“Can I come to church?” someone once asked me.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“Is it alright for anyone to just turn up?”
I was surprised. I had not guessed that anyone would think they needed permission to come to their local church. But I suppose we might wonder if it is alright to ‘just turn up’ at the tennis club, the auction centre or to a Council meeting and perhaps the church seems similar – a club with uncertain entry conditions.
First let me assure you. If you came to any service in the village church someone would greet you, make sure that you had somewhere to sit and answer any questions you had. Our services are straightforward and we expect that there will always be some present who are ‘just looking’. If you brought children they would be welcome too, there are areas in the church that you could use if your child became restless, and at some services there would be a group for them to join.
“But,” you may ask, “Would I be welcome at a deeper level? Would I feel awkward because I don’t believe the things that you all believe? Would I not fit in because my marriage was a disaster or because I’ve not bothered with church for years?”
How would Jesus have received you? He was well known as a friend to all kinds of people. Jesus had meals with the rich and powerful, but he also associated freely with disreputables. He was ready to welcome anyone, but he never left people in any doubt that they had to come on his terms. The well-off were told to stop depending on their wealth. Swindlers realised they had to pay back what they had taken. Adulterers had to change. Strong men were afraid in his presence.
And Jesus still welcomes people into His church in exactly the same way. His welcome is genuinely and freely extended to all. You are not disqualified by anything you have thought or done because he can deal with that, but Jesus still insists you must come on his terms. He must have the right to decide what you will or won’t do from now on.