One young woman passed by me on her way to the coffee pot practically skipping and grinning from ear to ear. She said, "I've already made a friend here!" and spent the next hour in close conversation with one of the church members. Another, whose grey hair marked her as considerably older than the rest of her peers, spent the time with several retired ladies trading life stories. Some were playing with the children, others were offering to help with serving the food. All of them helped out by carrying tables and chairs outside and back in again at the end of the meal.
As the ladies were making their rounds to say good-bye one of them came up to me and said, "This has been an amazing experience. I never knew church could be like a family before." She went on to say, "They actually like being together. They seem to really care about each other and about us. They don't even know us and they care about us! Who knew church could be this way?"
She hadn't been involved with any church in a long time. Her understanding of "church" came from growing up in a large congregation where everyone just got in their cars and went home after the services ended. Some of the folks were involved in committees and things, but for the most part no one really seemed to know each other or spend time together. Church was just a place she had to go on Sundays. Even when the ladies from the Home visit other churches on Sundays, they usually leave pretty quickly afterwards. They don't often get the chance to sit and talk to folks in a casual setting like a picnic. So her experience with us on Sunday was essentially her first experience of what church can be.
In just about every church I've ever heard of we talk about being a family in Christ. Jesus even says it in Matthew 12:48-50: " Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” He stretched out his hand toward his disciples and said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother.” However, as much as we talk about being family we, the Church, somehow manage to be less than welcoming and familial to visitors and neighbors. This must be true - I keep reading it in books and blogs and magazine articles.
Imagine my gratitude upon hearing this young woman affirm that in this congregation the notion that everyone who shows up is part of our family and should be welcomed as such comes through loud and clear to our visitors. Imagine my relief to discover that in this little church on the corner we live up to our boast that we are welcoming and caring toward the stranger.
Who knew church could be this way? Jesus did. In John's gospel, chapter 13 verse 35 Jesus says, "This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” Jesus expected that, if we claimed to follow him and live by his teachings, then this is the way we would live. He expected that, like him, we would sit down at the table with all comers, judging none and rejecting none. Rather, we would welcome all who come in his name as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
May we continue to strive toward living up to our Savior's expectations, as his brothers and sisters doing the will of God.