Thinking and Doing
Coventry Cathedral’s ‘welcome’ notice has rightly become famous in social media (text below).
Think about your church. What could you put as a welcome notice? Try writing one, then sit with it a while and read through it slowly. Do we actually do what we say we do?
“Theory and practice are the same in theory, but in practice they often differ.”
This is my pet. Did you know she’s in the Bible?
Her name is Y Ddraig Bach (‘little dragon’ in Welsh) or Dwagony for short, and she’s in Psalm 148. Can’t see her there? The old translation of verse 7 was ‘Praise the Lord all ye dragons’. Yay!
I’ve never noticed her with her nose in a hymn book, or grooving down to some Hillsong, but then, who knows the inscrutable mind of a dragon? You know what they say. “Meddle not in the affairs of dragons, for thou art crunchy and taste good with ketchup.”
But what has this to do with today’s texts?
It’s belonging. Dwagony belongs in the group of ‘thing that are to praise the Lord’. And she belongs there whether or not I think she does. It’s a theme running through all the readings. Who belongs?
The first Christians were Jews, descendants of Israel. That was the set of people who belonged, the God-box . Boxes are easy. We know who is in (that’s ‘us’) and we know who is out (the nebulous ‘them’).
Peter got it in the neck for being with people who were supposedly outside of the God-box. But then God went and mucked up the nice, simple us-and-them and I’m very grateful he did, because I’d have been outside, just like the vast majority of the Christian church today.
God’s limits for who may come are scandalously wide. Jesus spend most of his ministry being criticised for making the boundaries wider than people thought they should be.
“Love one another”, he said. Do you notice the ‘if’ and the ‘unless’ and the ‘except’? No, me neither. There are no caveats, no conditions, no get-out clauses.
The Good Samari … What? But they’re scum!
Love your enemies. Are you serious?
Unfortunately, yes. And it’s a pain in the bum.
Its probably the hardest bit of being a Christian, and I have to confess that I’m usually rubbish at it. On a good day I might rise to ‘tolerate’ and ‘be civil to’ folks I find irritating/ repellent / offensive. But I don’t think I ever manage ‘love’.
I’d feel a lot more comfortable with some nice, neat boundaries. Love those inside, and smugly disregard those outside. The people on the inside, of course, are the ‘nice’ people. People I feel safe with. People I understand. People like me.
This kind of attitude has been responsible for much of our world’s woes. We decide where the walls are, we put others on the outside, and then treat them badly because they are not ‘us’. We do not want them in God’s family because they’ll spoil it. In Jesus’ day the Samaritans were the not-nice people, the ‘them’. I wonder who it is now.
Revelation talks of the time when this old order of things will pass away, and the mourning and crying and pain that our divisions cause will pass away with it. But while we are here on Earth, we must work towards that day.
If the Bible teaches me anything, it’s that the walls of my boxes need kicking down. And they need kicking down from the inside. God’s people weren’t originally limited to Israel’s sons. That didn’t start until half way through Genesis. From the beginning of the Bible to the end the welcome is for everyone.
Everyone. Not just people like me. Some will be people I would prefer not to share my box with. But that’s my problem.
“Love one another.”
“What?” I ask incredulously, “Even people who … (fill in pet hate)?”
“Yes”, God says, looking pointedly in my direction, “Even people who ask stupid questions.”
Oh yes. And Dragons.
Acts 11:1-18 J.B. Phillips New Testament
Now the apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received God’s message. So when Peter next visited Jerusalem the circumcision-party were full of criticism, saying to him, “You actually went in and shared a meal with uncircumcised men!”
But Peter began to explain how the situation had actually arisen.
“I was in the city of Joppa praying,” he said, “and while completely unconscious of my surroundings I saw a vision—something like a great sheet coming down towards me, let down from heaven by its four corners. It came right down to me and when I looked at it closely I saw animals and wild beasts, reptiles and birds. Then I heard a voice say to me, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘Never, Lord, for nothing common or unclean has ever passed my lips.’ But the voice from Heaven spoke a second time and said, ‘You must not call what God has cleansed common.’ This happened three times, and then the whole thing was drawn up again into heaven. The extraordinary thing is that at that very moment three men arrived at the house where we were staying, sent to me personally from Caesarea. The Spirit told me to go with these men without any misgiving. And these six of our brothers accompanied me and we went into the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, surnamed Peter. He will give you a message which will save both you and your whole household.’ While I was beginning to tell them this message the Holy spirit fell upon them just as on us at the beginning. There came into my mind the words of our Lord when he said, ‘John indeed baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them exactly the same gift as he gave to us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could hinder the working of God?”
When they heard this they had no further objection to raise. And they praised God, saying, “Then obviously God has given to the Gentiles as well the gift of repentance which leads to life.”
John 13:31-35 J.B. Phillips New Testament
When he had gone, Jesus spoke, “Now comes the glory of the Son of Man, and the glory of God in him! If God is glorified through him then God will glorify the Son of Man—and that without delay. Oh, my children, I am with you such a short time! You will look for me and I have to tell you as I told the Jews, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow.’ Now I am giving you a new command—love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another. This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another.”
Revelation 21:1-8 J.B. Phillips New Testament
Then I saw a new Heaven and a new earth, for the first Heaven and the first earth had disappeared and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending from God out of Heaven, prepared as a bride dressed in beauty for her husband. Then I heard a great voice from the throne crying, “See! The home of God is with men, and he will live among them. They shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death shall be no more, and never again shall there be sorrow or crying or pain. For all those former things are past and gone.”
Then he who is seated upon the throne said, “See, I am making all thing new!” And he added, “Write this down for my words are true and to be trusted!”
Then he said to me, “It is done! I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the thirsty water without price from the fountain of life.
Psalm 148 The Message
Praise God from heaven,
praise him from the mountaintops;
Praise him, all you his angels,
praise him, all you his warriors,
Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, you morning stars;
Praise him, high heaven,
praise him, heavenly rain clouds;
Praise, oh let them praise the name of God—
he spoke the word, and there they were!
He set them in place
from all time to eternity;
He gave his orders,
and that’s it!
Praise God from earth,
you sea dragons, you fathomless ocean deeps;
Fire and hail, snow and ice,
hurricanes obeying his orders;
Mountains and all hills,
apple orchards and cedar forests;
Wild beasts and herds of cattle,
snakes, and birds in flight;
Earth’s kings and all races,
leaders and important people,
Robust men and women in their prime,
and yes, graybeards and little children.
Let them praise the name of God—
it’s the only Name worth praising.
His radiance exceeds anything in earth and sky;
he’s built a monument—his very own people!
Praise from all who love God!
Israel’s children, intimate friends of God.
J.B. Phillips New Testament: The New Testament in Modern English by J.B Phillips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips. Administered by The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. Used by Permission.
The Message: Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
“Theory and practice” from Benjamin Brewster, The Yale Literary Magazine, 1882
Coventry Cathedral’s welcome notice
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, straight, gay, confused, well-heeled or down at heel. We especially welcome wailing babies and excited toddlers.
We welcome you whether you can sing like Pavarotti or just growl quietly to yourself. You’re welcome here if you’re ‘just browsing,’ just woken up or just got out of prison. We don’t care if you’re more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury, or haven’t been to church since Christmas ten years ago.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome keep-fit mums, football dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems, are down in the dumps or don’t like ‘organised religion.’ (We’re not that keen on it either!)
We offer a welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or are here because granny is visiting and wanted to come to the Cathedral.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced, both or neither. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throat as kids or got lost on the ring road and wound up here by mistake. We welcome pilgrims, tourists, seekers, doubters … and you!