Published by Michael Bigg on Wed, 19 Jul 2017 10:00

We moved into Brampton at the end of June. Moving to a new house with two children under 5 is not easy at all (as I’m sure you’re aware!) and so it made a big difference to us to feel welcome in the area very quickly. We were grateful for a regular flow of people stopping by to drop off a card (often with wine or flowers), but even more encouraging was the assurance that we were moving to a community in which people cared about each other. It felt good to be in a place where we could be confident that if we had problems there would be friendly faces to help out; it was a comfort to know that we were involved in a community where networks of people look out for each other. With all of that in mind my first message is this: be encouraged! From the perspective of an outsider, this area comes across as a really welcoming place to live!

Jesus tells a story about a much more unlikely welcome. A father’s youngest son asks for his share of the inheritance early and promptly goes off to squander his wealth on living the high life. When the inheritance money runs out the son finds that his friends quickly disappear and the party comes to an abrupt end. As the son reaches the brink of starvation he makes the hard decision to return home and to throw himself on his father’s mercy. He expects a frosty welcome but is instead overwhelmed to find that his father has been waiting eagerly for his return; he is given a fine robe, a ring is put on his finger, the fatted calf is killed and an almighty celebration breaks out! It is the warmest of welcomes for the least deserving of recipients. (The full story is in Luke 15 and a section of Rembrandt’s famous depiction is show here.)

This story is meant to tell us something about what God, our “heavenly Father”, is like. It also tells us something about what we’re like as human beings. We tend to spurn God’s love and ignore the good plans God has for us. And yet whenever people turn around and return to God they are not turned away or told that they are no longer worthy to be called God’s children. When we return to God we are welcomed with open arms, whether we “deserve” it or not.

If you walk into a church on a Sunday morning you should receive a warm welcome (although I can’t promise any fine robes, golden rings or roast beef). Why? Precisely because Christians know that they are like the son in the story and have received great mercy and kindness from God. As a result, they try (as best they can) to make the welcome they have received available to others. The Church isn’t a place full of particularly holy people, it’s a place full of people who know they need grace. Why not come along to Church one Sunday and experience a small taste of God’s welcome for yourself?

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