God Welcomes Everyone

God Welcomes Everyone

Yesterday, my friend from CLT, my right hand man in ministry, my brother, came to visit us. I have spoken about him before. Ray has a checkered history that follows him everywhere he goes – mostly drugs, abuse, neglect, among other things. He is the kind of person that many folks look down upon. His record, his decisions, his appearance have often led to folks negatively judging him and sometimes refusing to help him.

Even some of the people within our former ministry in Charlotte stopped wanting to help him because of various things he said or did. The truth is he challenged us quite often in the charitable work we did.  And we asked ourselves from time to time: Should we continue to extend a charitable hand? Or are his actions, decisions and attitude so destructive, inappropriate and questionable, that we cannot help him? There were even times when his actions causes us to question whether he could still be involved in helping us with the charitable work we did.

You see, we, as the directors of our non-profit, we had that kind of power – to choose who got help and who did not, to choose who got to work with us and who did not.  And we were responsible for those decisions.

Each of us has such power. Power to help those around us. Power to love those around us. Power to welcome those around us.

Jesus had that power in his day as well. And the way he uses that power to welcome, to help, to heal…is perhaps never more clear than in the story of the man at the Pool of Bethesda from John 5:1-9.

After this there was a Jewish festival, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate in the north city wall is a pool with the Aramaic name Bethsaida. It had five covered porches, and a crowd of people who were sick, blind, lame, and paralyzed sat there. A certain man was there who had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, knowing that he had already been there a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

The sick man answered him, “Sir, I don’t have anyone who can put me in the water when it is stirred up. When I’m trying to get to it, someone else has gotten in ahead of me.”

Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Immediately the man was well, and he picked up his mat and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.

The Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It’s the Sabbath; you aren’t allowed to carry your mat.”

He answered, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.'”

They inquired, “Who is this man who said to you, ‘Pick it up and walk’?” The man who had been cured didn’t know who it was, because Jesus had slipped away from the crowd gathered there.

Later Jesus found him in the temple and said, “See! You have been made well. Don’t sin anymore in case something worse happens to you.” The man went and proclaimed to the Jewish leaders that Jesus was the man who had made him well.

As a result, the Jewish leaders were harassing Jesus, since he had done these things on the Sabbath. Jesus replied, “My Father is still working, and I am working too.” For this reason the Jewish leaders wanted even more to kill him—not only because he was doing away with the Sabbath but also because he called God his own Father, thereby making himself equal with God.

The man at the pool was left out….everyone rushed ahead of him.  No matter how hard he had tried, he could not get to the pool.  No one paid him attention except Jesus.

Keep in mind that in this day people who were sick like him were thought to be so because of something they had done wrong.  They were judged by those around them. Their sickness was perceived to be of their own fault.  So it is very plausible to assume that no one helped the man at the pool because they believed he was a product of his own doing, his own decisions…he had done wrong and his ailment was simple the harvest of his wrongdoing. If he wanted healing, he would have to repent and turn in a different direction. In other words, if he wanted help, he would have to first help himself.

Yet Jesus stops for this man.  He pays attention to this man.  Jesus offers healing to this man.  There are no conditions.  Not of belief.  Not of faith. Not of remorse or repentance for anything he may have done wrong.  Jesus simply says, get up. Pick up your mat and walk.

The man does not even answer Jesus question, when he asks “do you want to get well?” No he just gives an excuse.  And yet Jesus says get up and Jesus heals him.

“Immediately he was healed” says the scripture.  Does not even say he obeyed Jesus before Jesus healed him! Incredible!

No requirement. No condition.  Jesus just freely offers his attention, his help, his healing…..his love.

This is a story that challenges us in our new mission at Hood… a mission focused on exactly what this story is focused on.  Everyone. All people.

OUR VISION

We envision a diverse church led by Christ to open its doors in love and service to all.

OUR MISSION

To serve Christ through mutually supporting one another & embodying God’s grace and love for all.

This story pushes us to the edge of what the word “ALL” means in our mission statement. This man at the pool is part of ALL.

We are called like Jesus to welcome everyone, to offer the healing grace and mercy and love of Jesus. Jesus healed a man who society had judge to be sinful and treated as unworthy of being healed. And not only that. He did it on the Sabbath – day when no work was to be done.  It is like a double whammy….in your face Pharisees! Jesus effectively says – Not only am I gonna heal the very people you judge to be unworthy sinners, but I am gonna do it on a day when you think no one should even engage in the work of healing.

Jesus’ actions and word in this encounter tell us that…

  • We should never look down on someone unless we are helping them up.
  • We are not called to judge.
  • We are not allowed to forget certain people.
  • We are not allowed to cast off and push aside
  • No, we are called to pay attention to those that society would leave behind (just like this man).

So we must ask ourselves:

  • Who are the people our society ha left behind today?
  • Who does society deem as not worthy of our welcome?
  • Who does society deem not worthy of our attention, or even Jesus attention?
  • Who does society judge and cast off because society sees them as a product of their own decisions, their own mistakes, their own doing?

Each of these folks is part of the ALL in our mission and vision statements.

And, brothers and sisters, Jesus welcomes there folks.  He stops in front of these persons.  Asks them if they want healing. And then heals them…heals them because it was the right thing to do, because that is God’s way.

Ray tells me today that he feels so left out, so uncared for, so looked down upon, so cast off…that he rarely goes over to participate in anything going on in what is left of our former ministry there.  and that is a hard pill for me to swallow….because I was a part of that.

Yet the mission of our former ministry was “to inspire, enrich and embody community” – I wonder how well we really did that given the situation today…?

Years from now, we too at Hood will look back and reflect on how well we lived out our new mission. We may easily answer that question with respect to the people with who it is easy to help, easy to love, easy to offer Grace, easy to welcome.  But the most important place to answer that question will be with people like my friend. People with whom we struggle.  People who do not fit our ideals. People who are not like us. People who live differently than us.

Ray is the man at the Pool of Bethsaida.  And there are folks across this community who will challenge us, who will push us to our limits.  We may be tempted to think something ill of them. To judge them, their decisions, their lifestyle.

The question before us today and the days ahead is this…

  • Will we follow Jesus?
  • Will we follow Jesus and offer unconditional welcome, unconditional service, unconditional healing, unconditional love, unconditional grace…?

I pray that we will keep Jesus actions in the forefront of our hearts and minds as we seek to live out the mission and vision of Hood….

To serve Christ through mutually supporting one another & embodying God’s grace and love for all.

That we might become the church we envision…

A diverse church led by Christ to open its doors in love and service to all.

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