As part of God's diverse people we warmly welcome those from all backgrounds and we seek to make church accessible to unbelievers, offering a sense of belonging.
We are a community of grace in which people can be open and vulnerable.
We are God's forgiven people and we welcome and support other broken people as they journey to find forgiveness, peace, joy, hope and freedom in Christ.
There is such a variety of people in the world. With all our different cultures and ways of living, it makes interaction with others a rich and varied experience. There are so many different sounds, colours, smells, tastes, personalities, styles, interests, hobbies, and more. A wonderful array of humanity.
And yet, alongside this, there are real difficulties for many. There are some groups or types of people who we may find difficult. It might be because of background, or a nationality, or because of certain behaviours we find unpleasant or annoying, or because of a way of life, a belief system, or a personality-type... there are endless differences between us as human beings on this planet, and so as well as the beauty of it all, the scope for finding people we don't like is significant, and so the fractures begin.
It has been this way since way back. In Jesus' day there were lots of tensions between different groups and didn't have much time for one another. But Jesus made a point of spending time with all kinds of people and often this made onlookers uncomfortable. They would wonder, how can he spend time with these people one minute, and with those the next.
Here's a classic encounter from Luke's gospel, chapter 5:
27 After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth.“Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Tax collectors were hated as traitors. They were working for the occupying forces, so you can imagine the hostility they faced, and that's before you consider the way they would fleece people by taking a cut for themselves. They were outcasts, and so their social circle became other 'outcasts'... but Jesus not only calls Levi (who became Matthew the disciple) but spends time at his house with his friends and eats with them.
What's the big deal about eating and drinking? In that culture, as in ours, its a significant sign of friendship, association and acceptance. To refuse to eat with someone is to reject them.
Did Jesus just sweep Levi's issues under the carpet? No. The inclusive nature of Jesus love and friendship and acceptance is the beginning of a journey. It brings transformation; power to be healed from the brokenness of our lives. It is a call to become more complete and fulfilled than we ever imagined.
God has accepted us as his people, even though we did nothing to deserve it.
So realising this and seeing ourselves rightly, we understand we are those who have received his grace, not as those who are better than others. There's no room for a 'holier than thou' attitude.
So seeing ourselves rightly, we see others rightly too, as made in God's image, created and loved.
And putting those two things together, along with the example of Jesus, we seek to be an inclusive community, valuing all people, and calling them to follow him.
We adapt. We welcome. We include. We love.
Just as God has accepted us into his family, so we love, welcome and include others too.
Lord thank you for your grace and forgiveness in our lives, making us whole. Help us to show grace and love to others.