June 28, 2020, The End of The Present Age, Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Matthew 10:40-42. “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 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; 42 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.”
Before I say a few words, let’s all take a few deep breathes to settle ourselves into a common community, accepting the welcome of the Living God into God’s beloved community.
June 28, 2020 The End of the Present Era St. Luke
Welcome. We always say welcome at the beginning of the service - to visitors and to each other. Welcome. We think of welcoming as one of the defining characteristics of our church. Welcome. It’s one of our favorite songs, practically our theme song. Welcome. We declare that welcome in the name of the Living God, who is the One after all, who welcomes us all into beloved community.
Sometimes we’re a bit mystified that as much as we are welcoming, more people don’t stick around to be welcomed. It seems that welcoming is more complicated than just putting out that blanket welcome statement - or even a flag above our door. Welcoming in the time of pandemic is particularly problematic of course. Nobody would take a glass of cold water from us - as Jesus directs us to do - even if we offered it!
I read this week a story from a book by Shiobhán Garrigan, The Real Peace Process about her travels in Northern Ireland. She visited a Presbyterian church in Northern Ireland and was pleased to be welcomed at the door by two women who were ushers or greeters like we have. They quietly asked the names of the visitors and Shiobhán quickly realized that they were not just greeting, they were looking out for names like ‘Patrick,’ ‘Maria’ or ‘Catherine’ that would indicate some Catholic connections so they could invite them to go to a different church.
A friend who told me about this story said he assumed it must be a story of long ago and far away, but found out that this is current practice in some of those churches in Northern Ireland. And he said that as he thought more about it, though the boundaries of our churches in our country are different and less blatant, they are there, nonetheless. Even for those of us that want to be as welcoming as possible, they are there.
In our brief passage this morning - just 2 or 3 sentences, depending on how it’s translated, the word ‘welcome’ occurs 6 times. “Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” That’s a lot of welcome. There’s also a lot of talk about having a reward for giving that welcome.
The welcome Jesus is talking about is for the prophet, for the righteous person, and for “the little ones.” We don’t know exactly what the distinction is between those people. The passage is often read to just mean a welcome for anyone, for common people, ‘the little ones.’ But the phrase ‘the little ones” more likely refers to traveling disciples of Jesus, people who have very little and are traveling to spread the good news. Jesus/Matthew is encouraging the early communities of the way to welcome, support and protect these vulnerable people who are giving of themselves to pass the word of a new time, the coming of God’s new realm in and through the love of Jesus.
I’ve been reading a book called My Grandmothers’ Hands by Resmaa Menakem in which he argues that Black culture and white culture and police culture at this point in our history clash in different ways with each other and until we breath and settle ourselves, and find ways to learn each other’s cultures, we are going to not be able to welcome each other into our different worlds. But these are the boundaries that we are starting to address.
A little aside here - In our symposium this afternoon, we will be talking about the problem of bail in our criminal justice system that is being used to make money for prisons, and to imprison more and more - mostly poor people who can’t afford to pay bail to get out while they are waiting for trial. Many of these are not people at great risk of fleeing or not showing up for trial. That’s not the criteria. The only criteria is ability to pay. Ending cash bail is a part of our current culture that needs to be changed in order to allow each other to breathe and to live freely.
Because of the differences in culture that Resmaa Menakem talks about, I don’t expect that our church’s racial boundaries are going to come down any time soon, no matter how much we want to welcome people of color. Our job is not to bring people of color into our space so we some look more welcoming or more diverse. Our job is to be people of the gospel, creating communities of disciples of the Living God in Christ.
Our community of disciples will connect with other communities of disciples of God - with all their culture differences, and create a broader community of connection. That connection doesn’t have to be one where we brag about how welcoming we are, but one where we appreciate the welcome we receive as disciples, the welcome and protection we give to folks who are taking risks to live out their faith. That is the work of the Living God.
This passage comes at the end of a section of readings about mission in the gospel of Matthew, and for us it’s the end of our sermon series on the end of the present era. I really do think that we are at the end of an era and it has to do with a kind of welcome. Help us to choose to live as true disciples, as people who take risks for our faith, as people who provide welcome for others who are taking risks for their faith, protection for those who need it. That is a real welcome. That is living the life of faith and living out the mission of the one who welcomes us and provides us with love and protection, so that we can move into a new time, receiving the reward of living in truth, being able to see, living in God’s beloved community, and living with courage the life of faith.
this is God’s good news.
Responsive hymn. 2025 As the Deer