I am journeying through the book, “What Matters for Children and Families; engaging six vital themes of our faith,” edited by Frank Proctor. This book is a UCC publication that describes six important central ideas of the UCC that impact families. Throughout the fall, I will be exploring each of these themes in my blog and I hope that you will visit often, join the conversation and think about the most important aspects of your UCC experience.
Chapter One: We are People of God’s Extravagant Welcome
“The United Church of Christ is the first protestant denomination in the USA to ordain an African-America, a woman as well as the first to ordain gays and lesbians (p. 16).” The idea of extravagant welcome is not a new one to the UCC, as evidenced by this quote at the beginning of the first chapter. The chapter focuses on reserving judgment and “practicing behaviors so that others who are different from us feel welcome and cherished (p. 16).
I find that within the walls of Plymouth it is easy to project a welcoming attitude and to put my best foot forward. After all, I am surrounded by all of you who are modeling this extravagant welcome. I feel the unconditional love of Christ through your actions and I am blessed by your kind words and genuine support.
I wonder, though, if everyone feels this way? And I wonder if people outside of our Plymouth walls feel God’s extravagant welcome when I am near them.
Sure, I am nice to people and I try to be polite and make sure to use good manners, but we are talking about EXTRAVAGENT WELCOME here! I can’t seriously think that holding the elevator for someone who is rushing in from the rainy parking lot shows extravagant welcome. Maybe human decency, but not anything profound.
The book recommends that we focus on Luke 19:1-10 to try and understand better the meaning of this Extravagant Welcome. Luke tells the story of a tax collector, Zacchaeus. He collects taxes for the Roman Empire. In this time, tax collectors worked in a hierarchy system, pledging to meet financial goals for Rome and pocketing anything above their pledge. Zacchaeus was a higher up in this system and he had tax collectors below him who extorted from the people to pay him a hefty salary. Not surprisingly, he was hated, despised and outcast from society because of his work. But rather than shaming him as so many had, Jesus met Zacchaeus at his house and spoke with him. Jesus welcomed him and showed him incredible love and compassion. Zacchaeus saw the error in his ways and repented. He promised to give his victims their extorted money back four-fold and not to use his power to extort money again.
Could you do this?
Jesus asks us to do things that put us outside of our comfort zone. And this book explains that extravagant welcome is a major part of the UCC family experience. I sometimes wonder how often I miss the opportunity to welcome Zacchaeus into my life and faith…
As we explore this idea of extravagant welcome together, I would like to open up the discussion with a few questions you might want to address with your kids (these are questions suggested in the book):
- Has anyone ever treated you like you did not belong?
- I wonder if there are people our family thinks are bad; just as people thought of Zacchaeus.
- Are we concerned that our children are not welcoming of others who are different than them?
Feel free to post thoughts, answers to the above questions, success stories, or your own interpretation of what it means to be People of God’s Extravagant Welcome