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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

To show a true welcome

“There are no road signs in English. Everything is in French. It’s really not practical.” So sadly concluded Xiao Liu from Beijing, on her honeymoon in France. A wonderfully story in this morning’s Guardian, lifted wholesale it would seem from Reuters, a copy-and-paste job. The French, it seems, are worried that although they attract more tourists than everyone else, those of us who visit do not spend enough money. I proudly include myself in this category. The answer, according to foreign minister, Laurent Fabius (who incidentally is being mean to the Greeks) is for the French to be more welcoming. “To put it diplomatically, we have room for improvement here. . . . When we come up against a foreign tourist, we are all ambassadors for France,” Fabius uncharacteristically confesses. He failed to mention, however, whether public signs should also be shown in English, for people like Mrs Liu and myself. Et les porcs pourraient voler. But there is a flaw in M Fabius’ argument – that we are to be welcomed but only for our money and sadly not for ourselves. Which undermines the quality of the welcome offered. Welcome is a great Bible word. It is difficult for us to grasp in the New Testament the huge gulf between Jew and Gentile, as seen from the Jewish side. Even having been with Jesus for three years, even having seen the effect of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and then subsequently the remarkable encounter with centurion Cornelius, Peter found incredibly difficult to dine out with those of his fellow disciples who had never been Jewish. It was against his deepest instincts. And so we read from his colleague, Paul, in his letter to the Galatians , “Until certain people came from James, Peter used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.” (2:12). I think you could say that Paul then laid into him. For welcome is at the heart of the Gospel, such is the barrier-destroying power of the cross. So Paul begins his conclusion in his epistle to the Romans, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (15:7.) Notice the motivation – that is how God has welcomed us. The parable of the prodigal son could not make this welcome any more vivid, essentially we are welcomed back where we belong in the Father’s house, in the Father’s heart. And so we welcome not for what we get out of it but simply for the glory of God, no less. The apostle, James, says it all, especially to the French tourism authority. “If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, “Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!” and either ignore the street person or say, “Better sit here in the back row,” haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?” (James 2:2-4) But our welcome is much more than how we receive visitors to our church services and events, it is how we are relate to other people – and we do so not for what we get out of the relationship but for what we can give. Revolutionary It was the pioneering American monk, Thomas Merton, who observed: “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” This other-centred approach to relationships, agape, is to be the defining characteristic of followers of Jesus. You may not be spending any money in our establishment, but – hey – come in, have a drink, have a meal. Soyez le bienvenu!

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