God’s Welcome Is a Funny Thing

Chapel Talk Given at Boe Memorial Chapel, Saint Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.

A very wise professor stopped me in the hall yesterday. He said, “You know, here’s the best way to begin your chapel talk. ‘I have nothing to say. … But while I’m up here…'”

On behalf of the Student Congregation Council, I want to welcome you all. We want to welcome the new students and faculty into our community, and we want to welcome the returning students and staff into a new Boe Chapel. The Student Congregation Council coordinates and supports many activities and services during the year. Tonight, the Progressive Christian Fellowship will meet in the Hill-Kitt Lounge to discuss summer experiences; tomorrow night, Camp Song Vespers at the bonfire pit behind Thorson; in the coming weeks, the Cropwalk, a global project whose purpose is to raise awareness about hunger and other needs. And as always, there is Sunday worship, and daily chapel with hymn sings, speakers, and morning prayer. We welcome you to join us wherever you find encouragement, strength, and inspiration.

A welcome is a funny thing. It makes us vulnerable, in a way. To say “We welcome you” is in many ways to say “we need you.” We need you as part of our service and work, to bring new life and new ideas, to stand and sing and pray with us as we pursue the joy of living a Godly life, as we learn to follow Christ, to worship God, to be open to the Spirit.

And that need makes us vulnerable still. We are vulnerable to the experiences and questions that each of us bring when we come together. We are vulnerable to learning something from one another, to being challenged, to being changed by the intersection of our lives and faiths.

God’s welcome is a funny thing. I do not know if God is challenged by the welcome He extends. I don’t know if God is vulnerable. But I know that His people are. God’s people are people like all others – afraid of challenge, afraid of change. Yet by God’s grace, by the Spirit of the Lord, the welcome which once was intended for the keepers of the law of Moses, has now been extended to all.

It was not an easy welcome. The first Christians were unsure how God’s love and grace might extend to those outside, to the Gentiles. Yet they trusted in the moving of the Spirit, and they enacted God’s welcome by speaking to the Gentile as well as the Jew, by baptizing all who believed, by taking the good news of Christ as far as their feet could walk. I am amazed by their strength of faith, their trust in the Holy Spirit, their willingness to change as God had called them to change.

The Scripture today promises us that the Lord removes the veil over our minds, that someday we will stand with unveiled faces before the Lord. I don’t know if this is a human thing, but I feel so often that I am in some kind of crazy tug-of-war with God, holding on to that veil as hard as I can. I don’t want to change. I don’t want to see if it means changing my life, my faith, my self. I don’t want the messiness that comes with change, the readjustments, the new understandings. I understand how to live my life in this way, doing these things, and I don’t want the work that comes with something new.

But the world does not stay the same; we are changing, developing new technologies, exploring new ideas, ever spinning through space. The world will change. And so will I. I am God’s child, we are God’s children; we are changed.

Christ comes to take away our fears, our clinging to the way the world tells us to live. Christ comes to bring change. He comes to say, “Let go.” Cling to the one thing that is truly the truth, that really will never change: that God so loved the world, that God gave the greatest sacrifice that could be given…

God is not a God who keeps us the way we are. God is a God of change. God is the cooling river in the desert, God is the healer in Christ who gives sight to the blind. Christ comes to take the veil away. We are not unchanged. We are no longer Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, woman nor man; we are no longer sinners; we are changed forever; the Spirit of Christ is inscribed on our hearts; the veil over our minds is gone. And now we are on a journey, learning with each step a little more about what it is to see without the veil.

Some of us are first-years, really leaving home for the first time, making new friends, discovering new things about ourselves, being stretched to the limit in classes and sports and activities. And some of us are sophomores and juniors, growing into the roles we set for ourselves, deepening friendships, becoming leaders, becoming supports to each other. And some of us – some of us are seniors, and we are looking forward, to the future, to life beyond the Hill.

We are all on a journey. We do not walk alone, and we do not always walk. There are places to stop, to rest, to learn from others who have gone before. There are places that give us, if only for a little while, a feeling of safety, a feeling of love, a feeling of belonging. These are our homes. The people in them become our families, our confidants and supports and friends. We teach each other. We listen. And eventually, we prepare for the journey that will take us to a new place, to a new home.

We are all on a journey. We are all moving from home to home, restlessly seeking the greatest Home of all. Today, we rest together here, in this place, for a few minutes in a hectic day. To those who come here and feel safe, feel loved, feel that you belong: Welcome home.