcomed us. It pushes us to ask the question, well, if Christ welcomed us, was there a sense before Christ in which God did not welcome us.

The answer is Yes. But let me explain.

If you recall the story of scripture, humanity was welcomed by God into his good creation. But Adam and Eve, choosing not to obey a simple command, rebelled against God and falling into sin, they were excluded from the Garden of Eden. God effectively said “Sinners are not welcome here.” The reason for that is simple. Scripture pictures God as a Holy God, a pure and perfect being where in him there is no mixture. The prophet Isaiah chapter 6 sees the angels around God’s throne crying out “Holy, Holy, Holy!” as if using the word Holy once is insufficient. God is not only holy, his holiness is holy, and even that is not enough, there is not even one microscopic part of God that is not holy. And if Israel did not feel welcomed by this Holy Holy Holy God, Isaiah 59 told them that it was their sin that separated them from him. One of the fundamental truths of scripture is that God’s holiness and humanity’s sinfulness are entirely incompatible. So God placed a barrier between himself and people. If you look throughout the Old Testament, you see the pattern repeated in the structure of the Tabernacle and the Temple. Both the tent of the tabernacle and the design of the temple were designed to keep people away from the holy of holies, the innermost part of the Israelite place of worship because that was where a thrice Holy God sat. When Israel under the leadership of evil kings and false prophets worship idols, they were exiled to Babylon, even this exile was a separation, an unwelcome from God. Ezekiel would remind them again and again that they had profaned God’s Holy name while they were in his land. Sinners were kept from God, from his house, from his table of fellowship because God was holy and they were not. And for God to accept sin in his presence would be to change who God was.

But at the heart of all the scriptures is a much bigger truth. The triune God, separated from the creation he made, was profoundly lonely. Again and again, in the scriptures, there are pictures of the love of God, crying out to his people to come for a visit. But how can sinners visit a holy holy holy God?

They couldn’t.

So God choose to come a visit us. That’s the story of the incarnation - Jesus birth in Bethlehem. God choose to visit us. But this visit had everything to do with God choosing to expose himself, make himself vulnerable to that which is not holy. He broke down any walls that kept us away. (At this point I kicked down a picket fence that we had built around the Communion table. )

Paul in Philippians 3 says it bluntly. Jesus, who was by very nature God choose not to hold onto his God - likeness, he choose to let go of being equal to God, he became like us - in human flesh. He exposed himself to us, as Isaiah says in chapter 53, he became familiar with our suffering, our pain, our temptations, our struggles. He so emptied himself that he made himself vulnerable to being changed by us. He became poor so that he might welcome thieves. He emptied himself of holiness so that he might welcome sinners. He choose to become friendless so that there was room in him for new friends - you and me. In the poverty of Christ, we discover the riches of God.

Accept (Welcome) one another, then, just as Christ accepted (welcomed) you, in order to bring praise to God.

As I stand before this communion table, let me conclude by pointing out how we responded to Christ when he came. Christ was different. Everyone noticed it. The people noticed the profound authority of his words. The religious leaders noticed his claim to forgive sins, they thought it a blasphemous claim that he was equivalent to God. But he was different. And when push came to shove, we as represented by Israel at that time did not want to have anything to do with him. So we put out the “you’re not welcome” sign. We rejected him, ignored him as he was crucified but little did we know that as we crucified him, we crucified the body of God, with arms open wide to receive us. And so the gospels note that when Christ died, the curtain in the temple the divided the holy of holies from the rest of the temple, the curtain that said “Sinners are not welcome in the presence of God.” that curtain was torn wide open from top to bottom. God removed the barrier, God in emptying himself in Christ has now said “Welcome! Come to me.”

Now he calls us to come, and in coming, welcome one another. And if that means that like Christ, we need to empty ourselves to make room for each other, then that is what we must do. If it means regarding our riches as disposable so that we can welcome a thief, that is what we must do. If we must open our circle of friends and be changed, that is what we must do. If it means being vulnerable to being wounded, like Christ - then that is what it means. As Henri Nouwen has said in his book “Reaching Out:”

“Our fulfillment is in offering emptiness,
our usefulness in becoming useless,
our power in becoming powerless.”

As we in this coming year seek to be a welcoming community, may others find the welcome room of Christ in our hearts, in our lives and in our homes.


 


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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