On Wednesday, I had a telephone call from the parish of Croydon. Would I go out and collect the stand for the Connect09 material? So I did, and here it is. The idea is that you take some of these gospels and give them to your friends and tell them the good news of Jesus Christ. This is a really good thing to do, even if we feel shy about sharing our faith. I know that some of you have already done it, and that’s great. The books will be on this stand for a while. But then something else will happen. We are posting 2,500 of these gospels to all the street addresses in Stanmore. We’re just waiting on Australia Post to tell us when to give them the books. Who knows, maybe someone will be called by God to visit us at St Luke’s.
On Thursday, John Burns, Jenny Winton and I met to talk about St Luke’s, the Welcoming Church. We are setting up a Welcoming Church Forum for the 20th September. Of course we all know that St Luke’s is a welcoming church, in fact, the last National Church Life Survey said that we welcome people well. But there’s always room for improvement. John and Jenny and I stood in the foyer and thought how we could make the church building more welcoming. We had some ideas, so yesterday, without consulting anyone; I moved the furniture about a bit, to see what people think. I put the welcomers closer to the door and I made a sign to show visitors where the front door is. You can offer your criticisms at morning tea.
You will hear more about the Welcoming Church Forum over the next few weeks, but today I would like to why it is important.
The first reading is the prayer which King Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, a thousand years before Jesus. It is a really good prayer and worth reading yourselves.
King Solomon begins with the words, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no god like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love with your servants.” Solomon is saying, firstly, that God really does exist and that God is faithful and true. It is a bit like the beginning of the Lord’s prayer when we say, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”
Then King Solomon praises God for the great things God has done, that is, making a covenant of faith with King David and keeping that covenant and promise to Solomon, David’s son.
Then Solomon makes his request. Firstly, that God will bless the Temple and let his name live there. Secondly, that God will hear the prayers of Solomon and the people of Israel, to hear and forgive. And thirdly, which is the point I want to make, Solomon prays that when a foreigner hears of God and comes and makes his prayer towards the house of God, Solomon prays that God will hear the foreigner’s prayer and “do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the people of the earth may know your name and fear you.”
The point is that foreigners are important. They are to be welcomed into God’s temple and included in God’s blessing. The message for us is that all visitors are to be welcomed into God’s house of St Luke’s Enmore, and included in God’s blessing. God has brought them to our church and entrusted them to our care.
And the reason that God has brought them here is that God wants them to share in the community of Christ, that is, those who eat Christ’s flesh and drink Christ’s blood. Jesus really said, “If anyone eats me, they will live because of me. Anyone who eats ordinary bread will die, but those who eat this bread will live for ever.”
This means that our Welcoming Church must also offer visitors what God has called them here to receive, that is, Jesus’ words of spirit and life, which Simon Peter calls, “the words of eternal life.” That’s what people come here to find, and part of our hospitality will be to offer them the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Of course some of them will say thank you and go away and we won’t see them again. That’s only to be expected, after all, “many of (Jesus’) disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” But those who come to believe, through our encouragement, those who come to know that Jesus is the Holy One of God.
And that, of course, bring us to the third reading, St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. St Paul was trying to encourage the Ephesians to develop and grow in their faith and he wanted to use a picture which would help them understand. He chose a soldier, or a gladiator, and used that picture. This Christian soldier wears the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness. The soldier is armed with the sword of the Spirit and is protected by the shield of faith. It’s not a complete picture, but that doesn’t matter. The real message is that every Christian needs to carry the equipment needed to face life as a Christian. And this, of course, is what the church is for – to equip the saints.
So the work that we have to do is this. Firstly, provide a heartfelt welcome for strangers and visitors, a welcome that makes them feel included. Secondly, to encourage each other as well as those whom we have welcomed. We want to be able to talk about our faith in a way that is not scary or confronting or incomprehensible. Thirdly, every Christian needs the equipment; faith, hope and love, and we need to help each other to be more faithful, more hopeful and more loving.
This is the way we build the kingdom of God. On the 20th September we will begin by considering St Luke’s Enmore, The Welcoming Church.