I was in Orlando last week for some meetings with Christian Standard magazine. I serve as a contributing editor and we gather there to plan, propose, and pray. At dinner one night we passed through a buffet line and when it was my turn at the meat counter the guy cutting the roast beef and ham peered at me from behind the sneeze-guard glass. I expected him to say, “Beef or ham?” But instead he asked, “What’s your name?”
“Ben,” I said.
Then he flashed a warm smile and replied, “Welcome home, Ben.” I held out my plate, he flopped a slab of meat on it, and I moved slowly on down the line. I heard him ask the person behind me the same question, with the same gracious hospitality: “Welcome home, Jeff.” As I drifted further away I kept looking back at the meat man and sure enough he was greeting every single person in the lengthy line with the same greeting and welcome.
Glancing around the room I saw hundreds of people, and realized that every single one of them had been welcomed by the guy with a funny hat and big knife. In our group alone we had a hipster from Colorado, a bald guy from Indiana, an older woman from L.A., a tall, skinny guy from New York City and a Canadian with spiked hair. But each one of them heard the same words: “Welcome.” Around the room were men and women, Blacks, Asians, Whites & Hispanics. Oldsters, youngsters, and speakers of a dozen different languages had all come holding their plate out – and every single one of them in that diverse group of humanity had heard their name affixed to the same gracious words: “Welcome home.”
That’s not just an example of good hospitality in the Magic Kingdom, it’s a picture of what life is like in God’s Kingdom. It isn’t just how Disney execs have said they want it to be in their restaurant, it’s how Jesus desires it to be in His Church.
At our Welcome to Mountain class for new folk, I like to begin by pointing out the wide array of humanity that God gathers for those occasions. The folks around the tables are about as diverse as the ones in the Disney restaurant – from many walks of life, a beautiful mosaic of colors, classes, creeds, and cultures, each one holding out their plate for something. I look them in the eye and as sincerely as I can I say pretty much the same thing the meat guy says: “Whoever you are, whatever your story may be, I want you to know something. You are welcome here. You are in the right place. Jesus welcomes you. Be at peace.” It’s an emotional moment for many in the class. And for me.
Is your church a place like that? Where “everyone is welcome” is more than what you say, but what is actually true? Where real “everyones” truly feel welcome?
Is your home a place like that? Where folk who don’t look, act, or think like you hold out their plate and are welcomed around your table?
If not, why not?
What is it going to take before we recognize that failure in this area is failure to live the gospel?
What could you do to make your life, your home, and your church more like the meat guy at Disney?
Because this is, after all, the dream of God. And when God’s dream, the dream of His Kingdom, plants itself in your heart, it makes you an aching visionary who longs for the day when we will all live and act like His people.
That’s what happened to Martin Luther King, Jr., whose important life we are celebrating this week. He was a person who “got” the dream. He is remembered as a civil rights activist, but in truth he was a preacher who recognized that the Good News of Jesus Christ pushes against homogeneity, as the Spirit yearns to draw all of God’s children together in one happy family.
King knew that part of what Christ accomplished on the cross was not only the reconciliation of individuals to God, but also the reconciliation of estranged people groups to one another. Greek and Jew, circumcised and barbarian, slave and free, male and female are all one now. Not because of a meat man. Because of Jesus. He is the One who welcomes us all.
The day before his assassination, King’s thundering voice rang out “We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned with that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.
“And I’m so happy tonight! I’m not worried about anything, I’m not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
In that Disney restaurant last week God opened my own eyes to catch a glimpse of the glory of God’s Kingdom, too. And I hope thinking about the faith and effort and death of Martin Luther and HIS dream makes us all want to work a bit harder on these things. Because King’s dream wasn’t his own. And he didn’t get it from a Walt Disney or the meat man. He got it from his King.