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Radical Welcome of The Other - 5-30 Transcript

May 31, 2021

Romans 15:1-13

Radical Welcome of the Other

by Dr. LaTayna Purnell

Last March our familiar ways were taken away from us. We were forced to find a new way to be church literally overnight. This path did not work for everyone. Some could not, and others chose, not to participate in our internet offerings. But the path also brought unexpected gifts. Some were able to be with us who would have been excluded if we were still in the church building. We entered one another’s homes, met our pets, showed off stuffies, and found a spiritual connection in our shared love of nature and family, and the little joys of life. We all listened and we all spoke as we suffered and grieved together over what was happening in our world. Our sharing of joys and concerns went far beyond what we had ever done before, and it was transformative. Many of us felt that it got us through. Now once again we are on the brink of a major change. Soon some of us will return to the Church building, but we will not return to life as it was. The day we officially step back into the church we will step into a new stretch of wilderness that no one has seen before. We have no map, but we know there will be challenges ahead. The toll of the pandemic is not over, and ecological degradation continues to worsen, and racial injustices are being perpetrated, and white supremacist Christian nationalists are undermining democracy. Meanwhile, spiritual communities all over America are shrinking, even as we face an escalating spiritual crisis. How can we serve the spiritual and practical needs of our community if the vast majority will never come through our doors? How can we help the Spirit speed human evolution toward oneness and new ways of living that can save the life that the Spirit created?

In Stephanie Spellers' book titled “ Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other, and the Spirit of transformation,” 1 she defines Radical welcome as the spiritual practice of embracing and being changed by the gifts, presence, voice, and power of The Other: the people systemically cast out of or marginalized within a church/school, a denomination, and/or society.” Spellers go on to say, “ Your church/school may be predominantly white or Latinx, wealthy or working-class, gay or straight, middle-aged or fairly young. Regardless of your demographic profile, you still have a margin, a disempowered Other who is in your midst or just outside your door. In fact, you may be The Other. Radical welcome is concerned with the transformation and opening of individual hearts, congregations, and systems so that the Other might find in your community a warm place and a mutual embrace and so that you are finally free to embrace and be transformed by an authentic relationship with the margin.

To give us a snapshot of what I’m talking about, I want to share a story from the immortal wisdom of The Simpsons, a cartoon from the 90s about a lovable oaf named Homer and his family. In this episode, Homer is upset as he thinks back to when he was a child and wanted to join the treehouse club. In the story, we see a group of kids eagerly climbing up the treehouse ladder, excited to be part of the group. There is another kid at the top of the ladder, who we realize is the club’s bouncer. He’s waving excitedly... “Hey, Billy... Hey Joey! Come on in! There’s plenty of room.” Young Homer reaches the top when the bouncer says... “Sorry – not you Homer” “Why not?” The bouncer points to a sign, he doesn’t even say anything. The sign says – “No Homers Club”. Homer, indignant, says, “But you let in Homer Glubgut!” “It says no Homerrrrz. We’re allowed to have one.” And we hear young Homer’s classic whine of defeat as he turns away.

Have you ever been Homer Simpson? So close to getting to be ‘in’ the group? Made it all the way to the door to be shut out? Have you been Billy and Joey? Invited in with open arms – even called by name and asked to join the party? Have you been the bouncer? Maybe not even realized it until later? In charge of who is in the community and who is out? In charge of enforcing the ‘rules’?

What about that other character - Homer Glubgut? He’s “in” the group because of a technicality – yet part of a group that literally disavows his name. Walking on eggshells, waiting to be kicked out whenever they decide?

This story is all too familiar – we played out these characters in our own lives, rotating the roles.

God’s story involves her acting with grace and mercy by sending Her Son - a prophet who welcomes all. And guess what? – Paul says we’ve got to welcome everyone just like Jesus did.
Scripture does not shy away from this topic, as we are repeatedly given visions of what God’s community looks like and what it doesn’t look like. In fact, Paul’s letter to the Roman church is all about a church that is dealing with who’s “in” and who’s “out”. They are a mix of Jew and Gentile, in a time of significant anti-Jewish sentiment, and they are trying to come to some understanding of whether or not these two groups of people belong in the same club. They have tried to make each other the ‘outcast’. Theologian NT Wright says that “Christian Gentiles and Christian Jews find themselves in uneasy coexistence.” He describes the end of Paul’s letter as saying, “The community that is created by this gospel must live as the true, renewed humanity, in its internal and eternal life. In particular, it must reflect God’s intention that Jew and Gentile come together as one worshiping body in Christ.”2

Perhaps one of the clearest examples of welcoming the outcast is in the story about the Samaritan woman at the well, John 4:9, The Samaritan woman asked, “Why do you, a Jewish man, ask for something to drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” because Jews and Samaritans didn’t associate with each other. In other words, it was so important for you to know that these two groups of people didn’t get along. And yet, Jesus engages with her - Jesus engaged with this person anyways – one who is an outcast from the Jewish community.

So – what about today's scripture?

To answer that question, we must know where we stand. And in particular, where do we stand in the wake of violence? As we mark the death of George Floyd earlier this week and the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre tomorrow. and countless more...These people were presumed targeted victims of hate because of their black identity. We mourn and we lament the loss. But friends, the church cannot pretend this was a random act of violence or terrorism. Loving our neighbor – Jesus’ commandment – starts with knowing their name. Loving our neighbor means we must stand up against racism – and church, we aren’t doing as good a job as we can. At best, we are afraid to talk about it. At worst, we are part of the community that creates a culture of fear and encourages hatred and oppression. Folks, we are the bouncers at the treehouse.

So, why is that a bad thing – why do we need this welcoming attitude that Paul keeps talking about? Why should we try to model Jesus’ radical welcome to the fringes of society?
You see, Jesus gave a sacrifice to the community. Therefore, the community is obligated to respond not just in mutual love for Jesus as some type of individual action, but we love each other for the recognition and sacrifice of Jesus’ act for the other. Jesus' death wasn’t just for me to be saved by grace, but it was for me to recognize that act of love and sacrifice in you, the Jesus, the God-image in you, to be bound by this and to be bound to you as my brother and sister.

Love, therefore, is not some type of reaction to a tragic life event, or a sharing of common interests, but love, Christian love, is a binding that the Messiah died for the other person, too. If I have faith in that, then I must recognize and honor God’s sacrifice in you and in all children of God. To cast someone to the edges, to push them to the fringes, to make life difficult for them, is to ignore God’s sacrifice.

You see, thinking of Jesus’ sacrifice to the community is significant. Paul here is talking about faith as a community experience. We may focus so much on our individual faith and relationship with God, that we lose sight of the community. Paul’s letter is offering a faith where we build each other up. It’s not me building you up, it’s not you building me up, it’s the entire community taking responsibility.

And in taking responsibility we worship God - not individually, not 1 hour on Sunday morning, but through an ongoing reflection of our lives and relationships. Friends, the work of the church is not just left up to the clergy– the work of the church is every day and we must all be constant, active participants. And I challenge and encourage you to live fully into this call.

Welcoming each other, going out of our comfort zones, this is the way that the Kin-dom of God is brought here on Earth; this is the way we glorify God together in harmony. THIS is the challenge in the wake of the 2020s reckoning with race, in the wake of Charleston, in the wake of murder, the wake of war and violence, in the wake of bigotry and hatred. We MUST welcome the outcast, the one we’ve put on the fringe of society. Because we are a kin-dom people crying out for peace.

Let me remind you what Paul says in verses 2 and 3 Talk about welcoming the ‘other’, even to the point of ridicule? Engaging in uncomfortable spaces? Entering into a relationship with people on the fringes, who have been discounted by society? This is what Paul is telling us to do in the passage. We are to welcome each other as Christ did – we are to build each other up.

Who is on the fringe and how do we know? Let me give you some clarity. The further someone is away from you, the harder it is to see the Jesus in them. In other words, if you can’t recognize God’s sacrifice, God’s image in that person, or you find ways to justify pushing them further out, then they are OUT of your comfort zone, they are out of your treehouse. And it is as soon as they are out that things become dangerous, that hatred and fear are rampant. This is where oppression begins, where homophobia, and ageism, and sexism, classism, and racism can thrive. You see God knows this, and so we are encouraged to do the opposite – we are encouraged to welcome each other so that we can see the God-image in everyone.

Welcoming the ‘Other’ is not an easy task. Paul knows it’s hard. God knows it’s hard. That’s why we see in verses 6 and 13, strong, significant references to hope. Paul’s call to action here is a tough goal to meet and surely we may fail. He knows that the cost of discipleship is high. He knows that what he’s asking for is a whole lot. He asks us to be patient, to build up our neighbor, even to the point of ridicule. Then later he calls us to this crazy, radical welcome – we are to welcome the way Christ welcomed us. Is that even possible? The divine welcoming us into the Kingdom of God? How do we do that for each other, is that even possible?

Well no . . . we can’t do that, not alone anyway. But Paul tells us that our God is a God of hope. The ability to welcome the person on the fringes into our community is given to us through the Holy Spirit as we seek to create Christian relationship, it’s given to us through the modeling of Jesus’ life in how he welcomed others like the Samaritan woman, it’s given to us in the faith that God will fulfill his covenant and will reconcile all peoples to Her. God equips us to do the work. Our communities, our church, MUST welcome the outcast with open arms.

In the past year, we have changed the way we gather and what we do together, and the way we worship. We have changed the way we use the internet, we have organized ourselves to reach out to the community in new ways. Will we need to evolve further, still searching for new ways to meet the unfolding crisis of our time? Where and How Do We Go from Here? We must consistently build Christian relationships and welcome each other as Christ welcomed us. WE must welcome the Other as we were welcomed.

We must offer a radical welcome!


1 Spellers, Stephanie. 2006. Radical welcome: embracing God, the other, and the spirit of transformation. New York: Church Publishing.

2 Wright, N. T. 2018. Surprised by hope: rethinking heaven, the resurrection, and the mission of the church.