Summary: Christ welcomed "the wrong crowd." Is our church doing the same?

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Have you ever visited a church, and not felt welcome? A few years ago, I went to an area Reformation service. I had to drive an hour to get there, and I was running late. I almost couldn’t find the place, but I did, and I had to park pretty far away. I felt pretty awkward walking up to that church – I could hear that everyone was already singing. It was my first year of living in that area, and no one knew me.

I slowly opened the big wooden door of that church and quietly stepped into the entry way. That entry way was very small – about the size of two phone booths, put together. I did my best to act like I belonged there, but deep down, I felt awkward. The ushers were sitting on chairs in the worship area facing forward – they were so busy singing their hymns that they didn’t notice me. I looked around, but I could see that there was no place to sit. And there weren’t any hymnals either, so I just stood there, trying to look cool.

But I wanted to get out of there. I saw that there was a side entrance with a hallway, and maybe that would be a better place to stand. So I walked out of the church and over to that side entrance. I found a little hallway, about the size of one phone booth, between the outside door and the door leading into the worship area. I spread out my bulletin on the floor and sat on it, and listened to the service, resting my head and my arms on my knees. I decided that I would stay long enough to hear the sermon and then go home.

But right when the sermon started, an older woman got up – I’ll never forget this - and walked over to me. She looked down at me, sitting on the floor, and she whispered to me that it was too drafty. And so she shut the door on me, and I was left sitting out in the hallway where I couldn’t hear or see anything. I was shut out, so I went home.

Have you ever felt unwelcome at a church? When non-WELS visitors come to our churches for the first time, they probably feel more awkward than we really know. Are you welcoming them, or shutting them out? In Jesus’ day, a lot of people were being shut out of church. The Pharisees were the religious leaders, and they were in charge of the synagogues. That’s where they had their church services, where they read God’s Word and sung the psalms.

But certain people were not welcome there. Tax collectors – not welcome. Sinners – people with immoral lifestyles – not welcome. Only the good people, the upstanding members of society, the moral, pious, “normal” people – only they were welcomed at the synagogues.

But the Pharisees saw that Jesus treated the tax collectors and the sinners differently. In verses 1 and 2 we are told that the Pharisees were saying to themselves, “This man Jesus welcomes sinners and tax collectors, and he even eats with them.” “Why is he doing that?” they probably wondered.

Jesus knew what they were thinking, and so he went on to tell them two short stories. The first is the parable of the lost sheep. There’s a hundred of them, and one of them gets lost. What does the shepherd do? He goes and searches for that lost sheep. And when he finds it, he puts it on his shoulders, takes it home, and throws a big celebration.

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