This week’s topic is difficult. It is so difficult the worship team might be inclined to choose a different text. Both Paul’s letter to the Romans and Matthew’s Gospel present to us complicated texts that will be hard to wrestle into an easily digestible form for a comfortable Sunday morning. Yet, this is precisely why it is worth the struggle. Our message today is twofold: First, we are wrestling with the wideness of God’s mercy and attempting to answer the question, “Who is included in God’s saving grace?” On the other hand, we are faced with the realization that Jesus doesn’t always behave the way we think he should. We’ll deal with both issues more fully in the Preaching Notes. But we begin with thoughts about how we will worship together this day.
The liturgy should include the Psalm assigned for this day, Psalm 133 (United Methodist Hymnal, page 850). Let there be a declaration of unity among the kindred of God, even while we wrestle with who exactly are kindred and who are not. That’s the issue before us: inclusion. In Romans, Paul wrestles with the issue of the Jews who have not accepted Christ. In Matthew, the church wrestles with the idea of a boundaryless grace that meets anyone and everyone in need.
Maybe there is space during this service for reflecting on the diversity of the congregation. Begin with the positive. Is diversity in age? In economic class? Is there diversity in the families of origin, long-term residents of the area and recent transplants? Is there ethnic or racial diversity? Are there other language groups within the body of the church? Whatever diversity there is can be celebrated. But where there is a lack, perhaps confession is in order. Does the church reflect the diversity of the neighborhood? If not, some reflection on why not might be in order. How might the congregation be more inclusive? How might individuals and groups from the church reach out across the lines that society has drawn to establish a welcoming atmosphere?
“Draw the Circle Wide” (Worship & Song, 3154) is a hymn that embraces the inclusiveness of God’s grace. Our songs should speak of the world we seek to invite, a story to tell to the nations, which is everyone. It should be a part of our thinking that we don’t just seek the ones who look like us. We should try to reach the fullness of God’s creation, the many-hued complexions that surround us. But we don’t have to look far. Unless your community is very unusual, there is diversity right outside your door.
Perhaps in preparation for worship this week, you could research the makeup of the surrounding community. Some research might remind the worshiping congregation that the world is truly getting smaller. Perhaps a slide of the local demographics would be eye-opening for some. This isn’t necessarily a call to a specific mission or evangelistic event, but about awareness. It is to help ensure that people are aware of who is around them and how they might be included in the “y’all come” invitation.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.