The scripture for this sermon is Mathew 10:40-42. It can be found here.
What does it feel like to be truly welcomed? Can you think of a time when someone gave you a sincere welcome? What was it that made you feel welcomed?
As a pastor, I have had the privilege of being welcomed many times into people’s homes. I have been welcomed in the name of Jesus. I am always impressed by how skilled people are at being gracious, attentive, and how they pay attention to the little things that put a person at ease and make you feel comfortable. I often feel like I come up short in my ability to be a welcoming host. No one is going to accuse me of Martha Steward living. The gift of hospitality is truly a gift.
I have been welcomed in many different situations, but when I think about being welcomed with open hearts and arms, the welcome I received in Tanzania stands out. You probably have heard those who have been to Tanzania talk about this before, but the first thing that happens when you arrive in a village is the people gather around and welcome you with song for at least a half an hour.
And that sense of welcome continued. The food they set out wasn’t as luxurious as that at the 5-star hotel, but it nearly brings me to tears to think they probably have gone without eating for several days in order to provide it. Or the accommodations were not as luxurious, but who would not be touched by the knowledge that parishioners in Tanzania had given up their mattresses so that we might have one.
Receiving from them taught me something about welcoming. Welcoming isn’t as much about the luxuriousness of what you receive, it is about the one welcoming investing/giving of themselves to the one they are welcoming. It didn’t matter that the choir will never sing in Carnegie Hall, or the food wasn’t prepared by a 5-star chef, or the bed was not a Marriot mattress. What mattered was that the people gave of themselves, opened their hearts and their lives to us, shared with us from what they had. Isn’t that what welcoming is all about?
In today’s gospel, Jesus talks about welcoming. These verses are the closing comments on a discussion Jesus begins in chapter 10. For the last couple of Sunday’s we have heard Jesus give practical instructions on how to conduct the mission (verses 5-10), how to deal with mixed reception (verses 11-15), the promise of rejection and suffering (verses 16-23), the security of discipleship (verses 24-31), And the nature of the division which obedience to Jesus entails (verses 32-39). Now Jesus returns again to the issue of welcome. The word “welcome” is used 6 times in these short verses.
Jesus makes it clear. Those who welcome the disciples welcome, not just the disciples, but also Jesus and the Father. After Jesus prepares them for the realistic possibility that bearing his name may cause them to be unwelcomed or cause divisions, he now wants to assure them that there will be those who welcome them.
Those that do will receive a reward. What is the reward? It is the presence of Jesus in their midst. Remember who ever welcomes them welcomes Jesus. The same is true for those who welcome a prophet or a righteous person. The gift of the prophet or the righteous person becomes theirs. They discover more fully the presence of God’s Kingdom in their midst.
Here’s the thing: It takes opening yourself to be fully present to another – giving of yourself – to welcome one another. By God’s grace, as we open ourselves to Jesus presence we also become freer to open ourselves to each other. We discover more capacity to become vulnerable as we fall into Jesus presence. When I reflect a moment on it, it occurs to me that this is true whether we welcome, or are welcomed.
A parishioner in a South Carolina church described what happens as they welcome immigrants into her congregation.
“Living life with immigrants, worshipping with immigrants, breaking bread, having communion with them – it all changes your perspective, because they go from a ‘they group,’ to an ‘us group.’ They are our brothers and sisters, we are a community of faith together.”
She goes on to say,
“I don’t view this as a liberal verse conservative issue. I don’t view this necessarily has a political issue. For me it’s a biblical issue. It’s a Christian issue. It’s a human issue.”
Opening ourselves to another is a biblical issue, a Christian issue, a human issue.
When you hear Jesus speak about welcoming which are you, the one who is being welcomed or the one who welcomes? How about as a congregation? I suspect that most of us think of ourselves as the ones who welcome. For a long time, the focus of church life has been on welcoming those who come. And certainly, we want everyone to feel welcome when they come into our church.
But, did you notice?
Jesus is speaking to his disciples – and he is talking about them being welcomed – they are being sent – they are the ones whom others welcome. They are the ones who will be welcomed. You are Jesus disciples. You are Christ followers. Do you see yourself as one sent?
I know some congregations that have decided to stop saying they are a “welcoming church”. But because they want to stop welcoming people who come, but because it can imply that being a disciple is only about welcoming those who come.
Here Jesus clearly sends. He tells his disciples, “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.” It cannot be much clearer. How did we turn that around so that rather than being the ones who are welcomed, we are the welcomers?
Pastor Doug hinted at the fact that I have been talking to the church council about changes at Our Saviour’s. This is the change I have been talking about. Some have said, “Oh, this is just evangelism.”
But, there is more to it than that. Evangelism implies that we are going with a mission of changing people – converting them. What I am talking about more authentically opening ourselves to others needs in the name of Christ. And if people see that and want to be like us – great! But that is not the motivation. We do it because that is who we are.
I know many of you are finding ways to do little acts of kindness – sharing a cup of water – providing a listening ear – helping a stranger. But, how often does the person on the receiving end know that you are doing it in the name of Christ, that you are doing it has an expression of your Christian faith. You know. But do they?
This is really about embracing the gift given to us in baptism and making the link for others between why we are living as we do and our faith. We who have been gifted by the Holy Spirit, have also been gifted to be good enough. We are gifted to share God’s love through word and deed even sharing a cup of water can be a sign of Jesus presence – a sign of the God’s Kingdom. We are gifted to be present with all in our bruised and suffering world. It is really about embracing the gift of being Jesus disciples – as people who are sent – who have been commissioned in our baptism.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians that we are ambassadors for Christ. I suspect I am not alone in feeling worthy of that calling. But, we don’t have to be. Jesus makes us worthy.
I suspect I am not the only one who is hesitant to put myself out there, wondering what kind of reception I will get. But, Jesus invites us to be the bearers of his presence to a hurting world. Jesus promises, “Those who welcome you, welcome me.” These are not just words to the twelve disciples, or to pastors, it is Jesus word to all of us. It is a word for you. Amen.