Rose Park Sunday School (Adults and Children) at 8:45 a.m. / Worship at 9:45 a.m.

Madison Sunday School (Adults and Children) 10:15 a.m. / Worship at 11:15 a.m.

A Warm Welcome

Based on Acts 16:9-15, Revelation 21:22 – 22:5, John 14:23-29

          I would like for you to go on a little memory excursion with me this morning.  Are you ready?  Ok, here goes.  I want you to take a couple of slow deep breaths in and out.  Relax as much as you can and maybe even close your eyes (some of you have already done that I see).  I want you to picture in your mind a time where you felt truly and completely welcomed.  A time and place where there were no doubts that you belonged and that the folks gathered were excited to have you with them; the warmest and most special welcome you have ever received.  You got it?  Hold onto that feeling for a moment and try to name the emotions…love, unconditional acceptance, warmth, security, peace, joy, calm…others?  Spend a moment in that place.

          Now, I want you to carry those feelings back into this place and time.  This is a place that many of you have come for years.  You have developed friendships, deepened relationships with other humans and hopefully with God.  You have watched generations be welcomed, grow and move out into the world, grounded in the rituals and the relationships of this specific place.  You have also said a proper good-bye to generations who have made certain that this place would be open and welcoming long past their lives.  You have tried to the best of your abilities and gifting to welcome others and to not get in the way of what God is doing in someone’s life. 

          Case-in-point, the good folks at Rose Park do not even lock their Sanctuary, so that anyone at any time can access the space.  A couple of Sundays ago, Lucinda and I walked into the Rose Park Sanctuary to get some things organized for worship and there in one of the pews was a young man.  We said hello and welcomed him.  He said it was a bit cold and I told him I was about to fire up the furnace.  He stayed for worship that day, was welcomed and helped by a number of people, and he even came back again.  He is a young person going through a rough patch and the love and welcome he received has made a difference in his life – and maybe set him on a different path.  Only God knows what will come from the warm welcome he received.

          Our scriptures today speak to us about the warm welcome that we receive when we become members of the Body of Christ.  John’s Gospel speaks eloquently about the power of God’s love to welcome us and give us peace and comfort.  Paul, Timothy and Silas travel to Macedonia at the urging of a vision, and there welcome a woman and her household to God’s embrace through baptism.  Finally, John’s revelation shows how life in the New Jerusalem will welcome all through gates that are never closed.  Before we go farther, let us go to God in thanksgiving for warmly welcoming us all…

          The Revelation of John is coming to an end in our reading for today.  John has just been shown the dimensions of the city of God and he now describes what it will be like for those who get there.  God and the Risen Christ provide the light for the city and there is no longer any night.  People can come anytime as the gates are never closed.  The tree of life provides fruit to eat and leaves that will heal the nations of all ills.  Surely, all will find a warm welcome in the New Jerusalem on Earth.

          Paul and his traveling companions make their way to Macedonia (modern day Greece), following a vision.  They arrive in Philippi and stay there for a number of days.  On the Sabbath they head to the river to a place that is known for prayers.  There they interact with a number of women.  Lydia, a merchant woman from Thyatira, who already worshipped God, was moved by the Holy Spirit to be baptized along with her household.  She welcomed Paul and his friends to stay at her home and to continue to teach her about the kingdom of God.

          The 14th Chapter of the Gospel according to John contains words of comfort that are familiar to any who have attended a Christian funeral.  Jesus is trying to prepare his friends for his upcoming transition from life-to death-to resurrection.  Jesus promises them that He will not leave them orphaned and abandoned.  He will send the Holy Spirit to those who love Jesus and follow His commandments.  Jesus wants them to feel warmly welcomed by Jesus and his Father – both of whom will come and make their home with those who love and obey Jesus.  Jesus wants to leave them with hearts no longer troubled no matter the situation, and so gives them all His peace.

          We have just warmly welcomed two young girls into the community of the greater Body of Christ.  Through our Baptismal liturgy, we all have said these words of welcome:  “…Through baptism you are incorporated by the Holy Spirit into God’s new creation and made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood.  We are all one in Christ Jesus.  With joy and thanksgiving, we welcome you as members of the family of Christ….” This Sacrament of Baptism and its warm welcome have been handed down from the earliest days of Christian belief – we hear from the Book of Acts that baptisms were happening in the name of the Triune God as early as a few years after the Resurrection of the Christ.

          That warm welcome and situation within the family of Christ has meant everything to folks across two millennia.  Think for a moment what it has meant in your life and the lives of those who you have brought to the font – who you have vowed to support and defend over all these years.  There are many different groups to which one belongs during their life, but there is no group like the family of Christ.  This is because the family of Christ has vowed to love one another as God/Jesus continues to love them (as we heard last week).  This means that once baptized into the Body of Christ, they are never orphaned – the transformation wrought by the Holy Spirit is permanent and indelible.  Even if the baptized person decides that they just can’t believe in God/Jesus…God/Jesus still believes in them and calls them beloved.

          Even though both of the newly baptized are quite young, they have today been reborn through God’s Almighty love and the action of the Holy Spirit.  They have been promised that the Holy Spirit will continue to work within them both, that they might grow into faithful disciples of Jesus the Christ.  The job of all the members of the family of Christ is to do everything in our power to teach them, nurture them and love them unconditionally, that they might feel warmly welcomed no matter what Christian church they enter.            Today begins their lives as disciples of the Christ – let no one hinder their journey.  Today we have warmly welcomed them and have vowed to work with God to help them discover and use their gifts to help others know the peace of Christ.  May their hearts never know troubles, may God and Jesus make their home with them, and may they always find a warm welcome within this family.  Thanks be to God…amen!