Welcome to our shop, our restaurant, our hotel! I hope you will spend some money here. Welcome to our work place, our industry, our service! I hope you will be productive. Welcome to our school, our college, our university! I hope you will work hard and behave yourself. We use the word ‘welcome’ in many ways but there is a hidden agenda; you can come to us but we expect something from you. People even welcome the children born to them with the unsaid expectation that “they will care for me in my old age”!

Welcome, as we often meet it, is conditional. You are welcome so long as you repay your welcome. It is rare and wonderful to welcome unconditionally. I open my door to someone without any expectation of gaining anything in return. There is a story in 2 Kings of Elisha receiving such a welcome from a woman of Shunem. She provided for his needs without asking for anything. In time the prophet discovers she is childless and – in an echo of the Lord’s promise to the childless Abraham – he says to her, “This time next year you will hold a son in your arms.” And she did.

And this is not just a story from the bible. There was an account last year when Angela Merkel of Germany opened the country’s doors to a million migrants. A man responded by welcoming an Eritrean escaping persecution in his country. The man knew the Eritrean had nothing but he just opened his doors to him. After a while the migrant said he had a brother and could he come too? He was welcomed and there was eventually a third! All three were welcomed – unconditionally!

To welcome without any hidden agenda, any expectation of reward, is really an act of faith in humanity, a divine act. And it builds up relationships between people. It creates solidarity and breaks down the barriers that separate: fear, suspicion and the rest. We know that, in this, we are reflecting the way of Jesus, who revealed God to us as one who loves us unconditionally. How often it seeped into our religious training that God will love us and reward us if we behave: if we do certain things, religious things. No, he loves us unconditionally – whoever we are, whatever we have done.

I visit a prison every Sunday and I can see how true this last sentence is: it is obvious that God loves each person there – whatever they have done. And when they come to know this love it really touches them. But this is not just true of inmates of our prisons. It applies to all of us. We still live out of the heresy that we have to do something to earn God’s love. Not true! He loves me long before I do anything and will go on loving me long after – even if I mess up.

That does not, of course, give me an open ticket to be careless and presume on God.  While his love is unconditional we can still destroy our lives if we make foolish choices. Love of its nature looks for love in return. This is different from saying, ‘he loves us so that we may love him’. He loves us. Period! And we, can we do anything other than love him in return? True love is always free – and unconditional.

2 July 2017      Sunday 13 A    2 Kings 4:8-16             Romans 6:3-11                        Matthew 10:37-42

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