Cead Mille Failte


Cead mille failte... A sign that you see all over Ireland, although perhaps not in Ballybeen where I work, since Gaelic is not the lingua franca there. But it wishes guests a hundred thousand welcomes... And frankly I feel as if I and my family have received a hundred thousand welcomes since our arrival here in Grand Rapids. I only hope and pray that my exchange partners Geoff and Pam Hayes feel as welcome back in Belfast.
Both Geoff and myself decided to preach on the theme of welcome this morning since the lectionary reading from the Gospel for today was from Matthew 10 when Jesus sent his disciples out telling them
"He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10: 40 Revised Standard Version)
But its all very well when the person you are to receive comes with a lot of notice and wearing a clerical collar, but how welcoming are we when Christ comes incognito and unannounced.
A few years ago I spent a 3 month sabbatical going round worship services in various churches in Northern Ireland that had a reputation for engaging with their local communities, and the sad thing is in only 2 churches out of 22 was I welcomed by anyone other than the official meeters and greeters, or someone else who actually knew me…
Elsewhere, in Matthew's gospel in chapter 25 where Jesus tells the great parable of the Judgement Day, when the Son of Man divides the people like a shepherd dividing out sheep and goats, one of the dividing criteria was the welcome offered to others… It says in the Revised Standard Version:
I was a stranger and you welcomed me… (Matthew 25: 35 Revised Standard Version)
I prefer that translation to the NIV which says:
I was a stranger and you invited me in… (Matthew 25: 35 Anglicised New International Version)
There is a world of difference between inviting people in and welcoming them… In church we constantly invite people to come and join us week by week as we seek to worship, serve and follow Jesus… We may invite them, but do we really welcome them?
I'll return again to this theme tomorrow... But in the meantime, remember the words of the writer to the Hebrews, who, drawing on the story about Abraham in Genesis 18, says
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2 Anglicised New International Version)

Comments

GWJ said…
Visitors to church don't always want a welcome, though. Cathedral attendances in the UK are growing, perhaps because you can go, worship and leave without being clasped by the hand and asked to account for who you are and why you are there.

It's not perhaps the way you want to be for ever and always; but there is a ministry to those who want to be a part but discreetly.

GWJ
You're right... And there have been times when I have been glad of somewhere that I could be anonymous in worship. However, those places that offer such a ministry need to do so intentionally. Some cathedrals and city centre congregations do see that as part of their role. Other places simply don't notice the stranger because they are so interested in themselves.
Equally I agree that its not the way that people should be (or be allowed to be) forever and ever... It is not good for man (or woman) to be alone... at least not for too long... It may at times be easier for both the "loner" and the cosy local church... But both are ultimately losers to some extent because of it...

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