I wasn’t a popular child at school. My mother was one of the teachers there, so that instantly set me apart and my studious quietness wasn’t particularly liked. All my skills were in the academic side of school, so when it came to PE and team games, I was always the last one to be picked for any team (and rightly so in terms of my athletic prowess!) That made me feel very awkward and left out, and I can still remember the hollow feeling of not belonging or being wanted or being included.
I’ve spent most of my life feeling an outsider, even though I have a loving family and very good friends, so the news that we serve a God who is all-inclusive is good news indeed. The fact that God welcomes all sorts is not something trite or just for children. It’s a reminder that we can all belong; we are all invited to be part of God’s family. We can all be included; there is no one who needs to feel misunderstood, unwanted or rejected.
We want to be a church that welcomes all sorts and accepts everyone, just as Christ has accepted us. (Rom 15:7) It’s not always easy to do this, for we have our own preconceptions and notions as to what God’s family should look like. It’s not easy to cross boundaries and get to know people who are completely different to us, as we are discovering in our Bible studies as we see Peter breaking the habits of a lifetime in order to see the conversion of Cornelius. (Acts 10-11) But if we don’t show acceptance, welcome and love to people, or if we only love those who love us, we are not reflecting God’s selfless love.
God accepts us as we are, but then there is often the challenge for us to change and become more like Him. We don’t change in order to earn God’s favour; we are the lucky recipients of grace and love without having to do anything at all to merit it! But there is then a journey of faith where God, the master sculpter, works on the statue of our lives to shape us into His image. As we travel on this journey, we do so from the place of assurance that we already belong and we are already included. God welcomes us, accepts us, loves us and transforms us.