St Paul's Parish Wokingham


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A Warm Welcome

The conclusion from Kate's sermon on John 4 - The woman at the well.

We are at a well and this is a love story.  Jesus receives this woman with such love and acceptance.  He knows everything about her and yet he doesn’t judge.  Who else except your true love can brush aside all the things that you feel ashamed of?  This is what the story of the woman at the well says to us today.  We all have things we like to hide from others and from ourselves – shame from feeling that we are not perfect.  God sees all of that.  He knows it and he accepts us.  Shame is no longer necessary.  We are not defined by who our parents were, what we have done and what we want to hide.  We are defined by the love that seeks us out and says “I thirst”.   But the message of this morning’s gospel doesn’t end here.  Who are our women at the well?  We hear so many stories about people who have been hurt or feel rejected by churches and Christians.  We hear people saying (and maybe we’ve said it ourselves) “hate the sin but love the sinner”.  But what if the person we are talking about feels so defined by the shame of their sin that they can’t feel separate from it?  What if what we feel is sin is actually an important part of that person’s identity?  How can that person then feel loved?  By saying that part of a person cannot be part of our community, we are completely barring that person from the love of our community.  Judgement is not ours.  Our only task is to love as He loves us.  Who is our Svetlana?  Who can we meet at the well with love and acceptance, the way we were met at the well and became the Bride of Christ?  For, as we heard in the epistle, while we were still weak … Christ died for the ungodly … while we were still sinners Christ died for us. 

I’d like to read a notice I once saw on the door of a church.  Imagine this on the door of every church.  And imagine every church meant it and lived it:  

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor.  We extend a special welcome to those who are carrying new-borns, skinny as a rake or those who could afford to lose a few pounds.  We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket.  You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing”, just woke up or just got out of jail.  We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s baptism.  We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast.  We welcome soccer mums, rowing dads, golfing widows, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk food eaters.  We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted.  We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like ‘organized religion’, we’ve been there too.  If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here.  We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell or those who are here because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.  We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both.  We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake.  We welcome tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts … and we welcome YOU!                           

This is what it would be like if God made churches.  Amen.


Recording of the full sermon: