Hawkins, a town not to far from us, hit the news a few months ago when some started protesting a welcome sign. It wasn’t just a “Welcome to Hawkins” sign like you might expect to see in a small town. This one said, “Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins.” The controversy was about whether such a sign was a breach of proper church/state separation etiquette.
I’m not really concerned about church/state separation issues here. As far as that goes, if some citizens of town decide to put up a sign that says, “Jesus Welcomes You to <Our Town>,” my first thought is positive. Maybe my fellow Americans haven’t forgotten Jesus altogether. In fact, as I drive to church each Sunday I pass through two other towns that feature similar signs.
I do feel uneasy about the signs, however, and am reluctant to put up a similar sign in my town or in the town in which I pastor. My uneasiness is not rooted in a lack of devotion to Jesus. Rather, I’m doubtful that we can live up to the message we’re giving in Jesus’ name.
What do people think when they come to a town and are greeted by Jesus himself? Will they be looking for people to act like Jesus? Represent him accurately? I don’t want people to hear the greeting and then judge Jesus in terms of what they see of our sin. I don’t want to be a part of turning people away from Jesus.
There is no biblical precedent for Jesus welcoming people to a particular town. In the years of his ministry that we see in the gospels, we see a man who was mostly homeless, wandering from town to town telling of the good news of the Kingdom. In some places he found a welcome; in others not.
Instead of welcoming people to a town or place, Jesus welcomed people to himself. He said, “Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” If I were to put up a “Jesus welcomes” style sign, that’s the kind of message I’d put up. I don’t want people to get the idea that we’re representing ourselves as especially holy or spiritual. We’re not. But we can extend Jesus’ invitation to himself, and welcome people to follow him with us.