6/28/2020 Fourth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Matthew 10: 40-42.
[Jesus said to the twelve:] 40 “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.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning’s short Gospel reading from Matthew is a continuation of the verses from the last few Sundays, where we have been reading that Jesus is preparing the disciples for their Evangelical mission. At this point the Disciples now become Apostles. We often confuse these two designations, these ‘job descriptions’. In the Greek, ‘disciple’ translates as ‘learner’ or ‘student’. And ‘apostle’ is ‘one sent out’ or ‘messenger’. Jesus has taught them what they must know in order that they may now venture forth to serve as envoys for Christ; to spread the Gospel message beyond the region of Galilee.
They have been given authority to cast out demons, cure the sick, raise the dead, and proclaim the God News of God in Jesus. They have previously been warned to travel lightly, to take nothing with them; to expect hostility, persecution, and family divisions. And that they will be met with scorn, unbelief, and in many cases, they will not be accepted because of the message they bring.
If they find a place to be unworthy, they are to ‘wipe the dust off their feet’ and leave that area just as they found it. Now this morning, we encounter a rather more optimistic tone from Jesus, as he instructs the soon-to-be-sent-out apostles how they should react if they are met with ‘welcome’. In the three short verses this morning, ‘welcome’ appears six times. Jesus ties this concept of ‘welcome’ to the apostles; to those they evangelize; and to Jesus himself. The cultural significance of welcoming the stranger in the ancient Middle East cannot be overstated. A guest visiting your home would have their feet washed, their heads anointed with perfumed olive oil; and immediately open entering, offered a cup of cold water. Let’s not forget that Israel is in the desert. The need for foot-washing, cleansed hair, and a refreshing drink is obvious. And, omitting hospitality to a guest would earn the scorn of the entire community.
Welcoming, reception, and hospitality; all these reflect the culture and mindset of the individual and the group to which we find ourselves belonging. Several years ago, I was in London on business. I attended worship at a Lutheran church in the middle of the city. It was a beautiful building, that was actually rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666. Upon entry, I was warmly welcomed, asked to stand and introduce myself to the congregation at the conclusion of the service, and was invited to share in fellowship at the coffee hour. Later that summer I attended a worship service in another Lutheran church, in a U. S. state I will keep to myself. After settling in and skimming the worship bulletin, a late-arriving parishioner sternly informed me that I was sitting in ‘her seat’. I politely moved to another pew and after the service, I quickly departed and, ‘wiped the dust off my feet’.
Emanuel plans to resume in-person worship in the Nave next Sunday. This is an event that I am looking forward to with unbridled excitement; I have greatly missed worshipping with my sisters and brothers in the faith! And due to the current pandemic situation, our worship space, and our liturgy will be somewhat different from what we are used to. You will receive emailed or US-mailed details of the procedures and protocols that have had to be put in place to ensure a safe-as-possible environment for the people of Emanuel to meet and worship. We will not yet join for fellowship after worship. Church will have to be an in-and-out affair for the time being.
Yet, Jesus has instructed the apostles, and as always, by extension us, that we are to be a people that are blessed if we are welcomed by those to whom we reach out to share the Gospel message. Whoever welcomes us, welcomes Jesus. But I submit to you that this message was meant to be reversed; we are already God’s blessed ‘little ones’ Jesus refers to; we are already recipients of the saving grace of God. The welcoming, the hospitality now becomes incumbent upon us to provide for those who are yet seeking Christ’s redemption. But we already know this, don’t we? As Emanuel Lutheran Church, we will always warmly greet the newcomer, offer to sit with them, explain the bulletin; and when we are again able to, invite the visitor for fellowship after worship. And this welcoming, this hospitality; these are not limited to Council members, or the Ushers, or even to the Minister. It is the responsibility of each of us to extend a welcome to whomever comes to our doors. When we welcome them, we confirm that they are welcomed by Jesus, and the Father; for this is God’s house, not ours.
Granted, it may be challenging to maintain a spirit of welcome when we must smile behind our masks, when hand-shaking is discouraged, and the strong historical role that coffee plays in Lutheran fellowship is withheld from us. But this shouldn’t deter us from showing that we intend to be a welcoming people. After all, Jesus sent the disciples out with just the clothes on their backs; no purse, no staff, no food, no money. They were to rely on God to provision them; they would be blessed with what they would need to enable them to do what they were sent forth to accomplish. So, too, must we find ways to enable us to be the hospitable, welcoming people that we are called to be, the current difficult situation notwithstanding. We also will be provided the inspiration, words, and tools we need to welcome others into Emanuel’s family.
This welcoming, however doesn’t begin when visitors first come through our doors. It’s part of our job to encourage others to want to be with us to begin with. Research shows that 90% of people who become new members in a church do so because they came to that church in the first place for the same reason. Care to guess why they first came? They saw the sign, the web site, or the Facebook page? They heard about the great music, the charismatic preacher, the fun activities?
Nope. 90% of all new church members first attended because a friend invited them! We are all apostles; we have all been sent out, to extend a welcome to those around us who need to hear, and be blessed by the Gospel message. And I daresay, that there are many who find themselves in need of, and searching for a welcoming place where they might find comfort, salvation, and purpose in this troubling time. And the Gospel message that is found and embraced at Emanuel Lutheran might just be what they need to reassure them that, in spite of the awful situation the world is currently in, that ultimately, God is in control. And they might not ever have the opportunity to answer a welcoming call if we don’t first offer it to them. So go forth; be apostles!
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, inspire, motivate, and guide us to be the welcoming people your Son commands us to be. Provide us with the words and the will to go forth to bring the Gospel message to those who yearn to hear it.
And we pray these things the name of Jesus Christ, who made us all apostles. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.