Sermon: June 28, 2020:
4th Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary 13
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
We have a sign facing Water St.—maybe you have seen it. On top the sign reads, “Follow Me;” an invitation and command of Jesus spoken to his disciples at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Then, our worship times are listed, followed by the name of the pastor. And then comes this invitation: “All are welcome.”
I truly believe that we at Trinity really believe this about ourselves; that all are welcome, that we are indeed a welcoming community. And you know, we are. As a pastor, talking with visitors to our congregation, time and time again people share how welcomed they feel to be with us.
A couple of years ago, we hosted an event for young people. Our guest presenters were a Lutheran pastor and a friend of hers who is a doctor in a small town in Minnesota.
The doctor is Muslim and their presentation was about learning how to get along, to live together as neighbors. It was a wonderful event, until a person, not from our congregation, started to verbally confront the doctor. This man became belligerent and rude, and what had started as a beautiful time of learning and fellowship became, well, rather ugly. It was not a very nice thing to experience.
But it was an important learning moment for all of us. And I was especially proud of our young people, who were downright angry that one of our guests, someone who had been welcomed into our building, our congregation, was treated so poorly. Our young people get it; to say all are welcome means all are welcome.
And our welcoming extends to our community. Watching how people are welcomed into our building for “Ladles of Love,” or how we are part of the ecumenical food pantry, or how we host a narcotics anonymous group, all point to the fact that we are indeed welcoming.
Reading our gospel text for today, it is easy to make the connection that Jesus is telling us to be welcomed; to turn this into a set of orders to follow; welcome prophets, righteous people, give a cup of cold water to the ‘least of these.’ But let’s look a bit closer.
Rolf Jacobson, in column at workingprecher.org, says this:
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
Jesus is placing his hearers not in the place of the ones offering the welcome, but rather in the place of the ones receiving the welcome. He says in effect, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me the Father who sent me.” So rather than being a commandment, this text is a promise.
Jesus’ words in 10.40-42 are to be heard as words of promise, under the broader commandment to follow Jesus out into the world in mission. Jesus tells his disciples as it were, “I am sending you into a dangerous world as part of my mission to love, save, bless, and be reconciled to that very world. It is dangerous out there. But you will find welcome. Those who welcome and receive you, also welcome and receive me—and they will be rewarded.”
What does this mean for ministry? In part, it means that our ministries must get out of the building. . . You must get out there and offer yourself up as the guest of other peoples’ welcome. Not all will welcome you, but some will—and by offering yourself up as the guest for those people to welcome, you will be manifesting for those people the blessings of both the Father in heaven also the beloved Son.
Well, dear Trinity, we have to “get out there!” Maybe this is a good time for us to be out there, since it is hard for us to be ‘in here’ right now. And, dear friends, “out there” could really use some help, “out there” could really use a big dose of kingdom of God talk and grace and mercy and kindness and the Love of Jesus for all people.
For me, this had become really apparent lately. There is a facebook post making the rounds right now that has really hit home. And I would like to share parts of it. It was written by a soldier, relating some of the experiences fellow soldiers, who are black, have had in the larger communities.
Today was one of the worst days I’ve ever had in the Army in almost 24 years. Today I sat down with my entire Battalion to discuss the current issues we are facing as a nation. I wasn’t prepared. Fort McCoy is in a very rural community. Very rural. . .It’s not a bad place to be stationed if you like peace and quiet, small town living, and you aren’t black or brown.
I had asked my Commander earlier in the week to talk to the Battalion because Ive been bothered for a bit now about how things are going in the country. I have several people in my life who I talk to on a regular basis. People who I genuinely care for, and people I tremendously respect.
Over the last two weeks I’ve heard, “Rich that could have been my son. Rich I just tell my kids all they need to do is get home safe. Rich I’m scared to let my kids out of the house.” I have two boys and the thought of people I care about living their lives like that breaks my heart. . .
I sat in front of a room full of people who are like family to me. I would do anything for them.
By the very nature of my profession, I would give my life for them. I’ve been their Command Sergeant Major for over two years now. These are people I see everyday. I had no idea that I have Soldiers who wear their uniforms to grocery shop because they are scared of how they are treated in Walmart when they don’t. I had no idea that I have Soldiers who’s kids regularly come home from school crying because another kid called them the n-word...again. I had no idea that I had a Soldier who had to take their child out of school because they were being so tormented over the color of their skin. I had no idea I had a Soldier who’s wife was turned down for a job at a local bank because, “we don’t hire you’re type in this town.” I had no idea that a few weeks ago one of my Soldiers, who is one of the most kind and gentle women I know, was told to “get out of the crosswalk n-word” as she was out for her evening walk. . .
Dear Sisters and Brothers, our world needs Jesus. Our world needs healing. Our world needs love. Our world needs us to risk getting out there, risking being welcomed, and then, when we are, risking sharing the Good news of Jesus. But even as we do this, we need to be reminded of our own unwelcomeness, our own sinfulness, our own part in the problem of racism and every other type of ‘ism’ that is counter to the reign of God in Jesus Christ. We need to listen deeply, and learn from those who welcome us as we remember that we have been sent by Jesus Christ.
You know, it is easier to welcome people into our homes, our buildings. Part of it is that we are in control, we are, in a way, on our own turf. It is riskier to venture out into other people’s turf. It is hard, but there is good news for us in this.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this:
Those who carry Jesus’ word receive one last promise for their work. They have become Christ’s coworkers and helpmates. They are to be like Christ in all things. Thus, for the people to whom they go, they are also to be ‘like Christ.’
With them, Jesus Christ himself enters the house that takes them in. They are bearers of his presence. They bring the people the most valuable gift, Jesus Christ, and with him, God, the Father, and that means forgiveness, salvation, life, blessedness.
Dear Sisters and Brothers, when we go out, when we encounter others, we are bringing Jesus along with us. God gives us this amazing gift to tell people of forgiveness and salvation and life that comes through Jesus Christ!