Sermon Title: “Welcome” by Pastor Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  This Sunday and the following two Sundays our worship themes will be based on the theme and some of the scripture texts for Church of the Brethren Annual Conference.  This is the Big Meeting of the church, when Brethren from all over the country and from countries around the world, meet to do church business, become better equipped for the work of the kingdom, worship together, visit with each other, and eat ice cream.  Some of us have attended Annual Conference over decades or even a lifetime, for some, Grand Rapids 2024 will be their first Annual Conference.  I’m not going to go into detail about the business, but you may read about that online, or there will be a preview in the Creekside Connection next week.  We’ll say a bit more next week about who will be attending in-person from Creekside.  There are registration fees for attendees, but anyone anywhere can watch worship services on LiveStream at no charge.  We’ll be sending that information out from the office.

This morning and next week, I want to share the theme and some of the Moderator’s interpretive statement, and share some of my own thoughts.  The Moderator is the individual who runs the business sessions, using Robert’s Rules of Order.  This person is elected by the delegates of Annual Conference, two years before they serve as Moderator.  They are in the role of Moderator-Elect for one year, and are the Moderator for one Annual Conference.  The Moderator chooses the theme for Annual Conference, participate in planning worship, and usually preaches for the opening worship service. This year’s Moderator is Madalyn Metzger; she and her husband live in Bristol, Indiana, and Madelyn is part of Goshen City Church of the Brethren.  She is an executive at Everence.  Many of you have met Madelyn, or may have heard her speak at district events, including last year’s Northern Indiana District Conference.  She is the first Asian-American to serve in the role of Moderator. Jan and Ron Nicodemus have a special connection and affection for Madelyn; that is their story, but I think they’d be willing to share it with you.

We’ve been sharing the logo for Annual Conference the past few weeks and I noted it in the announcements this morning.  [Slide 1]  The theme is Welcome + Worthy and it’s the reason you’re going to be seeing gold, orange, and coral here at Creekside in the coming weeks.  Here is part of what Madelyn has to say about this theme:

In today’s society, we spend a lot of time wondering if we’re worthy.  And whether we admit it or not, we spend a lot of time assessing others based on our own standards.  We do this because we’ve set up “rules” for ourselves since before we can remember — rules that have been influenced by our families, neighbors, teachers, and experiences.  These rules are how we make sense of the world.

But when taken to an extreme, they can also limit our understanding of the infinite worth of every human being.  They can painfully and disruptively fracture our relationships.  And they can run contrary to God’s Word and the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Since the early 18th Century beginnings of the Brethren movement, we’ve been a faith family which has chosen another way of living: the way of Christ.  We are people called to live and experience our faith together in service to God and each other.  And every person in our faith community shares in the spiritual direction of the church.  All our spiritual gifts are needed if we are to function together as the Body of Christ. [Slide Down]

That is all I will quote from Madelyn’s statement, but I want to note that it sure sounds like “Everybody for the Body” to me.  That was a phrase I shared last week, along with Paul’s charge to no longer regard anyone from a human point of view, for if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.  I believe this dovetails with the Annual Conference theme, and I want to focus on the concept of Welcome.

The text which Cary read from Romans 15 begins with Paul asking his readers to live in harmony by glorifying God and Jesus Christ with one voice.  I’m not sure the original Greek had all the overtones I hear with the words harmony and one voice, but as a practitioner of choral music it is an irresistible metaphor.  Of course you have to have more than one voice to sing in harmony — it takes at least two, but it can be hundreds of even thousands of people.  Singing as one voice doesn’t mean only one person, it means that everyone is singing the same song; ideally at the same time.  The song we should be singing is a doxology; literally words of praise directed to God.  This is the choir we are called to be, whatever our singing ability.  Being the voice of praise and each of us having a part to sing is another way of being the body of Christ.

It is interesting that the very next words which Paul writes are these, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  I want to explore that connection between praising God with one voice and welcoming one another.  [Slide]   There are, of course, many, many ways to say the word Welcome, as well as many ways in which to be welcoming — not all of which include using words.  There are, of course, words which are not welcoming no matter what language you’re speaking.  I don’t have to tell you what those are, hopefully you have not had occasion to use them or had them used to you.  But I would also note that silence is rarely welcoming.  You can certainly have a companionable silence with someone you know and are comfortable with, but if you meet someone new and don’t say anything, like even, “Hello, I’m Rosanna,” it’s going to be pretty difficult for the other person to feel as if they have been welcomed.  [Slide down]

I believe there is a direct correlation between how welcoming we are to others and how secure we are that we have been welcomed ourselves.  In other words, it’s tough to make someone else feel like they belong here if I’m not sure if I belong here.  This is not just a “Hey, let’s be friendly!” issue, it is a theological issue.  It isn’t just about being welcoming, it is about how we understand our own worth.

As you know, there is a whole hospitality industry out there — entertainment, dining, hotels.  Some of you may have worked in this industry.  Like any industry, the hospitality industry is based on your ability to pay for those services, and with few exceptions, if you want better food or a more luxurious hotel room, you have to pay more.  That kind of hospitality is based on how much we want to pay.  Christian hospitality, on the other hand — the kind which Paul is talking about when he writes Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you — is based on what has already been paid — not by us, but by Christ.  It is hospitality to one another because Jesus has already paid the price for accepting us, and has paid it forward for everyone else.  That is the kind of hospitality that we who describe ourselves using Christ’s name are called to.  And that kind of hospitality is never cheap.  It cost Jesus his life.  It means more than buying coffee and donuts for Sunday morning, it means being willing to invest ourselves in welcoming one another.  Welcoming one another is risky, but it is one of the ways which we join our voices in harmony with others who understand that because Christ has welcomed me, I am called to welcome you.

Welcome is not such much a program, or even a practice, as it is an understanding of ourselves.  Not as perfect, not as superior, not as the folks with all the answers, but as the person who wants you to belong here, because I belong here.  Welcome one another as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.  If we believe all that stuff the Bible says about Jesus’ teaching, and salvation and redemption — you know, that stuff we talk about here at Creekside on a regular basis — if that has an impact on how you see yourself and your value to God and the work of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Spirit and that everybody can be for the Body, it is not a radical notion that we should welcome one another.  In fact, any theology which does not acknowledge our responsibility to other people is incomplete — conspicuously incomplete.  It’s like trying to be the body of Christ with only one finger; or thinking you’re a great choir when you are singing by yourself.This morning we remember what we believe about God and Jesus Christ and the Spirit, because that shapes who we are and how we welcome others.  As always, you are invited to sing your praise to the glory of God in your own voice, and in harmony with the voices around you.