This week's Bible study post (Uh, What?) provides a somewhat comical beginning to what is today's sermon at a joint worship service with the Church of the Open Door and Brentwood Congregational United Church of Christ in St. Louis, Missiouri. I've been at the Widening the Welcome Conference all weekend and today I'm sharing some of what I've learned here.
"A Place" podcast
Today's Bible reading is from Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
This week’s Bible reading from Jeremiah 32 has a whole lot of “times are tough . . . blah blah . . . here are some names you will have trouble pronouncing. . . blah blah . . . buy some fields . . . blah blah . . . make the transactions all legal . . . blah blah . . . protect the deeds so they last . . . :”
And then one great line at the end. “Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”
Things are tough – but better times are coming.
It’s a theme that runs through all the Bible. God creates, we mess up, God restores, we mess up, God restores, we mess up . . .
Things are tough – God restores.
In this week's reading the restoration is about land. Notice that the land isn’t taken by force. It isn’t taken away from someone who is now without a place. The land is purchased with an eye on a time of restoration coming.
There is something comforting about having a place.
A place to rest, a place to be safe, a place to gather, a place to be welcomed.
This past week your pastor Susan and I were at a conference called ‘Widening the Welcome'. It has been about developing the life of congregations to include persons with disabilities and persons with mental illness/brain disorders and their families. That particular category includes one out of four families. Widening the Welcome, while being a movement that focuses on widening the welcome to people who are affected by disability, brain disorders, and mental illness, is really a movement about inclusion for all.
A place for all.
Do you know who was, and is, really good at including all?
As Bob Molsberry, Ohio Conference Minister, said at our gathering, “Jesus unique contribution to the culture he lived in wasn’t in the miracles and the healing. There were other miracle healers in his time. Jesus unique contribution to the culture he lived in was in reaching beyond barriers.”
Jesus reached beyond barriers that made it impossible for people to be included. Jesus reached beyond barriers that made it impossible for people to have a place to rest, a place to be safe, a place to gather, a place to be welcomed.
God’s realm has been ADA compliant for more than 2000 years.
People who are blind are included. People who have traumatic brain injuries are included. People with serious mental illness are included. People who do not walk are included. People who have memory loss are included. People with PTSD are included. People who use substances and are addicted are included. People who are deaf are included.
Do you get the picture from our conference? EVERYONE is included!
And if that kind of inspiration isn’t enough, we also were charged - challenged - sent out – with these words from the President and General Minister of the United Church of Christ, Geoffrey Black: “It’s time to stop writing resolutions and instead to build and act on them.” He also said that this Widening the Welcome conference was and is so much more. Widening the Welcome is a movement within the movement known as the United Church of Christ.
So. . . We have just been through something transformational. It was a conference. It is a movement. We have been charged, challenged, and sent out to put widening the welcome into practice.
And we start right now.
We start by increasing the radical hospitality God has called us to do. We start by getting ready for there to be no us and them in this widening the welcome, but rather guests and hosts who serve and are served. Equals sit at the table together. New friends break bread together. People are changed for the better because they have been in one another’s presence. People are changed for the better because as they have gathered in love they have also gathered in God’s presence.
We also start by acknowledging the intrinsic value of every person – not because they produce or are successful or are even friendly, but because they are a valuable child of our God.
We have a challenge before us. I know that I get to go home and I’ve left this charge right in front of you. Please know that I go to give the same charge to the church I serve in Somonauk, IL. In Somonauk we have and continue to welcome people who are blind, people with cognitive disorders, people who do not walk, and people other brain disorders. And we can and will do better at widening the welcome to include everyone.
I will introduce a resource to help the congregation I serve set up a local mental health team. I don’t know what yet you will be doing here, but I know that it will involve widening the welcome!
Why? Because how we welcome communicates to others how we see God. How we welcome others communicates how others experience God.
I want people’s experience with our congregations to be ones that help all to experience God’s extraordinary, radical hospitality. I want all to experience place to rest, a place to be safe, a place to gather, a place to be welcomed.
May we all have such a place. How are we going to respond to offer everyone such a place?
Close with prayer.