Change is all around us, even in the church. And change is never easy. Our text this week is about a whole new direction for the beginnings of the church. It has to do with who was considered worthy to include and who should be avoided. Peter pushed the church to go further than they were comfortable going. Wait, no, it wasn’t Peter. The Holy Spirit pushed the church to go further than they were comfortable. And that has been the church’s story from then on.
Perhaps the way to approach this theme would be to focus on hospitality. How do we welcome and whom do we include? How do we make space for those who might be different from most of us? What do we do to show that we are open to any and to all?
This might be time to say “thank you” to the ushers and greeters, the folks who show up week after week and make sure that worship happens and that people find their way easily. A recruitment invitation could be included in that thank you. Let some of them share their stories of encounters and relationships made in a moment. Many congregations believe that they are friendly, and many are friendly to one another. But how do we show our friendliness to the new person, the stranger in our midst? We sometimes take hospitality for granted, but it grows out of a conviction that we are the church for all people. What might we do to enhance our hospitality, even in the act of worship? Who is excluded because of our facility? How do we accommodate those who didn’t grow up in the church and have no idea what “proper church behavior” looks like?
Our worship could invite the Spirit to direct our attention to those being neglected in our community, those pushed to the side, those left behind. We can pray for our neighbors we don’t know how to reach but are determined to include somehow. We can learn about worship in other contexts and cultures that might inform our own expressions. We can learn the songs of faith that come in other languages and cultures. It is a way of expressing our openness to folks who may have different ways of worshiping.
You might be saying, “That’ll never happen here, in this church or this community.” And you may be right. But this is kin-dom work. This is preparing ourselves for living in the world that God intended at creation. It is a Pentecost moment where we embrace a vision that is larger than our local context. Yes, we are called to be who we are and where we are and to prepare ourselves to minister in our community. But our vision is always larger, always inclusive. So, we make space for those who may never come in our lifetimes; but who in God’s time are a part of the same kin-dom of which we are a part. And we celebrate that future, even as we live in the now.
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.