We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, y no habla ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail, or could stand to lose a few pounds. We welcome you if you sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor, who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re just browsing, just woke up, or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you are more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been to church since little Joey’s baptism. 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 soccer moms, NASCAR 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, or if you’re down in the dumps, or if you don’t like “organized religion”, we’ve been there too. If you blew all your offering money at the casino, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, who work hard, who don’t work, can’t spell, or come because Grandma is in town and wanted to go to church. We welcome those who are inked, pierced, or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throat as a kid, or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts ….. and you!!!
The above statement of welcome was taken from the church bulletin of a Roman Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, LA. Imagine if this statement were printed in every place of worship in the US this weekend. What would the be reaction in your community? Would people think it was funny or a joke? What if every minister of the Gospel read this aloud and said, “This is who we are … and this is what we are about! If you feel uncomfortable with this, maybe you need to worship elsewhere!”
How big is God? How big is OUR God? How big is our Church?
Contrast the above quoted statement with the reaction [July 3, 2013] of Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez, Cardinal Archbishop of Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, when he was asked to react to the appointment of James Brewster [openly gay man] as US Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. The good Cardinal responded: “faggot.” How big is “his” Church? Would you want to listen to him preach about “love of neighbor?”
As we are made dizzy and numb by, first, the reported statements Paula Deen made some years ago — and now the reaction to the George Zimmerman trial in the death of Trayvon Martin —- there are a lot of things I do not know. I really do not know what to say. One thing I do know: the CHURCH and people of faith cannot “afford to draw lines and create boundaries.”
Literally, when I have been asked, “what do you think about the Zimmerman verdict?” or, “what do you think we need to do?”, I have responded — I do not know. I am weary and tired.
In Genesis 18:1-10, we learn about Abraham before the Lord. And then three men appear — as a model of hospitality, Abraham calls for the flour to be kneaded, the rolls made, the tender, choice steer prepared —- and then he waited on them while they ate. Because of his welcome — he and Sarah were rewarded with a child. Welcoming the stranger brought a child — new life — the birth of a nation. Imagine what the result might have been if the strangers were told to “go back where you came from,” …. or …. “now, you don’t BELONG here …. so move on along.”
In the Gospel [Luke 10:38-42], Martha has ideas about what Mary should be doing …. after all, she did belong in the kitchen. If only Mary would have conformed to what Martha expected — there would have been no dispute. And of course, Martha expected that Jesus would agree with her. Oh, what a surprise ……Jesus had other thoughts, Jesus saw things differently than she did ….. for that moment, Martha had chosen the better part.
HONESTLY: I see race and I see gender. I see age and I see size. I have a fairly good sense of those who agree with my thinking and those who think differently. I am pretty sure that one of my siblings vote the way I do — and I am fairly certain that the other three vote differently. I pray and I try to work —- so that our differences do not make a difference, so that our differences do not matter.
Fr. Bill Daley is a Catholic priest on the faculty of the Law School at the University of Notre Dame. On t.v. this past weekend, in commenting on the Zimmerman verdict, he said, ” we need to ask — what makes a man feel that he must pack a loaded gun when he leaves his house?” Good question. What is going on in our world when we leave with that kind of suspicion or fear. Can we ease the tension? Can we remove the fear? Can we bring calm where there is tension?
We can choose to welcome or we can choose to ignore. We can choose to appease or we can choose to divide. We can choose to allow ourselves to be riled up by hate-mongers or we can “turn them off” and remain calm.
What is this “better part” of which Jesus speaks? He tells us that “IT” will not be taken from us. Maybe the practical application is to ask ourselves — when faced with a choice — what is the better part and what is the lesser part? Literally, this is a time to ask, “what would Jesus do today?” When Pope Francis chose a Ford Focus for his car rather than the usual Mercedes or BMW, it made news simply because it was so different. It was unexpected. His choice of a car is not really so radical — but, it was different and therefore noteworthy. Martha did not expect Jesus to respond the way he did — or else she would not have intentionally embarrassed herself.
As people of faith, we have got to begin dealing with one another in a better way. WELCOME must be more than a word on our doormats. WELCOME must be an attitude of life, a message preached, and an example given.
We have company coming — make the rolls, select the choice steer, choose the better part.