“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”– Romans 15:7 (New Revised Standard Version)
Our theme for charge conferences this year is “See All the People.” We receive this theme from the Virginia annual conference, who is borrowing it from United Methodist Discipleship Resources. See all the people!
Over the past six months, our churches have been seeing people we are not used to seeing: people who worship online but might not come to worship in a building; people we have shared with and cared for, who have shared with us and who have cared for us, whom we might not have seen apart from the pandemic; people we have needed to hear and learn from their stories as we come to terms with the demands for racial justice; people with whom we have entered into the world of virtual at-home schooling, whom we might not otherwise have known. The list goes on. All of the challenges that have arisen this year have helped to open our eyes to see people, more people, in new ways. We are on the way to seeing all the people, almost by accident.
Still, there are plenty of people who we may not be seeing. Not merely taking them into our field of vision, but actually noticing and paying attention to.
In the Letter to the Romans, Paul has written 14 long chapters about the work of God, through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to save the world from the grips of sin and death, as well as the implications of God’s work for our work also. Finally, he is coming to the home stretch of his letter. Only two chapters to go. He takes a deep breath, indicated by the word “therefore” and tries to pull things together.
In Rome, there were lots of differences among peoples. There were various ways of dividing people up into categories. The tendency then, as now, was to gravitate toward people who were in the categories like you, to see mostly the people in your own orbit, and to distance yourself from “others.”
Paul is trying to convince them of another way of living and seeing, based on the love of God poured out for all people in the saving grace of Jesus. He is inviting them to what New Testament scholar Sarah Heaner Lancaster calls “The Wide Welcome” (Romans: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, p. 248). Instead of drawing the circle small and tight, Paul throws open the gates wide and far. “As Christ has welcomed you,”
Paul says. The welcome of Christ has gone out to all who are created in God’s image, to every human being, in an act of God that erases all distinctions between us. Now, Paul wants us to see that what Jesus has done for all, we will do for one another. Welcome one another, not according to our definitions of a sufficient or even extravagant welcome. But welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you.
As we enter into another season of election for our nation’s President, we are reminded afresh that the Church does not operate from the categories of political parties or social ranks or other groupings of identity. The Church operates from the perspective of Jesus, with a wide and loving welcome. In church, we expect people will have differences in many ways, including strong differences of political opinions. But in church, those opinions are not what counts, even during a time of heightened political rhetoric. In church, we know that Jesus brings together today, as in ancient Rome, people who come from lots of different places. May we see everyone as part of the same beloved community, as siblings in Christ’s all-encompassing love, above all. And may that be what holds us together through these stressful times. The world needs the church now as much as ever to be faithful to the story of Jesus, and to live it out in our life together.
Grace and Peace,