By Bishop Ann Svennungsen
A few weeks ago, I was humbled to preach at the funeral of Erik Flom, the 25 year-old-son of Pastor Matt and Nora Flom. In learning more about his life, I found this story from a classmate. She wrote,
“Erik was an indescribably magnetic person. People practically orbited around him. He was always at the center of a group of smiling, laughing people. I was quieter in high school, so I usually just orbited around him at a distance. BUT, whenever I approached a group he was in, he would ALWAYS make space for me, ALWAYS welcome me, ALWAYS make sure I was included in the conversation.”
What a beautiful image – not just for Erik, but for God. God is always making a space for us – for you and me. And there is such a graciousness about Erik’s welcome. It isn’t “hey so and so, why are you standing on the outside of the circle. Come on up here.” But rather, a quiet, respectful, deep expression of welcome. Not calling attention to the fact that you feel on the outside. And no matter who we are, there isn’t a one of us who doesn’t feel at times like we’re the outsider. You wonder, is there a space for me? Am I included – just as I am?
IRONICALLY, IT SEEMS that many think of the church as less about welcome and more about expectations, rules, and the consequences of falling short. The church talks a lot about sin. And sometimes that can confuse us. But, at its core, the forgiveness of sin is one of God’s most radical signs of welcome. You know how it goes. The preacher says, “God loves you.” And you think, “Oh, if God only knew my real thoughts, my resentments, my fear; if God knew what I did last night, last week; I’m sure God wouldn’t say that. God’s love can’t be for me.”
“No matter who we are, there isn’t a one of us who doesn’t feel at times like we’re the outsider.”
And, that’s the radical, amazing power of forgiveness. God knows you in the very depths of your being, better than you know yourself. And God’s love goes deeper still – forgiving, cleansing, making new. This is radical love. Radical welcome.
We are created in God’s image, claimed as God’s children, and, in Christ, God stopped at nothing – not even death – to show God’s love. All are welcome.