Exclusion or Embrace?

I have the book by this title (Miroslav Volf) but I confess I haven’t read it though it has been on my reading list for a few years. But I have often thought of the passage Embrace one another, just as Jesus embraced you; this is to God’s glory  because of the posture of welcoming and belonging it calls for in a follower of Jesus (Romans 15.7; personal translation).

This morning I read a portion of daily prayers that comes from the free iOS app Common Prayer  (click here for more). It reads as follows:

We are happy to be your children, O Lord, make us happier still to extend the table. Lord, help us to welcome every guest as if we were welcoming you, delighting in their presence and ready to learn what good news they bring to us. Amen.

I have been thinking about my experience in my neighbourhood over the recent fortnight, and the diversity of people and food and neighbours we are enjoying. One night last week I had a lamb tikka masala takeway of Pakistani origins followed the next night by curry goat reflective of the Jamaican / West Indian presence locally. On another day we popped by with home made banana bread to neighbours from Iran and invited them to our Companions for Hope community ‘bring and share’ meal we’ve started. They gave us a box of sweets mum had brought back from a recent trip to her home town south of Tehran.

We met another new neighbour whose package was delivered to us. Victor is Hungarian; his wife is Romanian. He apologised over and over for bothering us, then rang the doorbell a second time to give us a box of chocolates from Romania. This afternoon I popped into the shops on the high street near us. I bought pickled gherkins and mixed vegetables from Poland and sunflower seeds in the shell from Turkey. Two days ago we had a skype course on Transformational Leadership with participants from Ecuador, Ohio, and England.

On Sunday afternoons we meet up with our Eritrean brothers and sisters. We spend 90 minutes with teenagers. We lead an English worship service once a month. We eat dabo or ambasha (types of cake and bread) with coffee seasoned with cinnamon sticks that have been boiled in water. Next week we are having a dozen of the post university / young professionals in their 20s for breakfast in our home. We’ll be preparing a typical English breakfast (which always includes beans!).

And what an amazing and interesting day it was when we made our pledges and received British citizenship two weeks ago. We made some new friends and are looking forward to meeting up with two sisters-in-laws in the days ahead; I cheekily asked them to invite us around for a curry and they were excited at the prospect! Have we given up our American citizenship? Nope, would never do that; but we will be dual citizens from here on in. While it was an ‘easy’ process for us, I was humbled as I thought of all my friends and of those people who have suffered and sacrificed through deserts, over seas and oceans, at the hands of people smugglers, and made their way to a place they have now made home. We didn’t have to give anything up to become British citizens like some of our friends, but our gain is great.

There are currently a plethora of views and news reports in Europe and America about immigration, refugees, asylum seekers, and expatriates. I am not going to start a debate here. I will only say that my experience of the last 18 months since moving to this area has been full, rich, diverse, blessed, and one of embrace and being embraced. I want people to know the abundance of life that comes in following Jesus and being embraced by Jesus. I can start by embracing others, and having a heart that says: We are happy to be your children, O Lord, make us happier still to extend the table. Amen.

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