“So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth … were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.“ – Ephesians 2:11-16
There’s at least one recurring theme in church growth essays, from the letter to the Ephesians up to the column that will almost certainly appear today in a ministry blog: you were welcomed in, so make sure you welcome others. Especially the ones whose history or practices seem “alien” to you.
The reason the same column has been appearing for about 2,000 years is that we keep forgetting to do it. Or maybe we just haven’t quite figured out how.
One day, from the passenger seat of a hearse, I watched two responses to a funeral procession. At one intersection a neatly coiffed man in shirt, tie, and a shiny new jeep took one look at our line of cars — and promptly peeled rubber and ran a red light to get in front of our slow-moving cortège.
Two blocks later a beaten-up car approached from the opposite direction. The driver had multiple tattoos and piercings. She looked at the hearse — and promptly put out her cigarette and carefully made the sign of the cross.
I’m quite certain that the fellow in the jeep, apart from the boorish behavior, would appear more acceptable in most congregational settings. But the young woman is a model for honoring holiness. I hope I get a chance to welcome her to church, one day, or hear her preach.
God, Holy Unifier, you have made one humanity through the self-giving power of Jesus. We’ve heard the testimony — though we still tend to give welcome to ones like us, and give wariness to others. Grant us grace, today, to recognize you in a stranger. Amen.
John A. Nelson is the Pastor of the Niantic Community Church (UCC/UMC) in Niantic, Connecticut.