Most people who know me well know that faith, to me, is more an intellectual journey than it is an emotional journey. For better or worse, when I see people emotionally excited about faith and talking about how their ‘hearts’ have been changed, I tend to step back, and I’m not sure it’s because I mistrust their emotions or because I envy them. Faith, at its best, like most things, requires intellect and emotion. Some people lean one way, some lean the other way. In a perfect world, I suspect, a person ought to have a perfect balance of both. It rarely works that way.
I am not an emotional person, by nature, and I do not approach faith from an emotional perspective. To me, inspiration comes when things make sense. As a result, I rarely get passionate about things; I tend to approach them analytically.
But I have found, in my faith, something to be passionate about. It comes via an intellectual journey, but is also comes from my heart.
At St. Marks United Church of Christ we begin each Worship Service with the words, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” They are the new ‘slogan,’ if you will, of the United Church of Christ as a denomination. If one sees one of the United Church of Christ commercials, they always end with those words.
I’ve come to believe that these words are a Biblical and spiritual mandate. “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” They are not chapter and verse anywhere, but they come from someplace else. The bigger picture.
I decided to read the four Gospels in their entirety. The more I read, the more I realized that we have, often as a culture within Christianity, seemed to have missed something in the Gospels. We have been so busy cutting them up into little pieces and using little verses out of them, that we have missed that they were not written and not intended to be read as a collection of verses, but as whole documents.
Jesus speak of two things over and over again. The first thing he spoke of was caring for the less fortunate among us. Over and over again, he spoke about this. Jesus’ economic advice was that if you really want to be rich you need to sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and follow Jesus. In a larger interpretation of this he was making a point of owning what you own as opposed to letting what you own, own you. If there are poor people in our midst, we are all responsible for them. If you read the entire Gospel, start to finish, it is impossible not to come away with this. If there are poor people in our midst, we are responsible for them. How we do it may be a great political question; but that we do it is a Biblical mandate.
How this evolves into seminars on how Jesus can make your business more profitable----and we see these all the time, eludes me, but, so be it.
There is a Gospel mandate. If there are poor in our midst, we are responsible for them.
For churches the mandate towards the poor is simply this: “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
The second big picture item in the Gospel is to welcome and embrace those who know one else will welcome and embrace. The Christian Church has been good about this, with a qualification that goes to the point of that it is important to welcome and embrace all those people who are a lot like us.
The problem is that when we, as a Christian Church embrace only those who are like us, we miss the point. The people Jesus associated with, in large part, were people large sectors of society rejected.
The sinners-----or those people others called sinners.
The call of Levi/Matthew was an amazing call. Levi, so named in Mark and Luke, and Matthew, so named in Matthew, was a tax collector. A tax collector was a person who would normally steal from his own people----under Roman guard and with Roman authority. Levi/Matthew would have been seen as a heinous sinner by most; yet Jesus called him.
The reason, for Jesus,” No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
Those words, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here,” are words that, to me, are truly something to be passionate about. They are words I know, my church, and me, try to live by.