There is a new worshipping community being developed in a closed Lutheran church building in the South Wedge neighborhood of Rochester, NY that I think Paul would love. Their website and Facebook page describe themselves in this way:
NOW OFFERING IN WORD AND SACRAMENT:
+SAFE HAVEN FOR THE RELIGIOUSLY HOMELESS+
+WORK FOR THE SPIRITUALLY UNDEREMPLOYED+
+GRACE FOR ALL – NO EXCEPTIONS+
Faith Lutheran Church is currently considering a welcome statement that reflects Paul’s letter to the worshipping community in Galatia. In what many consider to be Paul’s most decisive statement declaring that faith in Jesus has removed all barriers to a relationship with God. All are welcome to be a part of the way of Jesus. God graces followers with faith no matter who they are, no matter what their religious resume or spiritual stature.
Paul reminds us that God gave the law to Moses to keep us in line, to provide rules like we would find in a classroom. So Moses was like a school teacher who God gave to discipline us. But we, like school children across the country this month sing that classic Alice Cooper hard rock classic: Schools Out For Summer…
NO MORE PENCILS, NO MORE BOOKS, NO MORE TEACHER’S DIRTY LOOKS.
We want our summers free. We want to do what we want, when we want, with whom we want. And like our fellow ancestors of Abraham and Sarah who were given school teacher Moses, we wander and sing “schools out for the summer” in the way we live our lives.
That Alice Cooper classic continues with words that come from living life apart from God…
WELL WE GOT NO CLASS. AND WE GOT NO PRINCIPLES.
AND WE GOT NO INNOCENCE. WE CAN’T EVEN THINK OF A WORD THAT RHYMES.
SCHOOLS OUT FOR SUMMER. SCHOOLS OUT FOREVER.
God saw that we like naughty school children, broke the rules and ran wild during the summer, no matter how harsh the discipline. But God loved us and doesn’t leave us alone to run wild. We are so loved that instead of permanent detention, God with us, Jesus, joins us in summer school to make us all God’s children. You and I, children of our heavenly Father, are as Paul reminds, heirs of all God’s promises to Israel.
+ + +
We are all children of God, as are the religiously homeless and spiritually underemployed. If only those 75% of our religiously homeless neighbors would join us here…
- Some of you wish and even pray for this…
- Some of you even go so far as to talk about how God blesses you, and how you’ve found a home in this faith community and your spirituality has been employed in doing God’s work with your hands…
- Some of you have gone so far as to invite your friends, neighbors, and lapsed family members to come here with you to God’s House on Silver Lane to experience grace and be fed…
After all, all are welcome here…right?
For most who participated in Wednesday Faith Night discussions in Lent, engaging in really looking at who is here, who is not here, and why, the welcome statement we are considering makes sense. For others who have not wrestled with the issues of welcome and hospitality at Faith, if we just say “all are welcome,” that covers it. But the reality is there are people across the fence and across the dinner table from us that do not feel welcome in the church, any church, even this one. We are most comfortable welcoming and sharing hospitality with people like us much of the time. We long for things the way they used to be, when this community was more homogeneous, but God has gathered us here in East Hartford, a diverse and rapidly changing mission field.
The Christian church has often condemned and excluded people because of race, culture, age, gender, economic status, disability or sexual orientation. While the Church has made progress by being open and affirming to many groups, there continues to be condemnation, exclusion and segregation in many communities of faith. Where there is not, there is often tolerance of condemnation, exclusion and segregation through silence. We good people of Faith have been silent.
+ + +
Paul of Tarsus knew firsthand what it was like to be an outsider. As someone who lived in a foreign culture as a minority, Paul did not always encounter authentic welcome or gracious hospitality. As a devout person, he boldly lived his religious identity, experiencing life and oppression as an outsider first as a Jew, and later as a Christian in a Gentile world. Paul while a tent maker by trade was also a teacher, the kind who could connect with you in ways that made sense, no matter what you were learning. Like every good teacher, Paul was a life-long learner who connected his experience as a Pharisee and teacher of the law, to his freedom from the law through Jesus, and then spent his life sharing the good news of God’s love for all people.
Paul, the Galatian faithful, and we the people of this faith community, through baptism have been clothed in Christ, claimed and named as children of God. We and all are welcome regardless of our school discipline record, prior religious homelessness, or spiritual underemployment. We are welcomed, loved and gathered by God…
- To be a reflection of the diversity of God’s creation as a community of faith-keeping and faith-seeking people,
- To affirm that every person has worth as a beloved child of God made in the image of God’ and
- To recognize, celebrate and give thanks for the many diverse gifts of God among us while publicly declaring this faith community to be an open place where all people are affirmed and welcomed just the way they are.
Paul reminds us that God’s promise extends to all. God sees no differences among God’s people and sends the Holy Spirit to help us accept everyone, see Jesus in everyone, and to live by example as a welcoming community of faith that is open, understanding, and shares the hospitality of Jesus by offering justice, healing and wholeness of life for all people.
+ + +
Good and Gracious God,
You hold us in Christ, who is our welcome and call us to live in grateful response to your love and grace, welcoming everyone, without exception. We give thanks for the diverse gifts of people of every race, sex, age, color, creed, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital and familial status, health status, physical and mental ability, socioeconomic situation, education level and political affiliation. Guide us as we seek to celebrate the image of you in all people, nurturing meaningful relationships and sharing our collective gifts in response to the world’s deep hunger for hope, love, grace, justice and peace.
May it be so.