I love the juxtaposition of this photo. The foreboding and intimidating stone arch shouting a not so subtle message "Come in to our house of Saints - holy and pure are the marks of our people." It is an impressive structure. And yet, the postscript reads "Welcome All Sinners". As if to say,
you will fit right in with the rest of us."
It is an inexpensive plain sign beckoning beat up and weary people who know their own trouble, who have felt the weight of shame, guilt and regret. It's what Jesus preached as he traveled the countryside;
"When Jesus had finished giving instructions to His twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities...Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:1, 11:28
It is the same message for you and for me today. Welcome sinner. Welcome. All. Sinners.
Welcome denotes not a mere tolerance, but instead, a warm embrace and a delicious enfolding. An encircling, entwining and enveloping as if to say we've been waiting for you! Come in!
All speaks of grace. Grace, in Chris, that rushes toward everyone. It is one way love that knows no conditions and requires no pre-approval process. No need to wipe the sweat off your brow or the stains off your clothes. For all who are seeking a cool drink and a simple smile, come. This oasis is for anyone who needs the refreshing good news of the gospel.
Sinner calls to mind the worst of the worst. That's you and that's me. The tax evader, the deceitful, the lazy, the snarky, the addicted, the selfish, the religious, the irreligious. The word can sometimes evoke self righteousness in us. We look around at all those sinners and quickly conclude that we are not quite as bad as others. Yes, we have told some white lies, or maybe withheld a bit if information here and there, and maybe even yelled at our kids, but we're not as bad as our neighbors. The beauty however, is that the very requirement of this amazing Welcome, is our sin. Nothing else. My most horrific thought or embarrassing deed today buys me admission because it labels me Sinner.
"By this time a lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled,
“He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Luke 15:2
Welcome, old friends. Come in. Jesus has prepared a great feast and there is cause for much celebration! Maybe this could be the banner on our church doors [smile].