■ Erin Armstrong / Contributed
“All are welcome” is the title of one of my favorite hymns, written by the famous liturgical music composer Marty Haugen. The song paints a picture of a church and a world where divisions are ended, and the love of God embraces all people.
As much as I wish I could say that this picture of inclusion was the reality, I know that it is not. Even in God’s church, the body of Christ on earth, we too easily give in to our fears about our differences. Instead of reaching out and opening our doors and our hearts, we put up gates, build higher walls, and close ourselves off from just how boundless grace is.
Jesus’ earthly ministry was all about showing the world how our man-made boundaries are no match for God’s grace. He reached out to touch and heal lepers, restoring them to the community that had literally cast them to the outskirts of society. He willingly went into Gentile territory, and told a Samaritan woman that there would come a day when Judeans and Samaritans would worship together…something unfathomable at the time. Jesus invited Pharisees, Roman tax collectors, Jewish fisherman, prostitutes, and homemakers to all dine at the same table, breaking the bread of fellowship in a place where they would never expect to be with one another.
I wonder what groups of people God is calling the Body of Christ to bring together today? Our civil society is filled with rhetoric that seeks to deepen our divisions. We who follow the Risen Christ have a choice to make: we can either give in to the sinfulness of believing in such divisions, thereby rejecting the work of Jesus, or we can speak out against the voices that call for fear and hate.
One of my favorite verses is written by the Apostle Paul: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Paul was writing to a community trying to figure out how to speak out against the powers of the world. He encourages the new body of Christ to believe that God seeks to overcome the obstacles that separate us from one another and from the love of God. When the world sought to divide, God seeks to unite.
When the people of God put their trust in God and God’s ability to overcome our false divisions, our reality now can become reflective of that grace and inclusion. When we let go of our fear of the other, tearing down our walls of fear and hate, the community of God becomes stronger. When we trust in the one who crosses boundaries, our hearts and churches can truly become places where “the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face” and we can truly live into our ideal of welcoming all of God’s people to the heart and life of God.
Pastor Erin Armstrong is the senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church (ELCA, located at 191 S. Columbia St. and worship at 8:30 and 10 a.m. every Sunday. Visit www.trinityhemet.org for more learning, worship and fellowship opportunities.